The Dark Side – Shadow

This is a strange topic to be writing about on the eve of Christmas where the western world is gripped in a mood of good cheer; yet here I am writing about evil. I woke up to the Dow closing above 18,000 for the first time and the S&P500 making new all time highs, and I felt compelled to share some wisdom.

Yes I am bearish the markets at the moment, and yes it is a source of irritation, annoyance and confusion so with that bit of background lets dig a little deeper. In order to do so we need to start with a quote from Jung’s Collective Works:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

“Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131

In layman language, just like the name “shadow” implies the Jungian idea is that each persons psyche develops both positive and negative characteristics with each lived experience. The negative ones embarrass us, and we prefer not to deal with these emotions so we cast them into the shadows, i.e. into our unconscious minds where we try not confront them and try and forget about it.

I am touching on a central Jungian motif, coincidentia oppositorum – unity of opposites, which many dialectical philosophical models work with, but is an idea I am familiar with and is central to the Jewish Kabbalistic approach to creation and existence. The sitra achra means the “other side” that is from the sitra kedusha “side of holiness” and everything in the world can be seen from these polar opposites.

Ok lets get back to the subject of this note, that is the dark side our shadow. It is very important when working with the Jungian model to see psycho-dynamics in terms of energy flow. As we create positive energy so too we equally create negative energy, this is actually a very difficult concept to grasp. Here is an example; I act in a very “kind” way to Dean this creates positive energy, but there is an equal dark “mean” force created in my psyche towards Dean. That is a horrible theory you are probably saying, but that is probably your shadow acting up 😦 .

So you are probably saying assuming you accept this line of thinking – so what? The problem is that when emotions are left unconscious they form a life of their own and this is where we get ourselves into trouble. A typical manifestation of the shadow complex is for it to find expression via projection. The reason why we don’t want to allow projection to play out is due to the completely irrational / random nature of projected behaviour. Here is an example of how this plays out:

Its the holiday season and we live in beautiful Sydney a highly desirable location. Friends contact me and ask if they can stay with us for a few days as they are passing through town. I accept and I am the perfect host. I use every bit of my energy to make sure that our guests have a great time. I am attentive, I am resourceful I am all things good what I am unaware of is I am building shadow material. The guests leave having had the best stay ever, and I am just about to kick up my feet and peace out in quiet watching some cricket, and the missus says, “Mike will you go past the shops and pick up some bagels”. What do I do, I go friggin mad and scream and shout how ungrateful she is and launch into a completely irrational tirade. Do any of you recognize this pattern, I suspect so LOL :).

We have all heard that saying, “the bigger you are the harder you fall”. This is very common with politicians or other people who occupy positions of power. I think of Elliott Spitzer as a classic example of someone who clamped down on crime and prostitution only to fall for this very activity. Or think of religious people perpetrating sexual misconduct, acting precisely against what the religion they represent stands for.

Does this mean we are destined to be ruled by our shadow? No not at all, the secret is to bring our shadow into consciousness. This secret formulae has the potential to diffuse the negative energy. What is even more amazing is that our psyche can be “tricked” through symbolic ritual/activity. Marie Louis von Franz one of Jung’s greatest disciples, used to always recommend to friends and colleagues experiencing hubris to go and take out the trash or some such “lowly” activity to symbolically balance the libido/energy from the shadow.

With many stock indexes at all time highs, it is easy to develop shadow material. It is times like these when markets climb and we profit to fall into the fooled by randomness trap and think it is all us. This shadow material will eventually want to express itself, it may be through excessive risk taking due to our inflated sense of Self or it may manifest in us buying a Porsche that we cannot really afford. Remember the psyche is open to symbolic gestures, if you have benefited from the bullish markets, think of a creative way of bringing the shadow material associated with it to consciousness or less energy potent. Perhaps it may be something as simple as this:

I made 25% in my investment portfolio this year, when I take the market beta into account I actually only added about 2% through my stock picking ability. This is a simple way of acknowledging and diffusing the shadow that likes to think that all 25% was my doing.

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