Marie Louise Von Franz and “The Realization of the Shadow.”
The Shadow is not the whole of the unconscious personality. It represents unknown or little known attributes and qualities of the ego—aspects that mostly belong to the personal sphere and that could just as well be conscious.
In some aspects, the shadow can also consist of collective factors that stem from a source outside the individual’s personal life.
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 other people—such things as egotism, mental laziness, and sloppiness; unreal fantasies, schemes, and plots; carelessness and cowardice; inordinate love of money and possessions—in short, all the little sins about which he might previously have told himself:
“That doesn’t matter; nobody will notice it, and in any case other people do it too.”
If you feel an overwhelming rage coming up in you when a friend reproaches you about a fault, you can be fairly sure that at this point you will find a part of your shadow, of which you are unconscious.
It is, of course, natural to become annoyed when others who are “no better” criticize you because of shadow faults.
But what can you say if your own dreams—an inner judge in your own being—reproach you?
That is the moment when the ego gets caught, and the result is usually embarrassed silence.
Afterward the pain and lengthy work of self-education begins—a work, we might say, that is the psychological equivalent of the labors of Hercules.
This unfortunate hero’s first task, you will remember, was to clean up in one day the Augean Stables, in which hundreds of cattle had dropped their dung for many decades—
a task so enormous that the ordinary mortal would be overcome by discouragement at the mere thought of it.
The shadow does no consist only of omissions.
It shows up just as often in an impulsive or inadvertent act.
Before one has time to think, the evil remarks pop out, the plot is hatched, the wrong decision is made, and one is confronted with results that were never intended or consciously wanted.
Furthermore, the shadow is exposed to collective infections to a much greater extent than is the conscious personality.
When a man is alone, for instance, he feels relatively all right; but as soon as “the others” do dark, primitive things he begins to fear that if he doesn’t join in, he will be considered a fool.
Thus he gives way to impulses that do not really belong to him at all.
It is particularly in contacts with people of the same sex that one stumbles over both one’s own shadow and those of other people.
Although we do not see the shadow in a person of the opposite sex, we are usually much less annoyed by it and can more easily pardon it.
In dreams and myths, therefore, the shadow appears as a person of the same sex as that of the dreamer.
The following dream may serve as an example.
The dreamer was a man of 48 who tried to live very much for and by himself, working hard and disciplining himself, repressing pleasure and spontaneity to a far greater extent than suited his real nature.
I owned and inhabited a very big house in town, and I didn’t yet know all its different parts.
So I took a walk through it and discovered, mainly in the cellar, several rooms about which I knew nothing and even exits leading into other cellars or into subterranean streets.
I felt uneasy when I found that several of these exits were not locked and some had no locks at all.
Moreover, there were some laborers at work in the neighborhood who could have sneaked in…When I came back up again to the ground floor, I passed a back yard where again I discovered different exits into the street or into other houses.
When I tried to investigate them more closely, a man came up to me laughing loudly and calling out that we were old pals from elementary school.
I remembered him too, and while he was telling me about his life, I walked along with him toward the exit and strolled with him through the streets.
There was a strange chiaroscuro in the air as we walked through an enormous circular street and arrived at a green lawn where three galloping horses suddenly passed us.
They were beautiful, strong animals, wild but well-groomed, and they had no rider with them. (Had they run away from military service?)
The maze of strange passages, chambers, and unlocked exits in the cellar recalls the old Egyptian representation of the underworld, which is a well-known symbol of the unconscious with its unknown possibilities.
It also shows how one is “open” to other influences in one’s unconscious shadow side, and how uncanny and alien elements can break in.
The cellar, one can say, is the basement of the dreamer’s psyche.
In the back yard of the strange building (which represents the still unperceived psychic scope of the dreamer’s personality) an old school friend suddenly turns up.
This person obviously personifies another aspect of the dreamer himself—an aspect that had been part of his life as a child but that he had forgotten and lost.
It often happens that a person’s childhood qualities (for instance, gaiety, irascibility, or perhaps trustfulness) suddenly disappear, and one does not know where or how they have gone.
It is such a lost characteristic of the dreamer that now returns (from the back yard) and tries to make friends again.
This figure probably stands for the dreamer’s neglected capacity for enjoying life and for his extroverted shadow side.
But we soon learn why the dreamer feels “uneasy” just before meeting this seemingly harmless old friend.
When he strolls with him in the street, the horses break loose.
The dreamer thinks they may have escaped from military service (that is to say, from the conscious discipline that has hitherto characterized his life).
The fact that the horses have no rider shows that instinctive drives can get away from conscious control. In this old friend, and in the horses, all the positive force reappears that was lacking before and that was badly needed by the dreamer.
This is a problem that often comes up when one meets one’s “other side.”
The shadow usually contains values that are needed by consciousness, but that exist in a form that makes it difficult to integrate them into one’s life.
The passages and the large house in this dream also show that the dreamer does not yet know his own psychic dimensions and is not yet able to fill them out.
The shadow in this dream is typical for an introvert (a man who tends to retire too much from outer life).
In the case of an extrovert, who is turned more toward outer objects and outer life, the shadow would look quite different.
A young man who had a very lively temperament embarked again and again on successful enterprises, while at the same time his dreams insisted that he should finish off a piece of private creative work he had begun.
The following was one of those dreams:
A man is lying on a couch and has pulled the cover over his face.
He is a Frenchman, a desperado who would take on any criminal job.
An official is accompanying me downstairs, and I know that a plot has been made against me: namely, that the Frenchman should kill me as if by chance. (That is how it
would look from the outside.)
He actually sneaks up behind me when we approach the exit, but I am on my guard.
A tall, portly man (rather rich and influential) suddenly leans against the wall beside me, feeling ill.
I quickly grab the opportunity to kill the official by stabbing his heart. “One only notices a bit of moisture”—this is said like a comment.
Now I am safe, for the Frenchman won’t attack me since the man who gave him his orders is dead. (Probably the official and the successful portly man are the same person, the latter somehow replacing the former.)
The desperado represents the other side of the dreamer—his introversion— which has reached a completely destitute state.
He lies on a couch (i.e., he is passive) and pulls the cover over his face because he wants to be left alone.
The official, on the other hand, and the prosperous portly man (who are secretly the same person) personify the dreamer’s successful outer responsibilities and activities.
The sudden illness of the portly man is connected with the fact that this dreamer had in fact become ill several times when he had allowed his dynamic energy to explode too
forcibly in his external life.
But this successful man has no blood in his veins—only a sort of moisture—which means that these external ambitious activities of the dreamer contain no genuine life and no passion, but are bloodless mechanisms.
Thus it would be no real loss if the portly man were killed.
At the end of the dream, the Frenchman is satisfied; he obviously represents a positive shadow figure who had turned negative and dangerous only because the conscious attitude of the dreamer did not agree with him.
This dream shows us that the shadow can consist of many different elements—for instance, of unconscious ambition (the successful portly man) and of introversion (the Frenchman).
This particular dreamer’s association to the French, moreover, was that they know how to handle love affairs very well.
Therefore the two shadow figures also present two well-known drives: power and sex.
The power drive appears momentarily in a double form, both as an official and as a successful man.
The official, or civil servant, personifies collective adaptation, whereas the successful man denotes ambition; but naturally both serve the power drive.
When the dreamer succeeds in stopping this dangerous inner force, the Frenchman is suddenly no longer hostile.
In other words, the equally dangerous aspect of the sex drive has also surrendered.
Obviously, the problem of the shadow plays a great role in all political conflicts.
If the man who had this dream had not been sensible about his shadow problem, he could easily have identified the desperate Frenchman with the “dangerous Communists” of outer life, or the official plus the prosperous man with the “grasping capitalists.”
In this way he would have avoided seeing that he hadwithin him such warring elements.
If people observe their own unconscious tendencies in other people, this is called a “projection.”
Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals.
Projections of all kinds obscure our view of our fellow men, spoiling its objectivity, and thus spoiling all possibility of genuine human relationships.
And there is an additional disadvantage in projecting our shadow.
If we identify our own shadow with, say, the Communists or the capitalists, a part of our own personality remains on the opposing side.
The result is that we shall constantly (though involuntarily) do things behind our own backs that support this other side, and thus we shall unwittingly help our enemy.
If, on the contrary, we realize the projection and can discuss matters without fear or hostility, dealing with the other person sensibly, then there is a chance of mutual understanding— or at least a truce.
Whether the shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon ourselves.
As the dreams of the unexplored house and the French desperado both show, the shadow is not necessarily always an opponent.
In fact, he is exactly like any human being with whom one has to get along, sometimes by giving in, sometimes by resisting, sometimes by giving love—whatever the situation
The shadow becomes hostile only when he is ignored or misunderstood.
Sometimes, though not often, an individual feels impelled to live out the worse side of his nature and repress his better side.
In such cases the shadow appears as a positive figure in his dreams.
But to a person who lives out his natural emotions and feelings, the shadow may appear as a cold and negative intellectual; it then personifies poisonous judgments and negative thoughts that have been held back.
So, whatever form it takes, the function of the shadow is to represent the opposite side of the ego and to embody just those qualities that one dislikes most in other people.
It would be relatively easy if one could integrate the shadow into the conscious personality just by attempting to be honest and to use one’s insight.
But, unfortunately, such an attempt does not always work.
There is such a passionate drive within the shadowy part of oneself that reason may not prevail against it.
A bitter experience coming from the outside may occasionally help; a brick, so to speak, has to drop on one’s head to put a stop to shadow drives and impulses.
At times a heroic decision may serve to halt them, but such a superhuman effort is usually possible only if the Great Man within (the Self) helps the individual
to carry it through.
The fact that the shadow contains the overwhelming power of irresistible impulse does not mean, however, that the drive should always be heroically repressed.
Sometimes the shadow is powerful because the urge of the Self is pointing in the same direction, and so one does not know whether it is the Self or the shadow that is behind
the inner pressure.
In the unconscious, one is unfortunately in the same situation as in a moonlight landscape:
All the contents are blurred and merge into one another, and one never knows exactly what or where anything is, or where one thing begins and ends. (This is known as the
“contamination” of unconscious contents.)
When Jung called one aspect of the unconscious personality the shadow, he was referring to a relatively well-defined factor.
But sometimes everything that is unknown to the ego is mixed up with the shadow, including even the most valuable and highest forces.
Who, for instance, could be quite sure whether the French desperado in the dream I quoted was a useless tramp or a most valuable introvert?
And the bolting horses or the preceding dream—should they be allowed to run free or not?
In a case when the dream itself does not make things clear, the conscious personality will have to make the decision.
If the shadow figure contains valuable, vital forces, they ought to be assimilated into actual experience and not repressed.
It is up to the ego to give up its pride and priggishness and to live out something that seems to be dark, but actually may not be.
This can require a sacrifice just as heroic as the conquest of passion, but in an opposite sense.
The ethical difficulties that arise when one meets one’s shadow are well described in the 18th book of the Koran.
In this tale Moses meets Khidr (“the Green One” or “first angel of God”) in the desert.
They wander along together, and Khidr expresses his fear that Moses will not be able to witness his deeds without indignation.
If Moses cannot bear with him and trust him, Khidr will have to leave.
Presently Khidr scuttles a fishing boat of some poor villagers. Then, before Moses’s eyes, he kills a handsome young man, and finally he restores a fallen wall of a city of unbelievers.
Moses cannot help expressing his indignation, and so Khidr has to leave him.
Before his departure, however, he explains the reasons for his actions:
By scuttling the boat he actually saved it for its owners because pirates were on their way to steal it.
As it is, the fishermen can salvage it. The handsome young man was on his way to commit a crime, and by killing him Khidr saved his pious parents from infamy.
By restoring the wall, two pious young men were saved from ruin because their treasure was buried under it.
Moses, who had been so morally indignant, saw now (too late) that his judgment had been too hasty.
Khidr’s doings had seemed to be totally evil, but in fact they were not.
Looking at this story naively, one might assume that Khidr is the lawless, capricious, evil shadow of the pious, law-abiding Moses.
But this is not the case. Khidr is much more the personification of some secret creative actions of the Godhead. (One can find similar meaning in the famous Indian story of “The King and the Corpse” as interpreted by Henry Zimmer.)
It is no accident that I have not quoted a dream to illustrate this subtle problem.
I have chosen this well-known story from the Koran because it sums up the experience of a lifetime, which would very rarely be expressed with such clarity in an individual
When dark figures turn up in our dreams and seem to want something, we cannot be sure whether they personify merely a shadowy part of ourselves, or the Self, or both at the same time.
Divining in advance whether or dark partner symbolizes a shortcoming that we should overcome or a meaningful bit of life that we should accept—this is one of the most difficult problems that we encounter on the way to individuation.
Moreover, the dream symbols are often so subtle and complicated that one cannot be sure of their interpretation.
In such a situation all one can do is accept the discomfort of ethical doubt—making no final decisions or commitments and continuing to watch the dreams.
This resembles the situation of Cinderella when her stepmother threw a heap of good and bad peas in front of her and asked her to sort them out.
Although it seemed quite hopeless, Cinderella began patiently to sort the peas, and suddenly doves (or ants, in some versions) came to help her.
These creatures symbolize helpful, deeply unconscious impulses that can only be felt in one’s body, as it were, and that point the way out.
Somewhere, right at the bottom of one’s own being, one generally does not know where one should go and what one should do.
But there are times when the clown we call “I” behaves in such a distracting d\fashion that the inner voice cannot make its presence felt.
Sometimes all attempts to understand the hints of the unconscious fail, and in such a difficulty one can only have the courage to do what seems to be right, while being ready to change course if the suggestions of the unconscious should suddenly point in another direction.
It may also happen (although this is unusual) that a person will find it better to resist the urge of the unconscious, even at the price of feeling warped by doing so, rather than depart too far from the state of being human. (This would be the situation of people who had to live out a criminal disposition in order to be completely themselves.)
The strength and inner clarity needed by the ego in order to make such a decision stem secretly from the Great Man, who apparently does not want to reveal himself too clearly.
It may be that the Self wants the ego to make a free choice, or it may be that the Self depends on human consciousness and its decisions to help him become manifest.
When it comes to such difficult ethical problems, no one can truly judge the deeds of others.
Each man has to look to his own problem and try to determine what is right for himself.
As an old Zen Buddhist Master said, we must follow the example of the cowherd who watches his ox “with a stick so that it will not graze on other people’s meadows.”
These new discoveries of depth psychology are bound to make some change in our collective ethical views, for they will compel us to judge all human actions in a much more individual and subtle way.
The discovery of the unconscious is one of the most far-reaching discoveries of recent times. But the fact that recognition of its unconscious reality involves honest self-examination and reorganization of one’s life causes many people to continue to behave as if nothing at all has happened.
It takes a lot of courage to take the unconscious seriously and to tackle the problems it raises.
Most people are too indolent to think deeply about even the moral aspects of their behavior of which they are conscious; they are certainly too lazy to consider how the unconscious affects them. ~Marie Louise Von Franz; The Realization of the Shadow; Pages 114-118
[Dr. Von Franz (1915-1998), originally from Switzerland, was one of the world’s most renowned analysts and a follower of Carl Jung. She has written such works as Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (1974), C.G. Jung (1972), Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths (1972), and Individuation in Fairy Tales (1990). The following selection, on the psychological archetype of the shadow as it appears in dreams, is from Man and His Symbols (1964), a book that Von Franz wrote with Carl Jung.]