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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” — Carl Jung

Just like we all have a will, a mind and a heart, we all have a shadow side.

It’s about whether or not we want to identify with it.

But what exactly is the shadow?

Carl Jung said that our shadow is the person we would rather not be.

In other words, our shadow is those parts about ourselves that we deny, reject, say ‘no’ to, keep back, push down, suppress or repress.

To gain a better understanding of how our shadow works, we must first acknowledge the concepts of persona and ego.

Persona: the mask or image we present to the world

In Latin, persona translates to mask.

Our persona is the way we show up in a specific context. Our context-based mask will only have an impact on what we focus on and what we end up projecting into our outer world, right above and outside of our consciousness.

Sometimes, our persona can come out as something we are pretending to be rather than who we are meant to be. If we are true to ourselves, then our persona should reflect whom we actually are. However, in some cases, individuals present false images or a phony persona just to fit in.

Overall, our persona is the way we present ourselves to the world around us because we want these character traits to be seen by others.

The ego is what keeps us separate from our truth

Our ego is who we think we are.

Imagine an iceberg.

It is our ego that sits and mediates between the conscious (the peak of the iceberg) and the unconscious (below the surface).

Therefore, it is called the preconscious or subconscious where our accessible memories and knowledge reside. This part is responsible for reality testings and a sense of personal identity.

The ego is the conscious part of our personality, the part where our common sense and reason lie. It allows us to organise our thinking and our judgments on the external world.

The other side of the iceberg, underneath the deep blue sea, consists of this massive invisible part of our unconscious mind and the collective unconscious.

Here, buried in that deeper part of our unconscious mind, is where our shadow dwells. 

Discovering our shadow

When we first see our shadow, we jump with fear. It scares the living daylights out of us.

We know when our shadow is activated by the way we feel.

Whether the emotional hook, pull or charge is positive or negative in nature, it is our shadow waving at us trying to get our attention.

For instance, have you ever looked up to someone and said, ‘You are magnificent, you are so amazing at what you do, no wonder you are so successful!’ Well, this is a perfect example that it is your shadow at play here. It is letting you know that you don’t own these certain qualities and you must if you want to succeed.

To show how it works both ways, have you ever heard yourself say, ‘I would never do that to a person in public!’ Yet again, this is your shadow pointing something that you don’t own as yours.

This doesn’t mean that it is that specific event (content) taking place in that exact environment (context). You would need to chunk it up by saying, ‘where in my life do I speak like that to and in what context?

It could be in a business sense, in the way you speak to your loved ones at home, or even something as simple as self-talk.

To get a clearer picture of your own shadow, here are a few questions to ponder over: 

  • What are some things that I dislike about myself?
  • What are some things that I dislike in others?
  • What are some things I complain about?
  • What are some things I criticise in others?
  • What are some things I struggle with?
  • What are some things I envy in others?

It is our shadow that challenges our ego

In essence, the ego is not bad. We need the ego. It has a purpose: to mediate between the conscious and the unconscious.

Therefore, your relationship with your ego is up to you. It can be your ally or your foe.

Think about it. If we didn’t have the ego to intervene and negotiate between the conscious and the unconscious mind, what kind of mess do you think we would end up in?

If we didn’t have an ego, who would then be the one that would moderate our desires, our appetite, our values and our beliefs?

Our ego helps us create healthy boundaries because it is the ‘I’ in us.

To read the first piece in this two-part series on understanding the shadow and the ego, as well as the relationship between them, click here