Releasing the Shadow: Bringing Dark Aspects of the Personality to the Light

"Everyone carries a shadow,and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." Carl Jung

For most of us, the aspect of our psyche called the Shadow is more often than not the source of our troubles rather than their solution, the nemesis of our self-esteem, success and happiness.

The term “Shadow” was originally used by psychological theorist Carl Jung to describe that part of the human psyche which contains all of the elements of our personality - attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, behavior patterns - that we have denied or rejected from our conscious awareness.

The Shadow is like a dark corner of the basement where you’ve stored all of the objects in your house that you don’t want or like anymore but are not quite ready to throw away. However, the elements in the Shadow are rarely as benign as the old furniture or clothing relegated to the basement. The Shadow is like a garbage dump that has been capped over and abandoned in the hopes that all of the poisons deposited there have been eliminated from our lives forever. But those hopes are delusive, because those buried poisons continue to leach up to the surface and slowly but consistently contaminate the landscape and sicken everything living there for miles around. When we say we “carry a lot of baggage” this is what we mean, those Shadow issues we have not yet dealt with. The Shadow is the cause of irrational disturbances – we become upset but can’t put our finger on the exact cause.

As much as we would like to forget and escape from the elements we have banished to our Shadow, there is no escaping from the effects of a Shadow scorned. The Shadow is essentially a conduct disorder that has gone underground. It is like the attention-starved, neglected child that we were once and “grew out of”, but never grew past. Like a deprived child, still very much alive in the depths of our psyche, the Shadow will use all of the anger, resentment and frustration he/she holds inside to frustrate and anger his parents sufficiently to pay attention to him. The Shadow will pursue even negative attention rather than no attention at all. The adult adaptive-level of our consciousness reflects the same attitude toward the Shadow that our parents showed toward us when we did something inappropriate to get the attention we craved. The result is: we curse the Shadow and then vilify ourselves as well for being so immature or unspiritual.

The foundation for all inappropriate behavior is deprivation of an instinctually required element - the parents’ positive attention comprising physical contact and emotional nurturing. Instead of trying to understand the source of misbehavior, parents see only the symptom and react with annoyance, anger, frustration and punishment. They are missing the point. No child who has been given the positive attention it requires will need to misbehave in order to get negative attention. No child develops inappropriate behaviors who has not first attempted appropriate behaviors and failed. No child will give up in its attempts to attract negative attention if he has despaired of ever being able to attract positive attention. Inappropriate behaviors that are disapproved of or suppressed go into the Shadow. This is the foundation of the Shadow’s persistence and intractability. You can exile the Shadow elements but you can’t kill them because they are a part of you. As we use increasingly desperate and hostile attempts to suppress it, it counters our tactics with even more defiant resistance. That is why the only way to address and resolve the Shadow is not to confront or reject it but to embrace it, to give it what it has truly been craving underneath all of the defiance and drama.

The Shadow is a process, not an entity. Your conscious awareness either cannot see it or can see it only dimly. The Shadow looks out from the darkness you have cast over it and is aware of everything that is going on in the light. The Shadow’s operational principles are denial and projection. Denial means that we refuse to see those inappropriate characteristics or behavior patterns as an integral part of the kind of person we believe ourselves to be. Projection means that we attribute these characteristics to other people whom we seem uncannily to encounter continually in our daily lives and toward whom we react with frustration or hostility.

Millions of people nowadays are working toward making positive gains in their lives in both spiritual and material realms. A common misunderstanding of the Power of Intention is that one can manifest dreams and desires merely by thinking about it and maintaining a positive attitude. Although there is some truth to this philosophy, in reality very few people get the outcomes that they feel they were promised, and become disillusioned and embittered But these failures are not the result of a flaw in the principles underlying intentionality. The source of this discrepancy between efforts and results is the self-sabotaging thoughts and feelings arising from the Shadow. No matter how much your conscious mind may desire success, Shadow elements will consistently hinder your best efforts to fulfill their unmet needs.

How to recognize Shadow in your conscious life:

The Shadow is the source of all our pet peeves, hot buttons and self-sabotage, and is also the source of the “voice in our head” that judges and berates us, destroying our peace of mind, undermining our self-esteem, or inciting us to behave destructively toward ourselves or others. If you’ve ever wondered, after doing something totally out of character, “where did that come from?”, or if you’ve ever heard someone who has just said or done something inappropriately out of character say, when challenged, “Well that’s just the way I am!”, you can bet that the culprit is a Shadow element. If you ever get to the point where you decide that it’s time to address the Shadow in your life, but don’t know where to start, the best start is simply to ask yourself what ticks you off, puts you into a rage or into a funk, throws you out of balance from a positive frame of mind.

If you are a usually calm person but go into a rage if someone cuts you off while driving; if you are usually self-confident but go into a funk if your spouse or boss makes a critical comment; if you secretly gloat when you see people slapped down by authority for doing some stupid thing that you secretly wish you could do yourself, understand that all of these and countless other scenarios like them are the play of the elements in your Shadow. These annoyances feel like a curse when they happen, but they are in fact a blessing in disguise. They are an opportunity for us to realize the issues in our Shadow that are creating havoc in our lives and also to take responsibility for them instead of blaming our annoyance on others. If we have the courage to admit to them and address them we can finally resolve them once and for all.

Nothing to Fear in the Shadow

Our fear and avoidance of the Shadow dissolves as we direct the light of our consciousness to it and give it the positive attention that deep down it really craves but has been denied. By shining the light on it and embracing it instead of continually shunning or rejecting it, we heal and resolve it, because once the Shadow is embraced, it finally has what it has been rightfully seeking but has been denied all these years. It doesn't have to scream for attention anymore with its inappropriate behavior and we don’t have to scream in frustration and judgment at it any more. The motivation for mayhem is gone because the love it has been seeking, albeit through inappropriate behavior, has been attained.

How is this accomplished? With awareness, compassion and acceptance. In essence, it is like calmly watching a child while he throws a tantrum without reacting with rejection or indulgence. It is not fighting the child with a tantrum of one’s own, and it is not giving in by acting upon the child’s demands. You shine the light of your consciousness upon the shadow so that both of you see clearly what is happening. There is no longer any darkness in which to hide. And then you offer it your embrace, psychologically. This can be done with or without the assistance of a psychotherapist, by using an inner dialogue, or a visualization process, or an emotional releasing technique such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or other energy psychology intervention. The elements of the Shadow become reintegrated into conscious awareness so that all of the energy that was bound up in them is released and available for more positive and productive pursuits.

Healing the Shadow

The only way to heal the Shadow is with light and love, which is all it ever wanted in the first place. Love is the experience of being comfortable and happy in your own skin, feeling complete and whole, and feeling a sense of connectedness with all that is. When that is your experience of who and what you are, then you bring that love to everyone you meet and everything you do, and your life becomes a benediction of spiritual fulfillment and material abundance in each and every moment.


1 Jung, C.G. (1938). "Psychology and Religion." In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East
2 "Nemesis" is now often used as a term to describe one's worst enemy normally someone or something that is the exact opposite of oneself but is also somehow similar. For example, Professor Moriarty is frequently described as the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes
2 Ibid..
4 See: Liedloff, Jean (1977). “The Continuum Concept.” Random House. See also: Continuum Concept

Author's Bio: 

Sensei Jim Giorgi, ordained Zen Buddhist Dharma Teacher Chogye Order, therapist, school psychologist, aikido instructor San-Dan (Third Degree Black Belt)NGA, M.S.Ed., NCSP, BCIA-C(EEG)

My life's vision and goal is to inspire and motivate people, physically, mentally and spiritually, to become all they are capable of being, in personal, career and athletic endeavors. My role is as a coach and mentor of optimal performance for individuals, families, businesses and organizations, helping people to live, work and play with revitalized energy and effectiveness, so that they may experience the joy, playfulness and spiritual freedom that is available right in the midst of everyday activities and challenges.

My skills as an Integral/Transpersonal Counselor, EEG Neurotherapist, Educator, Martial Artist, and Meditation Teacher have been developed through my own lifetime quest for optimal wellness, excellence and joyful living. My experiences unify to create an integral, progressive orientation that emphasizes an ethical approach to life and work, highly synergistic in outcome, allowing one to live ordinary life as an extraordinary adventure.

My guideline is "Right action in daily living," bringing integrity, compassion, clarity, enthusiasm, intention effortlessness and efficacy to all one’s activities on a moment-to-moment basis. Spiritually, I embrace the "perennial philosophy," the numinous, eternal presence of the Divine, right in the midst of ordinary life, which lies at the core of all the great global spiritual and religious traditions.