What Did You Repress Into Your Shadow?

What Did You Repress Into Your Shadow?

A child can repress many aspects of his or her personality in one or more of the four archetypal quarters: in the Warrior quarter, that might include anger, fierceness, determination, boundary setting, and so on.

Someone who put this kind of energy into shadow as a child might look like a victim, someone who can be pushed around, a walkover, in adult life.

However, the energy of those qualities doesn’t go away, even after years in shadow. In fact, with the right stimulation, in the right circumstances, the energy of these repressed Warrior qualities can explode as violence and rage. Equally, it can be unconsciously turned against the self, producing feelings of depression, passivity and hopelessness.

In the Lover quarter, a boy might put his compassion, love, sensitivity, desire for connection, and tenderness into the shadow bag. Again the energy doesn’t go away; later in life it may express itself as an addiction, or as narcissism, neediness, an endless sequence of failed relationships, a lack of true connection, or stoicism.

In the quarter of the Magician, qualities such as reasoning ability, intelligence, comprehension, understanding, and intellect may go into shadow. Maybe a child finds it’s wiser, or safer, to hide his cleverness, and so he decides to  appear dull, even stupid, in his childhood world. Later in life, the energy of those qualities may come back out of shadow as some kind of limiting fear, sometimes as a cynical attitude of superiority and knowingness, sometimes as a blank, overarching sense of confusion in which there are no answers and nothing is clear, and sometimes as endless cyclical thinking which never reaches any useful conclusion.

More than anything else you, like almost everyone else, will have put most, maybe all, of your magnificence, potency, and power, the energy of your Sovereign, into shadow. These are your own natural clouds of glory, the ones which came with you on the day you arrived on the planet. This energy, locked in your shadow bag for much of your life, can become twisted into grandiosity, emerging as an inflated opinion of yourself, a sense of superiority and an air of arrogance, or a sense of inferiority.

Robert Bly also pointed out that there are collective shadow bags available for those who care to pick them up and help to fill them: a bag for each town, community, family, religion, social group – they all have their own shadow bags. As Bly said, it’s almost as if certain groups of people make an unconscious, collective, psychic decision to put certain types of energy into their own shadow bag.

Bly wrote “A Little Book On The Human Shadow” back in 1988. In this book he pointed out that if an American citizen was curious to know what might be in the national shadow bag at that time, he could find out by listening to what a State Department official said when he criticised Russia. How little has changed over time! The shadow energies indeed go full circle, finding the same targets from one generation to the next.

A final point about your own shadow bag: you can only see its contents by careful observation. Some great questions to help discover what’s in the bag include: what, or who, triggers a strong emotional reaction in you – especially when you feel compelled to justify your reaction? Do you react to certain events in your life with a level of force and energy which is way out of line with the stimulus? In what circumstances do you find you simply can’t stop yourself reacting in a certain way, even when you don’t want to?

If you don’t understand why you react a certain way, here are some practical clues to identifying your own shadows.

  • To start with, at some point you made a decision not to be a certain way, not to behave in a particular way.
  • Then, later in life, you find yourself acting that way “by accident”.
  • Third, the behaviour seems as if it’s controlling you, rather than the other way round.
  • And often, it feels as if it isn’t even a part of you, as if it comes from somewhere else. It seems unwanted, unknown, but curiously compelling. Of course it does – this is energy which came from you and was somehow disowned by you. Now it wants – and needs – to be owned by you once again so it can take its original form and purpose.


A Way To Explore Your Shadow

Projection is a strange thing. It’s one of the ways we defend ourselves against awareness of our unconscious impulses or qualities (which means both positive and negative qualities we’ve put into shadow). Simply put, projection means we deny the existence of these qualities in ourselves while attributing them to others.

For example, a man who has put his anger into shadow – in other words, who is unconsciously angry – may constantly accuse other people of being angry. It’s easier for him to see anger as living in others than it is to admit it lives in him.

His emotional healing is all about coming to terms with the reality that anger lives inside him, albeit in shadow, and reintegrating its energy into his personality in a conscious, healthy way. This is the essence of personal growth and development; a necessary step to regain control over the way you express your emotions.

The more deeply repressed a shadow energy is within your unconscious, the harder it will be for you to identify and own your projections. So those accusations of racism, sexism, immaturity, infidelity, untrustworthiness, disloyalty and lack of love which you fling at your spouse, your colleagues, your neighbours, your kids – well, just be careful, because those qualities might well be living inside you.

And those awful behaviours and emotions you see so often in others – well, what are you missing in yourself as you point out their failings?

Get the idea? We all do this; and we do it all the time. And we never know we’re doing it until we start to examine our shadows.

Sigmund Freud was probably first off the bat, historically, to explain this whole deal. He had it right when he said that the thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that we cannot accept as our own, as belonging to us, can be mentally placed in the world outside of us, and attributed to someone else. (There is more about these psychological mechanisms on this blog.)

This is a great way of avoiding ownership of your thoughts, feelings and actions, because ownership would of course would require you to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions and start to work on yourself. Easier not to bother doing this, you may think, though the world around you will pay a price for your indifference, as the energy of your shadow bag leaks out anyway and splatters messily over your friends and family.

And let’s face it, you pay a price too: all those moments of hurt, of shame, of difficulty with your loved ones, of failed expectations, of fear limiting you, of low self-esteem, and the mysterious re-appearance of exactly what you don’t want in your life, over and over.

But here’s an interesting thing. Projection isn’t arbitrary. It seizes on something you see in another person, and the seed of truth in what you see becomes the basis on which you can generously “give them” all of your unwanted material. Read more about the shadow and associated issues here.