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Carl Jung and the Shadow: An Introduction

Eric Thompson is a member of the 2009 All-USA Academic Team. He writes and speaks on the intersection between psychology and spirituality.

An introduction to Jung and the shadow

An introduction to Jung and the shadow

The Shadow and Carl Jung

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, is best known for his theories of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, and synchronicity. Along with Sigmund Freud, Jung pioneered modern theories of the relationships between the conscious and unconscious aspects of the mind.

While Freud focused more on the psychosexual tensions within the mind, Jung branched out and examined the spiritual conflicts that exist within us all. One of his most famous theories was what he termed "the shadow." This article aims to enlighten readers as to the importance of examining our darker sides in order to become more consciously aware of the origins of our behaviors, motivations, and desires.

The Jungian Shadow: Its Phenomenology, Detection and Conscious Integration

Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s construct of the shadow, comprised of the denied aspects of the self (Jung 1959, p. 20), conceals within itself the golden key not only to understanding the agency by which wars and feuds of all kinds tend to start, but the very solution to preventing their emergence in the first place.

Such conflicts develop out of constricted, narrow views, and Jung claimed the shadow itself was the result of a narrow identification with the persona—the social mask—at the expense of the unattended aspects of the self (Bennett, 1966, p. 117).

Jung Warns About the Facade of the Persona

As individual attention is habitually and excessively focused on the façade of the persona, the deeper, neglected aspects of the personality continually sabotage the individual’s conscious intentions (Jung, 1959, p. 123). In order to account for these frustrations while also avoiding their true source, the shadow is conveniently projected onto other people (Bennett, 1966, p. 119), resulting in what can often be perceived as threatening and unfriendly circumstances (Wilber, 1979, p. 82).

Whether the shadow manifests as a war protester who covertly bombs public buildings, a novice guitarist who practically deifies Eddie Van Halen, or as a pro-life extremist who assassinates abortionists, it always represents the very qualities that the persona claims to lack. As such, attentive detection and conscious integration of the shadow would seem to offer a genuine solution to taming the darker aspects of humanity, as well as harnessing its highest potentials, especially if willingly practiced by a growing percentage of the world population.

This essay explores a first-person, phenomenological approach to detecting and integrating the shadow, as well as a third-person, structural view of development that is believed to occur as a result of shadow integration.

Drawing from both first-person experience and logical argument, based upon insights in both transpersonal psychology and Buddhist mindfulness practice, it is theorized that the cultivation of compassionate yet intentional awareness is capable not only of detecting the presence of the shadow, but also of gently confronting and integrating it into the personality in a manner which develops a more deeply attuned sense of self with the world at large. With no inherent need to deny any aspects of the self, there is no need to project any of these aspects outside of the experienced self.


The Phenomenology of Shadow Recognition

The first sign of shadow projection appears as a strong emotional reaction to anyone or anything in the environment (Wilber, 1979, p. 94). More precisely, the first-person experience of such affect feels visceral, impulsive and automatic, more like an unconscious reflex than a conscious, intentional response (Bennett, 1966, p. 119).

The instinctive reflex arising out of such affect then projects the source of the feeling outwardly onto some other person, thing or situation, often in the form of emotionally pungent criticism and blame (1966, p. 119). It is this very tendency, in fact, which can serve as the prime indicator that the shadow is in play. By becoming mindfully aware of the people to whom the persona is positively or negatively attracted, in addition to the outwardly focused perceptions which accompany such attraction, it is possible to recognize the shadow (Welwood, 200, p. 208).

Surprisingly, the Christian New Testament may offer subtle insights into how the shadow can be detected and integrated. Jesus, during his famous sermon on the mount, asks, "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye" (Matthew 7: 3 – 4, New American Bible)?

His aim here appears to be to encourage his disciples to investigate their own first-person experience during the act of fault-finding. His emphasis is on inquiring into why and how such criticism arises, particularly on how its very development emanates from a failure to acknowledge much greater defects within themselves.

The Persona Is a Mask

In order to help his audience see more clearly how their pointed criticism originates from an over-identification with the persona, he speaks directly to the persona and says, "You hypocrite remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7: 5, New American Bible).

Interestingly, the Greek root used here, of which hypocrite is a transliteration, refers to an actor, one who plays a role. Similarly, Jung's concept of the persona refers exclusively to the "mask of the actor" (Jung, 1959, p. 20). Additionally, Jesus suggests that two distinct qualities will emerge as a result of becoming more aware of the inner world, of mindfully attending to the shadow. The first is clarity of perception, and the second is a peaceful disposition that is motivated to help and serve others rather than to find fault and blame.

Integrating the Shadow Through Conscious Awareness

“I looked, and looked, and this I came to see:

That what I thought was you and you,

Was really me and me” (Wilber, 1979, p. 95).

As is evident, the contents of projection are the secret characteristics—the ‘its’—which the persona refuses to acknowledge. When Jung’s former mentor, Freud, proclaimed, “where id was, there ego shall be,” he was speaking about ending this externalization of the personal contents of consciousness (Freud, 1965).

Here, Freud is literally saying, "Where it was, I shall come to be.” This means that the shadow is integrated by consciously addressing the persona with its own antithesis (Wilber, 1979, p. 100) so that what was formerly a problematic ‘it’ now becomes an integral part of the ‘I’, where it may now bestow its once hidden wealth upon the experience of the personality (Jung, 1959, p. 270).

The shadow is integrated by consciously addressing the persona with its own antithesis.

The shadow is integrated by consciously addressing the persona with its own antithesis.

As previously mentioned, shadow projection is accompanied by the presence of pronounced affect (Jung, 1959, p. 38), which in turn can act as the very signal for a return to and cultivation of mindfulness. By deliberately diving into the felt experience of this affect, while simultaneously acknowledging its source to be interior and not exterior to the self, it is possible to come face to face with the projected contents of the personal unconscious.

Jung, Buddhism and the Four Nobel Truths

The first two of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism state that suffering is the basic state of the human condition and that suffering arises from desire. By bringing a greater depth of conscious awareness into the roots of the affect—the roots of the suffering, so to speak—it is possible to become aware of the underlying desire—the concealed attachment—from which the strong affect is emanating.

Viewed from this perspective, the strong affect which accompanies shadow projection, usually associated with a felt tension or contraction within the body, is seen as a form of suffering. And this contraction, in the Buddhist view, is the result of a desire that is presently being either repressed (i.e., resisted) or indulged (i.e., deeply identified with). However, by diving into the depths of the attachment with compassionate, nonjudgmental, yet intentional, awareness, it is possible to eventually release the desire in an inward posture of kindness toward oneself (Ladner, 2004, p. 68), thus relieving the suffering.

Though space does not allow for a further elaboration of what this process of mindfulness entails, it is the assertion of this essay that the same mindful process by which desires are said to be compassionately released within the context of Buddhist mindfulness practice is the very same process by which the personal shadow can be benevolently confronted and assimilated into the experience of the self.


Shadow Integration and the Development of the Ego

As Jung indicated, once the shadow has been adequately befriended and integrated into the personality, development of the experienced self expands and unfolds (Jung, 1959, p. 340). Developmental theorist Susanne Cook-Greuter’s model of ego development, interestingly, seems to mirror Jung’s sentiments, though her conception of ego differs slightly from Jung’s.

While the stages of development in the first two-thirds of her model depict the ego as differentiating itself in the direction of greater levels of autonomy, the last third of her stage-model—the postconventional stages of development—views the ego as growing toward higher levels of unity and integration with the ground of being itself (Cook-Greuter, 2004, p. 5).

This higher integration involves a progressive dissolution of subject-object duality so that all opposites are eventually absorbed and embraced (2004, p. 28). The shadow, of course, qualifies as one of the opposites to be enfolded into the unified ego, making its detection and integration absolutely essential to human development toward more encompassing levels of wholeness and well-being (2004, p. 25).

Cook-Greuter's Views of the Shadow

Cook-Greuter’s highest stage of development—the Unitive Stage—reflects a profound level of self-acceptance, so much so that there is now no unconscious need to escape what is and, therefore, no need to project the shadow upon anyone or anything else (2004, p. 33). As such, a newfound simplicity and gracefulness of expression emerges in this stage as the result of unifying the once disparate aspects of the self with the rest of the world (2004, p. 33).

More Theories Established by Carl Jung

TheoryBrief Explanation

Personality Theory

(There are many different theories about this) According to Jung, the ego represents the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions that a person is aware of; however, each of us has a true personality which is masked by the demands placed upon us by social constructs.

Collective Unconscious

The part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual's unconscious.

The Archetypes

Universal, mythic characters—archetypes—reside within the collective unconscious.


The concept that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.

References for More Carl Jung Info

Bennett, E. A. (1966). What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken.

Cook-Greuter, S. (2004). 9 levels of increasing embrace. Retrieved from http://www.

Freud, S. (1965). New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. London: Hogarth Press.

Jung, C.G. (1959). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler, William McGuire (Eds.), The Collected Works of C. G. Jung (Volume 9, Part 1). Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversity.

Ladner, L. (2004). The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology. New York: HarperOne.

LeGuin, U. K. (1975). A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam.

Welwood, J. (2000). Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1979). No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth. Boulder: Shambhala.

Williamson, M. (1996). A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. New York: Harper.

More Influential Works by Carl Jung

Title Year

"On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena."


"Psychology of the Unconscious"


"The Psychology of Individuation"


"The Integration of the Personality"


"On the Nature of the Psyche"



Keri Machin from Miami Florida on August 25, 2013:

awesome hub!

TJ on January 17, 2013:

Self actualisation cannot happen unless you confront and befriend your shadow. It is very apt that both Buddhism and Christianity have been used to tame the dark side of humanity because they have truly resolved my personal dilemmas with the deeper darker aspects of self to evolve with clarity and compassion. Thank you for this article, people need to know these aspects......when they are ready.

Madailein Aisling Ireland from Seattle, WA on December 31, 2012:

This was an awesome article. I linked to it in my Jung articles--much better job than I did! Great stuff, voted up!

mattdigiulio from Los Angeles on August 26, 2012:

Great hub, and this is a great example of what hubpages is about and like for those coming here from google or elsewhere. I learned a lot from this, thank you.

best, Matt d.

Joan sarcauga on March 12, 2012:

hi everyone...............

Spencer on February 04, 2012:

Hey there is a call of duty commentator on youtube with this shadow that he made a series on it and some of his dream. I think it's worth a glance. The name is "Drift0r" on youtube and the series is the most epic dream part 1. be warned this is a long series and it requires attention and patience to understand on April 04, 2011:






Virginia.Routh on November 04, 2010:

Thanks for your reply. Maybe I didn't push the right button! My comment was about shadow : I do not think you distinguish between personal and archetypal, a distinction which means a lot to me. The personal shadow relates to the individual, contains repressed material, everything the person does not acknowledge about themselves (not exclusively negative) and can be integrated and made conscious. Often it is through projection of the personal shadow that the contents become conscious. Why am I so irritated by X? Why do I put Y on a pedestal The archetypal shadow is of a different order altogether. It cannot be made conscious but we can be dimly aware of it. It is a terrifying, threatening presence, the stuff of deep depression, psychopathy and destructiveness. It is part of all of us, as all archetypes are, and certainly is projected onto others ie terrorists, murderers, rapists etc. But we can only be dimly aware of it in ourselves.

Eric Thompson - Binaural Waves on November 02, 2010:

Hi Virginia,

I have no idea why a comment of yours was not posted last week, and I apologize for any problems. As far as I am aware, this is the first notice of a comment I have received from you, as HubPages sends me notices of every comment that is placed here. In fact, I've always welcomed all comments and have never deleted any comments. Please feel free to re-type the original comment you intended to publish last week. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience:) ~ ET

Virginia.Routh on November 02, 2010:

I posted a comment about the article about a week ago and it hasn't appeared on the page. Is there a reason for this?

Eric - Meditation Research on September 12, 2010:

I love the Star Wars reference. Thanks!

Joyus Crynoid from Eden on September 12, 2010:

I really like this hub. If only more of us would get to know our shadows... To quote an exchange between Yoda and Luke Skywalker, as Luke is about to enter a cave (from Star Wars, Episode 5):

Yoda: "That place…is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go."

Luke: "What's in there?"

Yoda: "Only what you take with you."

Gerry Hiles from Evanston, South Australia on September 11, 2010:

The most valuable things from Jung, for me have been "introversion-extraversion", "projection"(ascription) and the wrap-up and profound "Psychology of the Transference".

Gerry Hiles from Evanston, South Australia on September 11, 2010:

If I HAD to pick two people to nominate as the epitome of symbolizing the best possible about our species, then I would HAVE to pick Socrates and Carl Jung ... though I am struggling to exclude Rene Descartes, David Hume and numbers of other very rare members of our generally very stupid species.

The insights of Socrates/Plato and Jung have literally saved my life.

Glenda Klint on July 22, 2010:

I really enjoy your work. I love the different angles and perspectives you bring together. I have read Cook-Greuter before and am thankful to know there is a website I can futher explore this work.

SpiritMom from New York on June 17, 2010:

Jung's work on the shadow is truly transcendent. Your hub did justice to it. Much of Joseph Campbell's work rests on Jung's foundations showing us that much of the things we project outward are inward events seeking resolution.

dashingclaire from United States on June 04, 2010:

Very thought and knowledge seeking hub!

Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on June 03, 2010:

Congratulations on your nomination! I am an avid follower of Jung and this hub shows quite a command of his thought.

Thanks so much for the read!

Sandria Green-Stewart from Toronto, Canada on June 03, 2010:

iEric2010, I really like this post. Although I've not studied Jung in depth, I'm fascinated by his theories. It seems that on the whole we have not mastered, at least most of humanity has not mastered how to integrate the shadow into our persona, otherwise like you propose we would not see as many conflicts/wars as we've seen over history. Another interesting and baffling phenonomen is religious wars. This duality of good versus evil seems pervasive. I wonder if Jung saw any solution to this?

Thanks for writing with such clarity and insight on a topic that is so cerebral. Thanks for the references, I'll be checking out some of the books.

I am definitely a fan!

Mike on June 03, 2010:

What a wonderful Hub Eric. I've learned a lot and remembered stuff I thought I had forgotten.

Sheila Wilson from Pennsylvania on June 02, 2010:

Very insightful hub. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Davodevo on May 30, 2010:

Quite enlightening, I will be attempting to apply this to mine own identified areas or tension and stress to see if a shadow might be found lurking nearbye.

Shirley on May 30, 2010:

Wonderful clarity and I look forward to reding more of your work. Thank you :)

SilverGenes on May 30, 2010:

Excellent article and I'm about to reading everything else you've written. Glad you're on hubpages!

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on May 29, 2010:

Wow! Such a wonderfully written hub. :)

This is an official announcement: Your Hub is a Hubnugget Wannabe and nominated in the Knowledge and Education Category. This is the Hubnugget Link:

raisingme from Fraser Valley, British Columbia on May 28, 2010:

I will be back to read this through again and again. Well Done! I love the "Heart" picture of the "Earth" - puts the H in the 'right' place! Excellent Hub!

DeanMcDonnell from Ireland on May 11, 2010:

Have you read Jungs 'Red Book'??

Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on May 10, 2010:

Very good article...welcome to Hubpages...I'll be watching for any new material you write.

mysterylady 89 from Florida on May 10, 2010:

Have you read "Demian" by Hesse? I used to teach a simplified introduction to Jung to help my students understand the novel. You brought back memories.

You sound very well informed, and you are an excellent writer! Thanks!

cea on May 04, 2010:

thanks a lot! great read

Kim Harris on May 01, 2010:

Great article iEric. I'll have to check out some of your other articles as well....another time though; very tired.

thevoice from carthage ill on April 30, 2010:

terrific terrific hub read very unique work thanks