Monday, 30 December 2019

The shadow

Something is puzzling me.

On a Facebook page I follow, I came across this picture and quotation. By the way, I do like Carl Jung's face — full of intelligence and vitality.

Underneath the picture, the organisation (Tao and Zen) posting had added, along with a link to this website about the Shadow, the following words:
"Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western [thinking], but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." ~ Carl Jung
"The shadow is simply the dark side of someone's personality. And what is dark is always known only indirectly through projection. That is, one discovers his dark side as something belonging to others: friends, relatives, fictitious characters, etc."

I don't know who the second paragraph italicised there is quoting — if it's Jung again or someone commenting on Jung, but I've kept  it in here because it says the thing that snagged my attention.

Now, I try to be cautious about what I write on this blog about my personal relationships, but the best examples of what's puzzling me come from that sphere, so I'm going to tell you about just one — my apologies if what follows is a bit cryptic, I want to be  circumspect about what I say in public regarding other people.

I have a difficult relationship with a member of my family of origin; not a bad person — a passionate, intelligent, intensely loving and protective soul with a tender heart and a keen sense of justice, who can be very kind, and there are many ways I think highly of this person. Nonetheless our relationship is fraught with problems that I won't go into here.

About a year ago, something happened in my family of origin that was unacceptable to me and weighed so heavily on my mind that it began to make me ill, to the extent that withdrawal from certain relationships seemed to me the most prudent way forward. Yet I don't like to leave any situation with a flavour of acrimony or antagonism; I just didn't want to participate in what I was being asked to do, and some choices had been made that I considered unwise and unjust, and I felt very upset.

So, in withdrawing from the situation I wrote a letter copied to each of two people involved, explaining that I felt the need to do this, setting out what my concerns were (without hostility or discourtesy), and ending with a paragraph assuring the people concerned that I loved them very much, thanking them for all they were and had done for me, saying sorry for any way I had personally contributed to the difficulties, and asking their forgiveness for that. The letters reached them through my husband, and the responses came back to me through him.

The responses did not surprise me, being consistent with our journey together through life to date. One, having read the letter, simply set it aside with no comment, changed the subject and never mentioned it again. The other sent a note in return, describing me as having all my life seen myself as the heroine of my own histrionic drama, and dismissing the contents of my letter in this terms.

Now, what's puzzling me is this; who's projecting the Shadow?

Surely, in any given interaction there is an objective reality to be reached — not everything is subjective, is it? But look, if one's Shadow is apparent to oneself only in what one observes in others, how is it possible to tell what's them and what's oneself?

I mean, do I see myself as the heroine of my own histrionic drama, and am blithely unaware of this and projecting it on to the other family members — or is the person who said this to me the one with that exact characteristic (which observation tells me may be the case) and projecting it on to me? Or are we both people who think we are the main protagonist in our respective histrionic dramas, projecting our Shadows on to each other? How could you possibly tell? How can you learn and grow? 

Further to that, if I accept the other person's definition and dismissal of what I wrote in my letter, surely it would follow that my concerns were merely me acting out, and (as the response strongly suggested) were without foundation and not to be taken seriously. And yet, to my mind, my concerns were valid — I had actually, I think, been asked to do something both wrong and unwise, and declining to do so was what made that particular conflict arise in the first place. I had been asked to acquiesce to a fait accompli, in a situation where it would have been appropriate to consult me first and where I strongly disapproved the proposed course of action, and I would not comply. 

In all honesty, I do not see how this is me projecting my Shadow onto the other person — but then I wouldn't, would I? That's the whole point about projection; you think the problem is in fact the other person when all along it's really yourself. So how is it possible to get an objective perspective on the scenario, and so get enough illumination to make progress?


Rapunzel said...

1-It isn't possible to get an entirely objective view of anything. Ever.
2-Jung wasn't always right.


Pen Wilcock said...



Jenna said...

In situations such as this, and there have been not a few, I have relied on The Work, an inquiry developed by Byron Katie--or "Katie" as she is called. She has a worksheet that you complete about a troublesome interpersonal problem called "Judge Your Neighbor." The gist of the Work is to lay out a statement of what emotion you feel towards whom, with a brief statement of what happened, what was "the moment."

eg. I'm upset with Bill because he drinks. Bill needs to stop drinking.

So the belief is "Bill should stop drinking."

Then you ask yourself four questions for each of the six statements you have come up with (and one is to describe the person in the most petty, judgmental fashion). The four questions are:

1. Is it true that Bill should stop drinking? (answer can only be a no or a yes.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true that Bill should stop drinking. (again yes or no ONLY. Don't give the mind a chance to justify or explain.)
3. How do you react, how do you treat the person in that moment?
4. Can you see a benefit to giving up the story that Bill should stop drinking?

Then you look for turn-arounds.
* Bill doesn't need to stop drinking. Maybe his drinking is keeping him from suicide.
* I need to stop drinking. You've been drinking every time Bill has. His drinking is your drink of choice. You're both inebriated.
* I don't need to stop drinking. Bill might or might not. That's up to him.

Anyway--this is a simplistic example, but I've found stopping to examine my beliefs about any given situation and then turning it around and trying to find the chesed, the compassion, has been no end of valuable. It speaks to every person who comes into your life being your teacher in some way, exposing you for who you are. Sitting with answers that come to you as you meditate on the moment leaves "way open"--to use a Quaker phrase--for that answer to resonate with you.

"I'm upset with ____ for unfairly saying I'm a drama queen."
_____ unfairly considers me a drama queen. True/not true
Can you absolutely know that ___ unfairly considers you a drama queen? Yes or no.
Who would you be in the moment without the thought that.... How do you want to treat them in that moment? In other words, could they be right? What if you didn't care? Would a drama queen allow them to have their opinion?
Can you think of a reason to let go of the story that so-and-so unfairly thinks you're a drama queen?

Then turn-arounds:
___ doesn't unfairly consider me a drama queen. (examples of how this might be true. Are they just saying the opinion of somebody else? for one instance, maybe their mother always said that of them when they were behaving in ways you wrote about.)
I think they are a drama queen. (examples of when they were a drama queen. Are they being a drama queen in the correspondence, for instance? If so, perhaps you have more in common than you think.)
I don't think they are a drama queen. (find examples of them not being a drama queen--as you said, it was a response not surprising and not inconsistent. At least they're being predictable).

From my experience, to be transparent here, the things I accuse others of is only what I might be secretly thinking and believing about them or about myself. In both cases, it's valuable to look at that. Take it out, hold it up to the light, see how the facets glint, and just notice.

Phil Hollow G. said...

I can relate to this struggle. I often feel as though I'm self-destructing my relationships. (I say self-destructing because I would consider my relationships to be a major part of what define me as a person.)
Yet, we can only judge from our own viewpoint and act based off our own conscience.
I think that this is also an area of trust for the Holy Spirit. St. Paul often speaks of the importance of speaking the truth and the intercessory role of the Holy Spirit. I think this intercession applies just as much among our other interpersonal relationships as it does to our communication with God.
If God is love then maybe His Spirit is a necessary filter for any love to be communicated. We can only do our best to examine our motives and speak love,but at the end of it we have to remember that we're only one player in the relationship and communication.
I don't think you're the kind of person to cast much of a shadow at all (physical or metaphysical). Though, I also find it hard to believe that one side is always at fault in any conflict, we haven't achieved Theosis yet.
That doesn't sound as encouraging as I'd intended. It's good this question you're asking but the answer may not be as important as the question itself.
A friend said "maybe presence is better than answers" so that is my prayer for you. That Christ himself would send his spirit to intercede on your behalf.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Jenna — Thank you for that detailed look at Byron Katie's method — I've looked at it carefully online in the past, but never actually worked through it.
It sounds as though you have found her approach really helpful in questioning assumptions.

Hi Phil — Introducing intercession into the equation strikes a chord with me. I have 2 particular prayers into which I frequently immerse tricky interpersonal things. The first is a simple blessing a friend once offered: "I bless 'X' with the love of the Lord", said several times, holding the person in the Light. The second is the wonderful 4-part Ho'oponopono Prayer that I incorporated into the letter I described sending in my original blog post: "I love you, I'm sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you." Again one immerses the person for whom one is praying in the Light of these words, repeatedly. These are my main intercessory strategies for situations I prefer not to contaminate with my own dodgy attitudes.

In addition, I'd like to make clear, I'm not seeking advice on how to approach my family of origin. The situation I described was merely an example to illustrate my conundrum.
Another set of strategies for challenging personal situations was described to me yesterday by Buzzfloyd (she uses this to help her children navigate meltdowns etc): a) Use words; b) Walk away; c) Ask an adult to help.
I use words a lot (!) and I regularly ask the adults in my household for help (I use the word 'adult' here to mean sages of maturity); increasingly these days, I also walk away.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I think the first paragraph written by Jung is probably near the truth - although perhaps that's the point. What is truth? My truth isn't necessarily the same as my neighbours because it's born out of my own experiences, culture, up-bringing etc. If I respond to something with distaste I'm projecting my own recognition of darkness into the situation. I would have to recognise/feel it to understand it in others. That's not to say I wouldn't recoil from it. I wouldn't ( I hope) act on darkness nor would I want someone else to.

'One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." ~ Carl Jung

This bit is challenging though ( and perhaps not written by Jung because it seems to contradict what went before ).

'And what is dark is always known only indirectly through projection'. The suggestion is we only DISCOVER our own darkness when its reflected back to us in others.

Hmmm, I think we have the capability for darkness but I do think we retain the conscious choice on how to behave. I agree, there is the need to be objective and in fact I think it's necessary to stand against what we believe to be wrong - however we come to recognise it. We might react to a wrong doing by others because we inherently recognise and understand it as a darkness when it's reflected back to us but just as we have a choice to make, so do they. I always follow the guideline ' do unto others as you would have done to yourself' ( paraphrase)and it serves me well.

I think this is perhaps recognising wrong doing as a human trait generally which we see in ourselves and others. The trick is how we respond to the specifics on the back of the bigger picture.

I'm not sure I've contributed much here Pen - it's definitely one to ponder further!
We do all have to be guided by a moral compass though surely? And I've often wondered if that compass ( conscience) is in fact God talking to us. More food for thought!
Deb x

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Deb — What interests me particularly is that thing you've identified here as the "moral compass" — something like our North Star. While I accept the view most people seem to hold, that truth looks different depending on the angle from which we see it, and that what challenges us most in others is triggered by something that belongs to us, I also feel a strong instinct that, sometimes at least, we react against something *because it is wrong*, not because it is our own character trait and we don't like it.
I also believe (not dogmatically but fairly definitely) that there are ways we can work out logically if what someone says about us is fair and true and reasonable, or if they are just mud-slinging for whatever reason. We can weigh up the spontaneous observations about ourselves that different people have made, to discern a trend or a match or a dissonance. We can look at the unfolding effects in our own life and in the life of the person commenting upon us, to see which life offers the best match with the characteristic under consideration. We can evaluate whether their actions match their words — for instance, if somebody says to you, "You are always cruel and mean and everyone hates you and is afraid of you", but that person also sticks to you like a limpet and seems in general to be enjoying your company, then I think it's fair to assume the shadow is theirs not yours and they don't really mean what they said. That sort of thing. While bearing in mind that I will always hold a subjective view, I think I can also obtain a healthy and balanced judgement — especially if I'm willing to listen to others.

Suzan said...

This is such a deep theological discussion and I feel it is beyond me. It has been an interesting read. I love how Buzzfloyd is teaching her children. My eldest is on the autism spectrum and has attention deficit disorder. How we tried to moderate his behaviour. Someone taught him stop, think and do. This person did not teach him to NOT do something. This meant many visits to the principal's office and much effort to undo the programmed stop, think and do. Alas life is a minefield we negotiate as best we can. WIll's early struggles seem to have given him better coping skills as an adult. No one wants an uncontrolled person working as a chef. Those knives are scary.

Pen Wilcock said...

That's so interesting, Suzan — our family also lives with atypical neurological characteristics, and I think if Buzzfloyd comes along here and reads, she will find your comment very helpful. What you said made me smile. I can so imagine how a well-intentioned therapist might come up with "Stop, Think and Do", *assuming* (but not explaining) that the "Think" part involved reconsidering and reframing. I can immediately envisage the problems arising! Yes, with her eldest Buzzfloyd has been working on strategies for self-control. One of the things she's learned is that the ADHD brain has a developmental lag, so though her eldest is ten (and big and tall for that age), his brain has only reached a seven-year-old stage of development. Adding to this the impulsivity of ADHD, it's clear he needs a strong and reliable self-control toolkit.
"Those knives are scary" Hahaha! (Yes!)