Carl Jung studied the shadow side in psychology to great lengths.
He determined that our shadow side is the part of ourselves that we often push down.
It ends up staying in our subconscious and we do everything we can to keep it there. Most of us will repress the shadow side when we’re very young to avoid getting in trouble or becoming an outcast. The shadow side is made up of repressed ideas, instincts, weaknesses, desires, and fears—things we’re ashamed of. They aren’t bad, but through our experiences, we’ve hidden them because they haven’t served us well. The conscious ego will try to stay away from using the shadow parts of our minds.
The shadow side represents the wildness that society doesn’t agree with.
Carl Jung believed that it is a part of every human’s make up. It can be positive thing: It’s where our creativity sits. It can also act as a gauge of how much we allow society to dictate the “mask” we decide to wear.
Signs that you may be repressing yourself include: substance abuse, addictive behaviors like gambling, shopping, or over-eating, and self-sabotage. Not accepting all the parts of yourself can lead to chronic anxiety and depression.
It’s time to bring your shadow side to the surface and start accepting every part of yourself. This is where your life will begin to open up in a radical, new way.
My Shadow Unleashed
Just like everybody else, I started to hide my shadow side or “dark side” when I was pretty young. It doesn’t take much for a child to learn to keep their true self quiet. To be able to fully love and accept ourselves, we need to include the shadow side too, but society doesn’t necessarily support this. If you’re loud, if you say everything that goes on in your head, it’s probably going to offend someone. The wildness inside of you is often shoved down to avoid being isolated from others.
The year my mom died was the year I was forced to walk on my shadow side. Instead of being polite and helping someone out (so they would like me), I left to go to her funeral. I started to realize that so much of my life had been spent wearing a mask. I put others’ needs before my own and would keep quiet. If I cried, I would usually do it quietly. But when my mom died, I wailed like a baby. It felt good.
We are Born Whole and Complete
When we’re born, we have the wildness within. The shadow side isn’t hidden away, and we’re complete. And as we grow up, we slowly begin to live a fractioned life. Some parts, we accept and others, we don’t. We reject parts of ourselves based on other people’s reactions. We all have a light and a shadow side. It’s just as true as having a left and right foot.
Society molds us, though. When you’re good, you get praise. When you’re bad, you get reprimanded. As the smart humans we are, we divide ourselves into two—the good part and the bad part. Depending on your upbringing, these ideals differ. This takes its toll on our psyche and it’s a belief we cling to at an early age. Sometimes, we feel really good about ourselves and sometimes we feel terrible.
This tends to affect our energy vibrations, and as a result, we can find ourselves in a deep depression. We might also feel nervous about ruining our tidy reputation, so we do our best to tuck away the dark parts of ourselves. In contrast, we flip ourselves backward so people can see our best, good self. The dark parts stay in the background and away from our conscious minds.
Carl Jung wrote about what happens when you ignore the shadow part of yourself:
“It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster.”
The repression of your negative traits is a major obstacle for any person who is looking to love themselves. To truly be complete, you would have to accept all the aspects of yourself. When you can master this, you also become less disturbed by other’s imperfections.
The Shadow Side Has its Beauty Too
We are congratulated when we do good things and we strive hard to stay on the good path, the path of light. We can even be taught to avoid and escape the darkness through spiritual teachings. But, if we ignore the other part of us, we fail in giving ourselves the full gift of being human. When we fear this darkness, we use tools to escape it throughout our life—and that’s exhausting.
To be free from hiding your true self to your husband, children, or friends is to accept your darkness. It is what will make you feel complete, maybe for the first time in your life. When we don’t show all sides of ourselves, we don’t let anyone else truly know us. And it creates a massive blockage that stops us from fully caring about ourselves, too. When we are openly ourselves, some call it “opening the heart.” This is the ultimate freedom.
The Risk of Not Bringing Your Shadow Side to the Conscious Mind
When you keep your shadow side from surfacing into your conscious mind, there are risks. You control all of your thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions to avoid the shadow side from making an appearance. As Jung said:
“That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.”
This represents the self-destructive behaviors you may struggle with. For instance, drugs and alcohol are believed to bring the whole of a person together. One loses their inhibitions for a time, allowing themselves to be wild, to not care about the shadow side emerging. This feeling can be the source of addiction because it feels good to feel whole. However, it’s much easier and more authentic to confront your shadow. Jung suggests that we become conscious of our shadow side and make it a part of your conscious personality. Accept this part of yourself with open arms, as though this part of you is essential to your life experience.
Benefits of Allowing Your Shadow Side to be a Part of You Again
The shadow side has its benefits. It is the creative part of yourself and it’s also where much of your power lives.
When you allow others to dictate who you become, that’s not powerful. When you get to know your shadow side, you take your power back. We each have beneficial personality traits within our subconscious that are lying dormant—allowing them in would lead us to feel whole and harmonious. Maybe they’re frowned upon by your peers, but perhaps not for reasons you realize. It may just be that others are envious or ignorant of what you are capable of.
If we dressed however we wanted because we didn’t care what others thought, we may have become bullied. This could be a positive trait that was nonetheless cast to our shadow side, never to be revisited again. This is where we lose our wholeness. This high energy that we encompassed is now gone—we’ve labeled it as bad and pushed it down.
Opening up to the shadow side is our source of renewal. It’s where we can become productive in our lives again, unlocking parts of ourselves that can be useful in our lives today. Putting back the fragmented pieces of ourselves will allow a wholeness we have probably never felt. This is where true bliss lives.
Authors: Loraine Couturier and Nicole Aracki
Image: Ryann Flippo/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell