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The Jungian Shadow Archetype and Dreams

The Shadow can be an intimidating part of one's self to explore.

The Shadow can be an intimidating part of one's self to explore.

What Are Archetypes?

Archetypes are the structural foundation upon which much of Jungian psychological theory is built. Although there are many archetypes, much of Jungian thought is contained in four primary archetypes. These are known as the Self, the Anima, the Animus, and the Shadow. Since the Shadow is often made up of psychic material one finds unpleasant, painful, or even downright revolting, it is often simplified as being one's "Dark Side."

While there is some truth to this analysis, it is a mistake to oversimplify the Shadow as the Darth Vader of the psyche. Some realms of the Shadow are far from black. In fact, some Shadow realms shimmer gold.

Shadow realms are often dimly lit, but they bring enlightenment when integrated.

Shadow realms are often dimly lit, but they bring enlightenment when integrated.

Fleeing the Shadow

There is no denying that the Shadow is one of the more unpleasant places in the unconscious psyche. After all, the Shadow is where one relegates all those facets of one's self that one wishes to suppress, ignore, deny, or eliminate. As the repository of all that the conscious mind rejects, the Shadow scares many people.

Realizing that all the traits, characteristics, and patterns of behaviour one finds so deplorable in others are living in one's personal unconscious, cloaked by the Shadow, is a frightening prospect to confront. Many people are so frightened by the Shadow that they make all manner of attempts to avoid confronting it. They suppress it. They deny it. They refuse to even so much as acknowledge even the possibility of its existence.

All of the aforementioned actions are little more than attempts to flee from or outrun the Shadow. However, running from the Shadow archetype is about as productive as running from one's physical shadow.

If the goal is to separate one's self from one's Shadow, fleeing is actually counterproductive because every attempt to deny the presence of the Shadow confirms its existence. As a result, all of the undesirable contents sleeping in the unconscious are awakened and their influence begins to strengthen, which lengthens the Shadow's reach into the conscious mind.

Shadow confrontations are fraught with danger, but according to Goethe, "Where danger lies, salvation also grows."

Shadow confrontations are fraught with danger, but according to Goethe, "Where danger lies, salvation also grows."

Confronting the Shadow Can Be Fruitful

While it is true that the Shadow contains some less-than-desirable elements, not all that is in the Shadow is actually undesirable. To quote Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, "In the Shadow is the gold."

What Is Shadow Gold?

Shadow gold refers to those elements of the Shadow that are actually quite precious, elements relegated to the Shadow due to painful associations, societal judgments, cultural disapproval, etc.

For example, an extremely intuitive child might have a family of origin who saw intuition as evil or demonic. That child might suppress all intuitive urges. The child's intuitive abilities would still exist, but they would exist in the darkness of the Shadow.

Similarly, a gifted musician who suffered abuse at the hands of a music teacher might sequester anything related to music into the confines of the Shadow.

It is only by confronting and accepting the presence of our Shadow that we can move toward a more integrated Self.

It is only by confronting and accepting the presence of our Shadow that we can move toward a more integrated Self.

Seeing Projections of Your Shadow Self

Individuals rarely recognize the Shadow in themselves. Doing so is a near impossibility, since all those traits, aspects, behaviors that one finds so abhorrent have been relegated to the black umbrella of the unconscious. This is why many will encounter elements of their Shadow in their dreams.

Outside of dreams, in which the Shadow appears in symbolic form, the way most people encounter the Shadow is by seeing it projected onto others. Seeing the very traits so abhorred inside one's own psyche is never a pleasant experience.

How Do I Know If I'm Projecting?

Projection is as common as it is simple to explain. Instead of objectively acknowledging one's own internal life, one projects that life outward and onto other individuals.

The way one can usually discern if projection is present is by measuring one's:

  • emotional irritation at another person's behaviour or actions, and
  • level of denial that any such behaviour exists in one's self.

An example of projection is the miser who, after having his lunch paid for by his sister "with plenty of money," complains that being asked to leave the tip proves his sister's stinginess while he is surreptitiously retrieving the single bill he put on the table. The miser will never see that he has issues with greed. In fact, he probably likes thinking of himself—and probably advertises himself—as a generous person.

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”

— Carl Jung

How the Shadow Manifests in Dreams

In dreams, the Shadow often manifests as entities associated with the undead (e.g., zombies). Dreams about being chased or stalked by someone unseen, mysterious, or unnameable are also perfect manifestations of the Shadow. Aspects of the personality that are being consciously denied by a dreamer can also manifest in a dream as figures of the same sex who the dreamer abhors.

Ultimately, the only way for the psyche to be a whole Self is through the integration and acceptance of all its parts. Self-integration calls for the end of projections by focusing attention inward. This allows for the illumination of the Shadow with the light of the Self.

Facing one's Shadow might feel like one is walking through fire.

Facing one's Shadow might feel like one is walking through fire.

Shadow Gold and Fear of Transformation

So, imagine one has gone ahead and done the hard work of confronting black Shadow realms. One has uncovered all those unconscious, buried elements, has done hard work confronting painful emotions, memories, life events, and personal trauma. All that is left is the gold in the Shadow.

It may be surprising to learn that many people abandon Shadow gold. Why? Why, after confronting all the black in the psyche, do many people continue living as if they were still huddled under the Shadow's umbrella?

Digging up elements of Shadow gold, such as the recovery of one's personal power, can lead to life transformation. The transformation of one's life can be a frightening prospect, since it involves leaving behind a life one knows how to navigate in favor of unknown waters.

The simple truth is that once one has learned to live life in a certain manner, that way of life can feel like the only way in which one can survive. One knows that the way in which one is currently living allows them to at least survive. Change, on the other hand, means uncertainty. And that uncertainty, even if it is caused by positive changes, can feel like a threat to one's actual survival.

Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Madailein Aisling Ireland


Madailein Aisling Ireland (author) from Seattle, WA on November 24, 2012:

Thank you so much for your comments. I believe you are absolutely correct in your assessment about the injured Inner Child. In fact, I personally think that much of what gets put into the Shadow gets put there in childhood as a result of so many adult figures wounding us when we are young. When we are children we cannot sort out individuals and how they act from what we expect from the archetypal images in our unconscious. Reclaiming the Shadow is so important, more important than I think many people realize since it is usually thought of as just that dark side of ourselves. I am so happy you found this hub useful. I am far from an expert on Jungian psychology but my goal is to take what I do know and present it in a way that is informative, easy to understand way, but not "dumbed down." It makes me so happy to hear that I did that for you. Thank you again for your comments and I am going to read your hub right after I finish this response!

Violet Flame from Auckland, NZ on November 24, 2012:

Dear SemeSanBona,

What a fantastic rich source of information about Shadow archetype. Nicely written, easy to follow and all important essential elements in a neat nutshell. I have always wanted to know a bit more about the Shadow as I do suspect it makes up a huge portion of the hidden iceberg. My hub 'beautiful miserable creature' deals with the injured Inner Child, but after reading this brilliant article of yours, I suspect there might be a huge portion of the Inner Child hidden in the domain of the Shadow. It will make a lot of sense. Personally I think most of our growth comes from healing the Inner Child, reclaiming the shadow land. This article also helps me shed meaningful light on a particular nightmare I had at the beginning of the year. It was very unnerving at the time, but now I understand it much much more and it no longer upsets me. In response to what you said about reclaiming the shadow gold: it has taken me over 40 years to go to art school while it was very clear that I was artistically gifted since I was young. I was led to believe artists have no future and will all surely to die in the gutter. Now I am older and stronger, I have turned my life upside down and claimed my right to my personal empowerment. Thank you once again for this brilliant hub. LOVED IT xo