The Dark Side: The Shadow Self

“There’s an allure to darkness, it sparks our curiosity and beckons us to taste the unknown.”

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Freedom comes at a price. To be free we must be honest, and to be honest we must embrace our darkness. There is no other way.

What do you know about shadows?

1. Shadows exist in the light, and they reveal the duality of our identities that exist when we are interacting with the outside world.

2. They don’t exist in the darkness because they do not need to. They are free to roam uninhibited.

Carl Jung, who is arguably one of the greatest psychologists of his time wrote extensively about the shadow in his work Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. He believed that the shadow consisted of everything outside of one’s day to day consciousness.

According to Jung, “everyone carries a shadow.” He believed that most of the attributes of the shadow were negative which is why people reject them, however there were hidden positives within them too.

When I refer to the shadow or the darkness, I am referring to our deepest desires, instincts, and natural volitions that we find hard to confront even when the curtains are drawn and no one is watching.

The shadow is old, it is inherent, and can be traced back through history. It has existed since we have.

The shadow is naturally instinctive and looks to maintain its survival at all costs by the only the way that it knows how to… by hiding… even from us. We have learned to hide our shadows because it cannot survive in the light.

The process of integrating our shadow with our identity is what some have considered to be the highest form of individuation. “Individuation is a process of transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche.”[i]

To connect with our shadow, there is a rite of passage that we must pass through. This is where we must face our shadow, not with the desire to challenge, contest, or to dominate. We must do this through deep understanding and acceptance. This can only take place when we trust ourselves enough to do so as well as be prepared to forgive ourselves if we make mistakes along the way.

For society to co-exist harmoniously, order is a necessary requirement. The degree of harmony that will be experienced by a society will be subject to how closely the members of it adhere to that order.

Order is created through rules and regulations, crime and punishment, morality, and retribution. There is a need for these controls to ensure human beings do not resort to their “animalistic natures.”

For the actualization from barbarian to the modern-day civilized man, a part of our nature was required to be dulled down, worn out, and suppressed for the purposes of progress.

We have passed down the “dulling” of our nature from generation to generation. For many of us who come face to face with our darkness, we look for ways to suppress or hide it as it is what we judge most harshly about ourselves and believe to be unacceptable to the rest of the world.

Each society places its own expectations upon its people. Most often it is the members of society that collectively regulate one another when someone rattles the confines of the social contract. Our sensitivity to what rattles the social contract becomes the regulations we place on others in the form of expectations and judgement.

Different forums have different rules. Dinner tables have rules, corporate offices have rules, the streets have rules, buses have rules and just like Foucault’s work on power with the example of the Panopticon, as a society, we all self-regulate to make sure we are abiding by those rules… even when no one is watching.

Morality has also been used extensively to further validate what behaviors, actions, and thoughts are acceptable or unacceptable to a society.

The over-civilization of the human species is what leads to suppression, guilt, and shame. What is born from this is the shadow self that needs to be re-integrated, and the first step is to reconcile that the suppression, guilt, and shame that has been experienced is the result of a lie.

There is nothing about our nature that we should be ashamed of. It is however this shame and suppression that has led to so many underground black markets where this darkness can be expressed. Some of us cast larger shadows than others.

Whether we are talking about addiction to alcohol, drugs, power, pornography, gambling, or sex, we see how there is a dark side to society. We see pockets of people and places that find their way into the most civilized of societies. From the outside, we may see these pockets of people and places to be depraved. From the inside, these conduits feel free and look at outsiders as prisoners.

They may exist out of view but there are many who frequently by-pass through these pockets and allow themselves to experience a taste of that freedom. Most people come and then leave. Others spend most of their time in the darkness and can’t make it out as easily. They become depraved and begin the descent of giving in fully to their shadow.

This has nothing to do with race, class, or gender. Some of the most powerful people in the world enjoy being in the shadows and pay large sums of money to maintain anonymity and the utmost level of privacy.

The media and the masses seem to have the strangest fascination with wanting our leaders, celebrities, and superstars to have squeaky clean records and characters. We build them up, but we are so quick to break them down when something goes wrong. We revel in it.

We judge those who have given into their shadow pretending like we don’t have ones of our own.

Within this dichotomy, whoever gives in to their natural inclinations is considered weak. This is where shame and guilt comes from. We judge each other based on how well we can hide our shadows rather than how brave we need to be to accept them.

Unfortunately, many of us are not able to speak about our shadows or let them see the light of day unless we are lucky enough to have friends or family members with whom we have extremely intimate relationships with.

To be seen as who you really are and to show who you really are to someone else, unfiltered, is an extremely vulnerable experience. It is a side of us that has always had to hide, so when the threat of judgement looms, it hides away quickly because this is how it has survived for so long.

To see someone’s shadow is a privilege and it is a privilege if you have people in your life who you can share yours with. If you do, you can recognize the value that it can bring.

The shadow self is not an evil side to us, and it is not necessary for it to always express itself through vice. It is just part of our natural self that has been subdued by the people that we love because it was subdued in them and past generations so that we can survive in the world.

The crazy thing is that we all have it, we all hide it, because to show it or for someone else to see it means that they know too much.

To step into this space, we have to be bold and courageous. We must enter a field of play where the players are able to communicate to one another, “I see you, and I see you see me, and now that we see each other, I feel completely safe, secure, and sure of who I am.”

There is something about the dark side that is so alluring. There is something about it that allows us to get to the core of not only who we are but what we are. To be able to tap into this well of energy is one of the most empowering things we can do as human beings.

It is complete presence. It is breaking free from the rules and the regulations that are imposed upon us. It is freedom when wielded within limits.

Embracing the dark side is about knocking on pain’s door and saying, “I am here to dance.” The shadow is the real, the focused, the undistracted. It has the power to destroy when overused, it also has the power to heal.

Darkness recognizes itself in others and does not judge. It is the dark side that rises to the occasion, to promise that it will protect others from what it may have endured itself. Embrace your darkness. Speak to it often, laugh with it and cry with it. It is who you are. It is everywhere you have been and everywhere you will go.

There is a place for both darkness and light in our lives and the more we embrace our darkness, the more light we will bring into the world.


[i] Team, GoodTherapy Editor. “Individuation.” In Therapy, GoodTherapy, 9 June 2019, therapy/issues/individuation#:~:text=Individuation%20refers%20to%20the%20process,a%20human%20in%20the%20world.


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