Friday, May 21, 2010

"Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature" edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams

After another bout of writing, some to do with Psychology, I was reminded of an incredible book that I should share on here, about peeking into the Shadow. This is really mind cool stuff-- a collection of short essays on the 'Shadow'...not to be read front to back, but nibbled on.

If you're not familiar with the term, "Shadow," Psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung bandied about terms regarding what they thought made up a Personality, namely, what is the process of Human Personality Development. This is all very obscure stuff to measure, of course (being Psychology), but after 20-30 years of dealing with a vast array of Psychological traumatized patients, and finding patterns, some these two mavericks had a great base of experience to draw from. Even more fascinating, they both made detailed records of their dreams, and analysed the symbols therein (leading to some of Jung's most provocative work on Archetypes). What arose, in one form or another, was a theory of development whereby the Human Personality is said to split into the Persona, and the Shadow. Basically, the whole 'Self' (you and everything about your personality) is split into the Good part (the Persona) and the Bad part (the Shadow).

Before I get attacked for using such childish language here, the "Good" part is not necessarily good; its only good because Society says it's acceptable and polite. The Bad is not necessarily bad at all, except that Society says it's inappropriate or unsuitable for public display. (As you can imagine, this means Shadow and Persona traits likely vary from country to country, and change over time, as society's norms change).

Remember when you were in primary school, and a teacher told you not to speak out or make jokes in class. Maybe you liked to ask very interesting or unique questions in class, and the teacher told you to be a good boy/girl, and only ask 'good' questions. Maybe you told your parents you wanted to learn the electric guitar, and they said you couldn't because they didn't want you to hang out with a 'bad crowd.' When we are very young, we are free of hindrances, brashly expressing ourselves, like little Emperors and Empresses.

"I'm hungry!" "I'm bored!"  "I want candy!"  "I'm not sleepy, I wanna stay up!"

Society eventually nudges us in the "right" direction, by telling us what we should and shouldn't do. This is why we need a Shadow. We need a place to put all those 'bad' character traits.

In terms of Personality development, as soon as we learn certain things are 'bad' and certain things are 'good', we subconsciously remove certain elements of our personalities from 'public display.' That is, we take certain parts of our personality and put them into the 'Shadow.' All the things which society says are 'acceptable' become the Persona. The result? Most of us are civilized men and women, following the rules, waiting for the right traffic light to go, and waiting for the right signal to approach and talk to our fellow man, never acting on impulse, always subconsciously calculating to do the 'right' and most 'polite' thing. Subconscious is the key here. To stay sane, and stay congruently in Society, the Persona must act as if the Shadow doesn't exist.

As it turns out, if we are very 'good' people, much of our 'life energy' is trapped in the Shadow. We are essentially living half of our true personality, and putting half our personality, half our impulses and half our desires, in a prison of sorts.

Sometimes, in the midst of a trauma, a crisis, or an emotional breakdown, the Shadow will 'break out of Jail' and let itself be known. Also, if we ignore it long enough,  eventually it will burst onto the scene, with all its wild impulses and outrageous ideas. After all, if we follow the 'Persona' all our lives, and don't feel happy or fulfilled or loved, eventually the Shadow's nagging whispers will start to make sense! Perhaps not surprisingly, in addition to life energy, much creative energy is locked up in the shadow. After all, whats could be more boring, than a movie, TV show, or song spawned from dozens of intermingling 'acceptable' and Politically Correct traits and feelings.

'Meeting the Shadow' not only outlines much of Carl Jung's ideas (which did differ greatly from Freud, by the way) on the Shadow, it also outlines potential strategies for bringing the Shadow to the for (hence the title). The goal is not to become crazy. The goal is not to go on a wild killing spree. Locked up in the Shadow are very good traits, the problem is Society has given broad generalisations to young impressionable Children who then took it to the extreme.

"Don't Yell"
"Boys don't cry"
"Girls don't talk like that"
"Always wait your turn"
"Be nice to people older than you"

These may be good guidelines for young people, but as rules to live by they are ludicrous. Never Yell? Ever? Is it also a bad thing to get mad? Is it a Sin to ask for something, like food, or attention, or love? Also, if an older person is abusive to you (physically, emotionally, etc) should you let them??

As you can see, as we get older, we absolutely must examine the 'over-simplistic' beliefs  and rules we had as a child. If the Shadow goes ignored, it results in lifeless slugs, dead on the inside, from lack of expression, slaves to their childhood masters. Not only are they unattractive to the opposite sex, they are unattractive employees, and unattractive friends. Those who do not reconnect with the Shadow, ultimately become Zombies, constantly in fear of 'crossing the line' and occasionally snapping in a burst of 'Shadow' fury.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, sometimes these 'bursts' where the Shadow demands to be heard can be dangerous and shocking. It would not be surprising to hear that a normally quiet and subdued man woke up one day, mad at the world, mad that he's done everything 'right' and is still sad, lonely, and wretchedly poor, and suddenly gave into all of his Shadow instincts at once, possible attacking or hurting people in his apartment building or office.

Another fascinating consequence (according to Jung's work) of having an overly 'heavy' Shadow, is that we project those 'bad' traits onto other people. After all, if I'm such a good boy, then the only source of 'rude' and 'selfish' behavior in the world, must be other people, preferably people of my same gender, but from another country, or social class. It's incredibly common to hear ourselves or others make comments like "Everyone from [City X] is a jerk" or "I don't know, I just think people who [play badminton, drink espresso, write blogs] are the scum of the earth," and when we hear that, its the Persona bashing the Shadow. The Persona is saying, I don't like these traits so I've projected them onto people who play badminton, or work on Wall Street. Yes, this has dozens of implications for not only Racism, but also Wars. We have a situation in the US right now where Mexicans are being characterized by some as 'unfairly cheating' and 'trying to take our way of life'. Trying to build walls (or in Arizona's case, a fence ) to keep the Shadow away, is at once hilarious, and deeply sad.

If you can cut the Shadow down to size, and bring more Shadow traits to the fore, you can cut down on this insane Blogger bashing. Anyway, the goal here is not to go crazy and delve into the most bizarre impulses, but to get back that energy, that's locked up in the Shadow. The relaxed, cool, eccentric man understands and is curious about his dark side, and occasionally expresses it through art, or poetry, and is never afraid to stand up, and 'selfishly' ask the questions he's burning to have answered. Moreover, if his house is robbed, or his is physically threatened, he needs to channel his Shadow energy to protect them, not be the good boy.

A basic understanding of the Persona and Shadow complexes (that's what they are, just ideas, not actually real 'areas' of the brain, etc) helps guide us to understanding the Ego--how we can tame it, and how we can harness it. Perhaps I will write more about this in future.


zero said...

Mike,mike..I have to recognize I have read this review for 3 times..and finally catch it..but not pretty well in a sense..haha..i am so stupid~~ :P

Actually what this book writing about is touching the bottom of my heart. Sometimes I really feel tired of being a Persona person, like always smile to all of the people around, treat everyone good even he or she hurt me, forgive, be considerable,do everything that should do...really hard...but until now I seldom let the Shadow out..But before something happened, i could always be myself, express my feeling, do sth directly..haha, long long ago..Anyway, these kinds of changes should due to the's not good..I mean kind of depression..

eh..maybe i should release myself and need to meet the Shadow..

thx for your review~~

zero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Robson said...

Ah, its very different from my usual material, but this stuff is really fascinating. I think if you feel a little tired, etc, you know what I'm talking about, when it feels like you're operating on half your body.

The trick, in my own life, is examining the things you think are in your 'Shadow' and re-evaluate which are really bad things and which are just... OK. Like I said, Yelling at people is generally considered rude, but in some cases you need to yell. If there's an emergency, you can't have the idea that "only loud, selfish annoying, rude people yell"...

Make a list of 5 of your role models (celebrities, or people you admire), and Beside it, make a list of 5 people (again, either people you know, or celebrities) which you really really hate/despise.

Now comes the fun part... for each name, make a list of adjectives to describe that person... you should have 10 people to work on.

When you're done the whole list. You should have a list of Persona and Shadow traits. Do any of those traits jump out at your as unexpected. In the Persona column you should see traits you're already pretty strong in, and in the Shadow column are traits you should make effort to develop in yourself.

NONE of them are good or bad, they're only good/bad in certain contexts. That's the lesson here :)