The Shadow: Transcription of a talk presented by Ann Shulgin at the 2019 Women’s Congress in June 2019
Testing testing. Can you all hear me in back? Ok, do you hear me better now? Does anyone hear me at all? (Those present say yes! Laughter and cheers.)
You are going to have to forgive me for reading my talk. I’m eighty-eight years old and my memory is very good. But not good enough to do this off the top of my head. So please forgive me.
I am talking about the Shadow. You can divide people who explore their consciousness with visionary plants and psychedelic drugs into two groups. Those who use the materials to have fun and relax. And those who take them as a part of their spiritual path. To examine and understand themselves. Most people, to tell the truth, do both.
No matter what motivates you to nibble mushrooms or drink ayahuasca tea, sooner or later you are going to have an encounter with the dragons and the demons in your soul. The Buddhists teach that when your body has died, your soul will meet what they call the guardians at the gate. And that what you must do is not run away. Or try to escape them. But look them in the face and acknowledge them as aspects of yourself.
So what is the Shadow? C.G. Jung first used the term Shadow for what most people think of in a vague sort of way as the dark side. The trap here is that when the average citizen thinks “dark side,” he believes it means ultimate evil. Something or some quality or aspect of life which everyone would instantly recognize as bad, wrong, the enemy. There is actually no such thing.
The Shadow is composed of all the qualities, all the feelings, all the thoughts and urges that you as an individual have come to believe, usually because you have been taught, are unacceptable, shameful, dirty, wicked, monstrous, nasty and foul smelling. So to speak. If this sounds like a classic description of the devil, it is not accidental. The Shadow is all the things you don't want to be consciously. And it’s all the things you are terrified you might be unconsciously.
How does the Shadow develop? By something that happens during the process of socializing which every child has to undergo in order to become an accepted member of his family and eventually his tribe and his community. The child has to be taught not to hit somebody when he's angry, not to scream at the top of his lungs when he wants something he can't have, and not to grab his sibling's toy just because he feels like it.
During this time being instructed in the ways of his society he gradually develops two images of himself. The preferred image - the picture of little Johnny as a boy who is loved, liked and approved of and the bad boy Johnny, the one whom everyone dislikes and gets angry at and doesn't want to play with.
Everyone has a different degree of strength of Shadow. A child brought up by wise and loving parents will have far less of a resident monster than a child brought up by hostile and punishing parents. The first law of childhood is: survive. The survivor aspect of any human being is devoted to one thing and one thing only, his own physical and mental survival. The mental part includes his emotions.
I believe we are all born with a resident survivor. A child who is taken care of physically, but who is rejected and bruised verbally and emotionally is at risk just as much as if he were being starved and exposed to the elements without adequate protection. So to ensure that he gets what he needs in the way of validation, support and approval, Johnny learns to behave in certain ways. And to avoid those actions and reactions which will bring about disapproval and punishment.
In the ideal family, the parents show disapproval of the things that little Johnny does, from sticking his finger in the electrical outlet to pulling the tail of the family cat. And when the boy is old enough, they explain why he shouldn't do this or that. But at all times, he gets a sense of being loved, accepted. He never goes to bed at night without being patted, hugged, and kissed.
So he gets to learn the rules of life that his family gave without being made to feel that he himself is intrinsically bad and not loveable. Unfortunately, this world is full of unideal families. Not only do they punish actions, they condemn the child himself for wanting to act in an unacceptable way. The parent often says not just,"that's a bad thing to do, stop it." But also, "you are a bad boy. Only bad little boys hit their sisters, only bad boys touch themselves down there."
This is the beginning of the Shadow. The child is continually told that his instinctual urges or desires are proof of his innate wrongness. So natural, normal emotions and desires as well as thoughts and imaginings are pushed down, denied. They are relegated to the dark basement of the house of self. The conscious mind allies itself with goodness as defined by the parents and later the community.
Whatever aspects of his thoughts and feelings are being condemned, become a hidden presence in the depths of his unconscious where they grow and gain power in the room at the bottom of the stairs. Since they are hidden away in the unconscious, they tend to remain primitive and not transformed by interaction. They don't have a chance to grow up, to become adult.
Here, by the way, we come across one of the most subtle problems in understanding the Shadow. It's more than anything else, a philosophical problem. I said before that the child's conscious mind learns to ally itself with goodness as defined by others, parents and tribe. Now there are families in which, for instance, a good little boy, and later a man, is a person who demands absolute control over his own emotions and allies himself with qualities of strength, courage and toughness.
Ancient Sparta became famous for raising boys who were unafraid of physical pain, or refused to acknowledge such fear. And prided themselves in being merciless to their enemies. Strong in body and without softness of any kind. A nation of warriors eager to serve the state.
In such a case, of course, the Shadow is all feelings of empathy, kindness, gentleness and that most dangerous weakener, love. In a warrior nation like Sparta, the softness and all the emotions that threaten to undue one's strength and self-control and one's ability to gain and keep power, all those Shadow qualities are usually projected onto the women of the tribe. And of course in such countries, as in certain religions, women are regarded as the enemy, the temptors, the unwitting tools of the devil.
The point I want to make here is that every individual Shadow is different. The child of a Fortune 500 Wall Street shark will have a completely different Shadow than the child of a bodyworker and healer in San Francisco. There is a note here. The reason we refer to "the Shadow" instead of "the Shadows" is because all these forbidden parts of ourselves seem all the time to coalesce into a second identity. A secret forbidden version of ourselves.
The hardest part for me, of understanding the Shadow and what it does in our lives, is in this fact: whatever resides in our unconscious gets projected onto the world around us. Especially the people around us. Why this is so is certainly one of the major questions about being human. It is this projection of the Shadow, for instance, that colors the way we see all the people we know. In particular, the way we see qualities that we dislike or fear or hate.
It is this projection that causes war between clans and between nations. What happens is that whatever we have tried to discard, do away with and deny in ourselves gets repressed, pushed down into the unconsciousness, but it doesn't stop existing, it's still there.
And when we meet a person who embodies any of the qualities we've denied and repressed in ourselves, we respond to that person with unease, discomfort or even hate. So if you have taken an instant dislike to somebody you have just met, and can't figure out why, it's a good idea to do an interior search. And if you're prepared to be brutally honest with yourself, you will probably discover that the new person is exhibiting some kind of behavior or attitude that is a rejected aspect of your own nature.
It is understood by any professional psychologist that a man who can't stand homosexuals, who feels real rage whenever he comes across a gay man in particular, is either unconsciously homosexual or unconsciously terrified that he is homosexual. In other words, at some time in his life he felt urges towards other boys or men which frightened him. Because he had been taught that such feelings were completely disgusting and wrong and perverted. Therefore they got bundled into the dark basement room along with all the other unacceptable aspects of himself.
So why don't we accept the fact that a lot of negative and sometimes destructive urges are repressed and hidden away inside ourselves. Is there any argument to be made for keeping things that way as long as the end result is a good member of the community. A nice person, a well-behaved child and adult. The answer, of course, is no. Because the Shadow doesn't stay quiet. And those forces, those energies have a way of taking power at unexpected moments in our lives. Why? Because they want to exist.
They need to express themselves. They want to become part of the whole person. How often have we heard about the good kid? The boy in the church choir. By the way, all this applies equally to females, but I am using males as examples because males tend to act out physically to a greater extent than females. So their Shadow eruptions have, for the most part, more impact on those around them.
Anyway, we have heard about the nice young man who takes his dad's gun and kills his parents and continues on to the school to eliminate all the rest of his enemies. And all the friends and neighbors say, "I don't believe it. He's always been so polite, so nice. Such a good kid." And the boy himself, who we see on television in shackles and chains on his way to court, is apparently as bewildered as all the rest of the neighborhood.
He almost always says, "I don't know what happened. I don't know why I did it. It's like somebody else was inside me. It wasn't me! I'm so sorry. I don't know why it happened. I don't know!" And he doesn't. And the other well known one, the sweet good natured guy who everyone loves, until he has a few drinks and turns into a monster. Alcohol allows the door of that dark basement room to crack open more easily. But it isn't the alcohol that's the problem. The problem is in the unconsciousness, the repression and denial of certain aspects of his own nature.
You who do occasionally experiment with consciousness altering drugs, you have probably had the experience of looking at the faces of friends and loved ones and suddenly seen them as oh my God, devouring, suspicious hate-filled vampires and demons. If you've come back to baseline and thought, "was I seeing my friends as they really are? Was I seeing some terrible truth about them?" No, you weren't. You were seeing projections of your own Shadow.
So what should we do with our Shadow? Well again, in case you’re tempted to just leave it alone, as long as it doesn't seem to be causing disruptions or serial murders, or anything really nasty like that, let me remind you that if you have a desire to grow spiritually, however you define that, if you want to achieve some level of personal clarity, whatever that means to you, and what Jungians call individuation, you can’t even begin that journey without dealing with your Shadow.
Because spiritual growth, interior clarity, and individuation, mean becoming whole. Integrating all parts of yourself. Allowing and accepting all aspects of your nature. Acknowledging their existence. And learning to do so without negative judgment. The rule, "love yourself" means love and acknowledge and say, "yes, you are what you are and I don't deny you." To all the occupants of all the rooms in the house of yourself.
Dealing with your Shadow can be done bit by bit. Or it can be done by working intensively with a therapist or spiritual guide or both. You can use psychedelics, or hypnotherapy, or dreamwork, or all of them together. Or none of them. But I don't personally see how you can avoid looking at your dreams sooner or later. Because they are the most direct, uncensored communication with all parts of your unconscious, including the Shadow. And also your God self, your angels. After all, you are composed of light as well as dark. And your unconscious contains everything that isn't conscious. Love and bliss along with demons and monsters.
And what does dealing with the Shadow consist of? It means you consciously go looking for it. You find it, and by the way, it usually presents itself in animal form. You find it, you look it in the face, you step into it. You step back out of it. And you accept it without hate. Without fear. Without judgment. Without rejection. You totally give up denial. It's probably the hardest, most terrifying process you'll ever undergo in your life.
The objective is to ensure that your life will be run and your decisions will be made by your conscious self, not by the unconscious shadow. The objective is to make the unconscious Shadow conscious. To bring it into full awareness and allow it to transform from monster to ally. When I said you can do work with your Shadow bit by bit, I meant that. Once you’ve decided to commit yourself to becoming aware of your Shadow, you can try to exercise insight in day to day situations. Ordinary situations which present themselves as somehow uncomfortable or conflicted.
You simply have to keep in mind rule number one. Which is, no matter what you find inside yourself, accept it. Don't push it away, don't shut the door on it and say, "no, that can't be part of me. I'm not like that." Be ready to say instead, "ok, I'm human. I'm capable of anything that is human. Good, bad or indifferent." Keep in mind Oscar Wilde's words, "nothing human is alien to me."
You'll have to learn to lay aside your habitual dislikes and disapprovals. You have to give up disgust and rejection. You'll have to start practicing acceptance, saying for instance, "I don't like selfishness, but humans are often selfish and I am capable of being so. I'm capable of being selfish and I’m ready to accept that." And so on, through all the qualities you dislike most, and have spent your adult life trying not to be. In actuality what you’ve spent your life doing is denying and repressing any awareness of certain feelings, impulses and urges that you’ve been taught are wrong.
To become whole, or to begin to try to become whole, you have to start allowing yourself to be a human being like all other human beings, in potential. If you are human you have the potential for killing, for laziness, for cruelty, for cowardice, as well as for loyalty and love, empathy and kindness.
I'll give an example of bit by bit Shadow work. A young man I know, he's part of my extended family, had an elderly grandmother who was gradually becoming less able to care properly for herself. She had been fiercely independent all her life and it had become clear that she was going to need occasional help from members of her family. The young man, whose name was Theo, was her only grandchild. It was reasonable to expect that she would leave him most of her estate, which was somewhere around $100,000. Not a fortune, but not a measly pittance either.
However granny also enjoyed reading. Books were her main source of pleasure in life and she got her books from the local public library. So there was a very real possibility that she might leave her savings to the library. One day, Theo and I were discussing his grandmother's needs and how often each of us might go over to her apartment to help with various things like shopping, fixing a broken lamp, this and that. And I said jokingly, "after all Theo, you want to make sure that she doesn't forget about you when she makes out her will, right?" Not my exact words, but that was the general idea.
Theo reacted very strongly and it was clear that he'd been thinking about this and was feeling very uncomfortable. He said, "you know I really don't know what to do. I want to help her and I am willing to go over there as often as I can get away from work. But I don't want to visit her with the idea of getting her to leave me her money. And I don't want her to think that I'm hanging around for that reason either."
I sat down with him and said, "look Theo there is a way to deal with this. Realize that there are two things that are going on inside you at the same time. You love granny and you really want to help. And there is also a perfectly natural, normal desire to inherit from her. One doesn't cancel out the other. Those two kinds of thinking and feeling exist in all of us. The only wrong thing would be to fool yourself into believing that you have never thought about the money at all. Of course, there is some little part of you that wants the money. But whatever you do for her is mainly motivated by love and concern. You know that and I know that and she'll know that.
Of course, he didn't really hear me. Or to put it another way, he wasn't quite ready to allow his Shadow to exist. The Shadow aspect of himself, which he saw as greedy and manipulative, had to be denied. And I hadn't found the right words to encourage him to allow that side to be there along with his genuine love and helpfulness. Eventually, Theo did the right things in all the right ways. And I suspect he might have come to be more at peace with himself. I didn't ask him any more questions about his conflict, having done the best I could at the time. But he did inherit his grandmother's estate in the end, I'm happy to say.
Once you begin paying attention to the Shadow, you see it everywhere. Because it is everywhere. Go to your childhood fairytales. It's amazing how many of them are spiritual lessons in disguise. Remember beauty and the beast? Why does that story continue to enchant century after century? Because it resonates within us. It's the tale of a soul's encounter with its Shadow, the beast. And how she learns to overcome her initial disgust and fear and eventually comes to love and accept it. Whereupon the beast transforms into a prince. And they merge, or are married, and live happily, and consciously ever after.
If a person embarks on a spiritual path of any kind, sooner or later he will have to deal with his Shadow. Eventually he has to seek it out, look at it, and acknowledge its existence. In Jungian therapy, he makes his way down the treacherous stairs deeper and deeper until he finally confronts it, looks squarely at it, and allows it consciously to be what it is. A part of who he is, a part of the whole. Then work continues on understanding its origins and integrating it into his life in a way that is useful instead of destructive.
In the psychedelic hypnotherapy work, we took the patient one step further in the confrontation stage. We helped the patient step right into the monster and look out its eyes. This is one of the most terrifying things any human being can attempt to do for one simple reason. Shadow part of him believes that it is the whole truth about who he really is. The Shadow is his secret true identity. So the idea of stepping into this bad, awful thing is the threat of becoming it. Of being only it, of losing everything he has always tried to be; good, loveable, nice, kind. It is the threat of losing his soul.
No matter that the therapist tells him ahead of time, and over and over again as the process continues, that he is not his Shadow. His Shadow self still believes that it is the true self. Only when he has stepped into that dark animal shape and experiences its immense power and its lack of fear, because the Shadow fears only one thing, that is being uncovered and seen. Only when the two have merged and the patient then chooses to step back out, does he understand that it is only a part of his whole self and not his true essential nature.
Once this has been done, the Shadow starts to transform. The beast slowly takes on the shape of the prince. Actually it doesn't become a prince, but it does become an ally. A part of a person which represents his survival instincts and often his strongest creative energies. It will never have good table manners, but it will be with him as a tough, fearless friend. In other words, the final result is identical to that of the Jungians.
This is a short summary of a long process. Doing work with the Shadow is also one of the most exciting, rewarding and fulfilling things a therapist or spiritual guide can do. But nobody can, or should do this kind of work as a therapist until he has made the journey himself - and has met and transformed his own monster in the dark.
(Applause. Question from the audience: Many of us here, I think, are here, because we're healers and I very much see that in you. And I'm wondering if you have something, one piece of advice. What is your knowledge in helping others?)
It's what I said before in the paper, do your own work on yourself. Do your own Shadow work first. (Uninterpretable phase) You can't do this work, you certainly shouldn't try, if you haven't done the work on your own, on your own Shadow. It could be very harmful to the patient, because you have to know the territory. And when you ask it to trust you and what you say, you need to mean it. And he can't trust what you say, if you don't know what he's going through yourself.