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)
Part I: Putting Boundaries
I want to begin with a story by Franz Kafka: metamorphosis, in which Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a gigantic 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, and 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 unacceptable things 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 others: 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 was not even close to appearing and coming out, suddenly they kidnap the contaminated partners in the conversation and take over. And in oneself, it might manifest as: insult, being hurt, having sudden self-doubt, low self-esteem, a vast decrease in self-value, attacking oneself, disorientation, and more.
But 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) was the Nazis in Germany.
Now, one of the most potent, powerful, and malignant demons living in the shadows is taking someone or a happening personally. This is entirely a shadow phenomenon, living there, happening from there, and coming from there, and not like other shadows inhabitants. It is a dangerous demon, and what’s more, it is completely unknown, completely hidden in the darkness of the shadow. The time it emerges, it destroys any precious friend or relationship.
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 poor rational explanation and push it under the carpet).
Its power and effectiveness are 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). Thus we get under the power 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 surrender entirely to the dark forces that are doing the kidnapping 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 mid/neutral way is putting boundaries!
Part II: Acceptance and Living With
It is crucial to understand how we relate to being normal and being ok; all our lives, we aspire to be confirmed by our environment, longing to be approved by others that we are as we are supposed to be, and nothing is wrong with us. Physically, socially, and psychologically.
Everyone wants to be surrounded by individuals and children who look and behave like the rest in all groups and schools. If something seems not ok 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 to us. When we find in us something which does not fit 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 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 their true nature, whatever it might be, but if they get reflected that something is wrong with them – they find it unbearable to live with themselves. The stigma that something is wrong with them is turning their life into hell. They are discriminating against themselves.
Maybe we could live with the stigma, but we could not live with self-stigma.
The greater the stigma on what is considered wrong with them, the more guilty, condemned, and unworthy as human beings they feel. This stigma, if they internalize it – depletes their value in their eyes, up to the point that they cannot live with themselves. And if it is someone in particular that signals to them that they are taking what they just said to them too personally – they cannot stand their company anymore.
Here is the paradox: they had no problem living their life while taking people and what they say to them personally. It was ok, but when this dark agent of taking it personally is exposed (either to the outside or even to themselves alone) – they cannot face it. They cannot accept that such a dominant part of their shadow is out of the closet; they feel shameful and infantile.
An excellent example is people in very high positions, with much respect, who are caught in a humiliating 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. The truth is that one has to have a shadow; there is a lot on 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. To live at peace and with limitations 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 potent, can pop out at any time, and do its demonic act. But when recognized, from one hand, you could be shocked into 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 is that we don’t mind morally trespassing all kinds of forbidden and hostile acts, like lying or stealing, for example. Still, once it is exposed, we have to face it and other things that contradict the mask and the persona that we care to excite – it is unbearable for us.
As long as no one and you don’t know (about the active place the shadow has in your life) – all is fine.
And the more powerful and dangerous the shadow agent that you are unaware of is, the greater is the shock and devastation that you experience – when its extent of presence in your life and its damage – 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 and put 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, then 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 these are 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.
Wholeness for humans depends on the abilty to own their own shadow.