The Shadow, Politics and the Psyche

In my opinion, the most important and useful concept in Jungian psychology is that of the “Shadow”, — the unrecognized, un-integrated darker aspects of one’s personality, and the consequent projection of the shadow onto others.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the classic example of a split off shadow “evil” personality from the “good” personality. Darth Vader would be another, more modern example.

How does this apply to politics? It is always the other side, those right-wing nut cases, those left-wing nut jobs who are evil, intolerant, prejudiced. We get so emotionally charged because they can represent the other parts of our personality we don’t like or haven’t come to terms with.

One of the more disturbing things from the publication in the Anchorage Daily News of the Sarah Palin satire from this jungcurrents blog was the number of responses, from both sides of the political spectrum that involved name-calling, insults and ad hominem arguments.

More on this in another next post.

Quotations from Carl Jung about the Shadow

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.

A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbor.

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.

If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.

The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.

3 Responses to The Shadow, Politics and the Psyche

  1. It’s all a mirror, yes. Although true, it’s a simplistic view. And unfortunately, so many take it and think all they need do is find that inner peace (no doubt an exceedingly good and wise thing to do…key to healing our world), and then sit quietly while the world gets better. But “someone” must go and battle–or in some other appropriate way deal with–the demons we’ve already created, no? I say, endeavor to find inner peace (a challenge with multiple layers of consciousness), oh-yes, but then stand up and be responsible — all the while knowing we’re battling our own “demons,” and hopefully intuitively and fearlessly so.

  2. Interesting take on Jung’s history with women… I think most people assume/project that they were passionate sexual affairs… I personally think that Jung was a very vital man, full of life, very grounded in many ways. This would suggest that he was also quite sexual…. Are there letters or documents that might indicate otherwise?

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Dove.


    This business of ‘standing up,’ of growing up, of being in touch with our living spines, this must come along with finding peace in our world today.

    “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
    What can we do to galvanize the best of ourselves…

    Mature people, those who know that grown-ups pay taxes, that there is a place for government, and that corporations should not have unlimited power, need to develop some backbone.

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