Shadow (psychology)

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In analytical psychology, the shadow (also known as id, shadow aspect, or shadow archetype) is either an unconscious aspect of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or the entirety of the unconscious; that is, everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In short, the shadow is the unknown side.

From one perspective, the shadow "is roughly equivalent to the whole of the Freudian unconscious";[1] and Carl Jung himself asserted that "the result of the Freudian method of elucidation is a minute elaboration of man's shadow side unexampled in any previous age".[2]: 63  Contrary to a Freudian definition of shadow, however, the Jungian shadow can include everything outside the light of consciousness and may be positive or negative. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one's personality, the shadow is perceived to be largely negative. There are, however, positive aspects that may also remain hidden in one's shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem, anxieties, and false beliefs).[3] "Everyone carries a shadow", Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."[4] It may be, in part, one's link to more primitive animal instincts,[5] which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.

Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality.[6] According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that, if these projections remain hidden, "the projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power".[7] These projections insulate and delude individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.


The shadow may appear in dreams and visions in various forms and typically "appears as a person of the same sex as that of the dreamer."[8]: 175  The shadow's appearance and role depend greatly on the living experience of the individual because much of the shadow develops in the individual's mind rather than simply being inherited in the collective unconscious. Nevertheless, some Jungians maintain that "the shadow contains, besides the personal shadow, the shadow of society...fed by the neglected and repressed collective values."[9]

Interactions with the shadow in dreams may shed light on one's state of mind. A conversation with an aspect of the shadow may indicate that one is concerned with conflicting desires or intentions. Identification with a despised figure may mean that one has an unacknowledged difference from the character, a difference which could point to a rejection of the illuminating qualities of ego-consciousness. These examples refer to just two of many possible roles that the shadow may adopt and are not general guides to interpretation. Also, it can be difficult to identify characters in dreams—"all the contents are blurred and merge into one another...'contamination' of unconscious contents"[8]: 183 —so that a character who seems at first to be a shadow might represent some other complex instead.

Jung also made the suggestion of there being more than one layer making up the shadow. The top layers contain the meaningful flow and manifestations of direct personal experiences. These are made unconscious in the individual by such things as the change of attention from one thing to another, simple forgetfulness, or a repression. Underneath these idiosyncratic layers, however, are the archetypes which form the psychic contents of all human experiences. Jung described this deeper layer as "a psychic activity which goes on independently of the conscious mind and is not dependent even on the upper layers of the unconscious—untouched, and perhaps untouchable—by personal experience."[10]

Encountering the shadow[edit]

The eventual encounter with the shadow plays a central part in the process of individuation. Jung considered that "the course of individuation...exhibits a certain formal regularity. Its signposts and milestones are various archetypal symbols" marking its stages; and of these "the first stage leads to the experience of the shadow."[11] If "the breakdown of the persona constitutes the typical Jungian moment both in therapy and in development,"[12] it is this that opens the road to the shadow within, coming about when "beneath the surface a person is suffering from a deadly boredom that makes everything seem meaningless and if the initial encounter with the Self casts a dark shadow ahead of time."[8]: 170  Jung considered as a perennial danger in life that "the more consciousness gains in clarity, the more monarchic becomes its content...the king constantly needs the renewal that begins with a descent into his own darkness"[13]: 334 —his shadow—which the "dissolution of the persona" sets in motion.[14]

"The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself"[15]: 284  and represents "a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well."[15]: 21 

[If and when] an individual makes an attempt to see his shadow, he becomes aware of (and often ashamed of) those qualities and impulses he denies in himself but can plainly see in others—such things as egotism, mental laziness, and sloppiness; unreal fantasies, schemes, and plots; carelessness and cowardice; inordinate love of money and possessions...[8]: 174 

The dissolution of the persona and the launch of the individuation process also brings with it "the danger of falling victim to the shadow ... the black shadow which everybody carries with him, the inferior and therefore hidden aspect of the personality"[16]—resulting in a merger with the shadow.

Merging with the shadow[edit]

According to Jung, the shadow sometimes overwhelms a person's actions; for example, when the conscious mind is shocked, confused, or paralyzed by indecision. "A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own below his own level."[15]: 123  Hence, in terms of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, "it must be Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow ... and not vice versa. Otherwise the conscious becomes the slave of the autonomous shadow."[17]

Individuation inevitably raises that very possibility. As the process continues, and "the libido leaves the bright upper world...sinks back into its own depths...below, in the shadows of the unconscious."[18] so too what comes to the forefront is "what was hidden under the mask of conventional adaptation: the shadow", with the result that "ego and shadow are no longer divided but are brought together in an—admittedly precarious—unity."[19][full citation needed]

The effect of such "confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective ... nigredo, tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia."[13] Consequently, as Jung knew from personal experience: "In this time of descent — one, three, seven years, more or less — genuine courage and strength are required",[20] with no certainty of emergence. Nevertheless, Jung remained of the opinion that while "no one should deny the danger of the descent [...] every descent is followed by an ascent",[21] and assimilation of — rather than possession by — the shadow becomes a possibility.

Assimilation of the shadow[edit]

Enantiodromia launches a different perspective. "We begin to travel [up] through the healing spirals...straight up."[20]: 160–1  Here the struggle is to retain awareness of the shadow, but not identification with it. "Non-identification demands considerable moral effort [which] prevents a descent into that darkness"; and though "the conscious mind is liable to be submerged at any moment in the unconscious...understanding acts like a life-saver. It integrates the unconscious."[22][full citation needed] This reincorporates the shadow into the personality, producing a stronger, wider consciousness than before. "Assimilation of the shadow gives a man body, so to speak,"[2]: 239  thereby providing a launch pad for further individuation. "The integration of the shadow, or the realization of the personal unconscious, marks the first stage in the analytic process ... without it a recognition of anima and animus is impossible."[23] Conversely, "to the degree in which the shadow is recognised and integrated, the problem of the anima, i.e., of relationship, is constellated,"[15]: 270n  and becomes the centre of the individuation quest.

Carolyn Kaufman wrote that "in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity;"[24] so that for some, it may be that "the dark side of his being, his sinister shadow...represents the true spirit of life as against the arid scholar."[25] Nevertheless, Jungians warn that "acknowledgement of the shadow must be a continuous process throughout one's life;"[26] and even after the focus of individuation has moved on to the animus/anima, "the later stages of shadow integration" will continue to take place—the grim "process of washing one's dirty linen in private,"[27] of accepting one's shadow.


  1. ^ Anthony Stevens, On Jung (London 1990) p. 43
  2. ^ a b Jung, C. G. 1993. The Practice of Psychotherapy. London.
  3. ^ Young-Eisendrath, P. and T. Dawson. 1997. The Cambridge Companion to Jung. Cambridge University Press. p. 319.
  4. ^ Jung, C.G. 1938. "Psychology and Religion". In Psychology and Religion: West and East, Collected Works of C.G. Jung 11. p. 131
  5. ^ Jung, C.G. 1952. "Answer to Job." In Psychology and Religion: West and East, Collected Works of C.G. Jung 11. p. 12.
  6. ^ Roberts, Gwilym Wyn, and Andrew Machon. 2015. Appreciative Healthcare Practice: A guide to compassionate, person-centred care. M&K. ISBN 1907830936. p. 71.
  7. ^ Jung, C.G. 1951. "Phenomenology of the Self." In The Portable Jung. p. 147.
  8. ^ a b c d von Franz, Marie-Louise. [1964] 1978. "The Process of Individuation." In Man and his Symbols, edited by C. G. Jung. London: Picador. ISBN 0-330-25321-2.
  9. ^ Fordham, Michael. 1978. Jungian Psychotherapy. Avon. p. 5.
  10. ^ Jung, C.G. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. p. 148.
  11. ^ Jacobi, J. 1946. The Psychology of C. G. Jung. London. p. 102.
  12. ^ Homans, Peter. 1979. Jung in Context. London. p. 102.
  13. ^ a b C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (London 1963)
  14. ^ Jung, C. G. 1953. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. London. p. 277.
  15. ^ a b c d Jung, C.G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996).
  16. ^ Jung, C. G. 1954. "Psychology of the Transference." In Practice of Psychotherapy, Collected Works 16. London. p. 219.
  17. ^ Stevens, Jung p. 50
  18. ^ Jung, C. G. 1944. Psychology of the Unconscious. London. pp. 181–82.
  19. ^ Jung "Psychology"[full citation needed] pp. 238–39
  20. ^ a b Bly, Robert, and Marion Woodman. 1999. The Maiden King. Dorset.
  21. ^ Jung, C. G. Symbols of Transformation (London 1956) pp. 357, 375
  22. ^ Jung, "Psychology"[full citation needed] pp. 260, 266, and 269
  23. ^ Jung, C. G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. (London 1959) p. 22
  24. ^ Kaufman, Carolyn. "Three-Dimensional Villains: Finding Your Character's Shadow." Archetype Writing: The Writer's Guide to Psychology.
  25. ^ Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London 1983) p. 262
  26. ^ Hart, David L. 1977. "The classical Jungian school." In The Cambridge Companion to Jung, edited by P. Young-Eisendrath and T. Dawson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 92
  27. ^ Stevens, On Jung p. 235

Further reading[edit]

  • Abrams, Jeremiah. 1995. The Shadow in America. Nataraj.
  • Abrams, Jeremiah, and Connie Zweig. 1991. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. Tarcher. ISBN 0-87477-618-X
  • Arena, Leonardo Vittorio. 2013. The Shadows of the Masters. ebook.
  • Bly, Robert. 1988. A Little Book on the Human Shadow, edited by William Booth. San Francisco: Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-254847-6
  • Campbell, Joseph, ed. 1971. The Portable Jung, translated by R. F. C. Hull. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Johnson, Robert A. 1993. Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. Harper San Francisco, 128 pp. ISBN 0-06-250754-0.
  • —— 1989. Inner Work: Using Dreams and Creative Imagination for Personal Growth and Integration. Harper San Francisco, 241 pp. ISBN 0-06-250431-2.
  • Neumann, Erich. 1990. Depth Psychology and a New Ethic (reprint ed.). Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-571-9.
  • Zweig, Connie, and Steve Wolf. 1997. “Romancing the Shadow.” Ballantine.
  • —— “Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality.”

External links[edit]