Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people. It would help you to have a personal insight into the secrets of the human soul. Otherwise everything remains a clever intellectual trick, consisting of empty words and leading to empty talk.
~Carl Jung (Book: Selected Letters of C.G. Jung https://amzn.to/3nr0vWl)
Part One: Putting Boundaries
I would like to begin with a story of Franz Kafka: metamorphosis, in which Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect. And this is for me what Carl Jung calls: meeting the shadow, or: the shadow is coming out, (or in a fictional story Samsa becomes the shadow).
I want to expand on what Carl Jung called: The shadow. We all have in us a shadow entity, there are all kinds of demons living in the shadow, every once in a while a demon jumps out of the shadow. The shadow forms out of our attempts to adapt to cultural norms and expectations. It contains all of the things that are unacceptable not only to society, but also to one’s own personal morals and values. There are all kinds of demons in the shadow: It might include in interpersonal communication – towards the other: cruelty, hostility, rejection, hatred, attack, cursing violence, insult, antagonism, downgrading, humiliation, and aggression – even in the simplest conversation, which before this particular shadow agent became activated – were not even close to appear and come out, and suddenly they kidnap the contaminated partners in the conversation and take over. And in oneself it might manifest as: insult, being hurt, having all of a sudden self doubt, low self-esteem, a huge decrease in self value, attacking oneself, disorientation, and more.
But then after a while, the routine of life takes over again, and the outbursting demon gets swallowed back into the darkness of the shadow.
And we, eventually, develop a forgetfulness about these terrible demonic outbursts. And carry on.
Of course in the history of the world the most horrible demonic outburst from the shadow, (on a national level) were the Nazis in Germany.
Now one of the most potent, powerful, and malignant demons living in the shadows is taking someone or a happening in a personal way. This is completely a shadow phenomenon, living there, happening from there, and coming from there, and not like other shadow inhabitants – this is a dangerous demon, and what’s more; it is completely unknown, completely hidden in the darkness of the shadow, and the time it emerges out it is causing a destruction of any precious friend or relationship that exists.
Well, its damage is colossal; also in the quality of the advancement of one’s life and progression in any field whatsoever.
(After its devastation we usually give it some sort of poor rational explanation, and push it under the carpet).
Its power and effectiveness is almost everywhere; for we take almost everything personally, and when we do, everything else loses its vitality and importance for us (even might become an enemy, under the influence of this demon), and thus we get under the influence of the malignant overtake of this sudden demon.
People usually are unaware of the number of times it jumps out of the shadow and into their lives. And so they can live with it, coming in and out of the shadows. Unaware.
So, what is the solution? Well, all visitors from the shadow zone should be banned. Not fought with but put under iron boundaries (which is the healthy way); you don’t just become surrendered completely to the dark forces that are doing the kidnaping act of the shadow upon you. You don’t fight it either (because it just gives it power, this way). It is a highly destructive influence. So, putting boundaries is like the middle way in a fight; not too aggressive, not too weak, the middle way is being assertive. The same here: one wrong extreme is fighting the dark agents, the other extreme is surrendering to it, and the middle/neutral way is putting boundaries!
Part Two: Acceptance and Living With
It is important to understand how we relate to being normal, being ok; all our life we aspire to be confirmed by our environment, longing to be confirmed by others that we are as we are supposed to be and nothing is wrong with us. Physically, socially and psychologically.
In all groups and schools everyone wants to be surrounded by individuals and children who look and behave like the rest, and if something seems not ok in some sort of way with someone in a group of children -that is different from the rest of the children, then this child becomes boycotted.
The same is happening in us. When we find in us something which does not fit to how we (and mainly, the majority) think how we should and must be – we boycott ourselves, meaning: we either ignore it by repression, or come to confront ourselves: which makes our self-esteem to shatter, which means that we do to ourselves what group of cruel kids do to a different sensitive kid: as they boycott him so we boycott ourselves if and when we find and confront in us what is out of what we see as acceptable by us.
In other words; a person can live with his true nature, whatever it might be, but if he gets reflected that something is wrong with him – he finds it unbearable to live with himself. The stigma that something is wrong with him is what is turning his life into hell. He is discriminating against himself.
Maybe we could live with the stigma, but we could not live with self-stigma.
Well the greater is the stigma on what is considered to be wrong with him – the more guilty, condemned and unworthy as a human being he feels. This stigma, if he internalizes it – depletes his own value in his eyes, up to the point that he cannot live with himself. And if it is someone in particular that signals to him that he is taking what he just said to him too personally – he cannot stand his company anymore.
And here is the paradox; he had no problem living his life while taking people and what they say to him personally and it was ok, but when this dark agent of taking it personally is exposed (either to the outside or even to himself alone) – he cannot face it. He cannot accept that such a dominant part of his shadow is out of the closet, he feels shameful and infantile.
A very good example are people in very high positions, with much respect, who are caught in a very humiliated act. They are completely broken, not because of what they did (child pedophiles for example) but what breaks them is that it became public).
So the challenge about this harmful shadow agent is not to fight it, declare war on it, and go against it when discovered, trying to wipe it out, so it won’t happen again. That won’t work and even might make things worse, because apparently by fighting this demon – you charge it, and give it power. Well, the truth is that one has to have a shadow, there is a lot in the dark side that you need, especially if you are creative or wish to be authentic. The challenge is to live with it not by denial, which increases its effectiveness, but with acceptance but not without putting boundaries, that’s all. To live at peace and with boundaries around the most dangerous agent of the shadow.
The great challenge is to see the shadow as a legitimate part of you, just not let it take over, and it does take over when denied, repressed, when unknown – it is most powerful, can pop out at any time and do its demonic act. But when recognized, from one hand you could be shocked into a stressful freezing full of self-guilt, or adopt it as a legitimate part of you –and then you get stronger by the power that always exists in the shadow.
The most disturbing lesson in all this is that we don’t mind morally trespassing all kind of forbidden and negative acts, like lying or stealing, for example, but once it is exposed, or we have to face it and other things that contradicts the mask and the persona that we careful to excite – it is unbearable for us.
As long as no one knows, and as long as you don’t know (about the active place the shadow has in your life) – all is ok.
And the more powerful and dangerous the shadow agent that you are not aware of is, the greater is the shock and devastation that you experience – when its extent of presence in your life and the damage of it – is revealed to you.
The great challenge is to know of it, not fall under it because of this awareness, but to become friends with it, together with putting boundaries to it.
Like what the Rabbi says in the following Hasidic story:
“A Chasidic Jew complained to his Rabi:
Rabi, I have terrible thoughts rising in me.
I am even afraid to put it on my lips. It is bad for me and I feel bad that I am capable of thinking such thoughts, that, on them, even in hell there is no atonement.
Well, say it.
Woe. Sometimes I think, God forbid, that there is no justice and no just.
So, what do you care about?
What do you mean: ‘what do I care’? Screamed the Hasidic Jew.
If there is no justice and no just, what kind of purpose does the world have?
So, why do you care that the world has no purpose?
Rabi. If the world has got no purpose, that there is no point, than there is no point for the Torah, and if there is no point for the Torah, then there is no point for life, and for this, Rabi, I care very much.
Said Rabbi Mendel to the Chasid:
If you care so much, than you are a decent Jew, and it is allowed for a decent Jew to have such thoughts.“
This story is about a dark side in the life of this Chasid Jew, and this is his subversive dark thoughts, and the Rabbi tells him that he should recognize and accept this dark side of him, the shadow, learn to live with it in coexistence.
P.S. Maybe this is why students who are present in inner work meetings in which the subject of the shadow agent of taking people personally is opened up – find it difficult to remain in this atmosphere. It is very difficult for them to continue and remain in such a harsh self-reflection environment, about this dangerous demon living in them right now… the self-condemnation and self-guilt are too unbearable.
The golden formula is: on one hand to hug and embrace the dark agent as part of yourself, (and have a full admission when it filters into you) while on the other hand you erect high boundaries!