JUNGIAN DREAMWORK SERIES by Written by Andy Drymalski, EdD |
In his early twenties Carl Jung had the following dream. “It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended upon my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same time I was conscious, in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers.”
This fascinating dream highlights some important characteristics of the psyche. We all have a “little light,” the light of consciousness. Our consciousness is the awareness and understanding that we bring to the world around us, and the world within us. The brighter your light, the more deeply your understanding penetrates and illuminates your world. Like light beams shone into the waters of a lake, our insight may extend just a few inches into the unconscious or a considerable distance further. Regardless of its brightness, Jung believed that our understanding is our greatest treasure.
The dream also suggests that consciousness, like life itself, is fragile. Perhaps more so, for it is possible for a human being to live a long life having developed very little consciousness whatsoever. Consciousness should not be confused with intelligence or book learning. A person can be quite knowledgeable–even an expert–on any number of subjects, yet remain remarkably unconscious regarding the underlying forces which motivate his behavior and impact his world. From a Jungian perspective, the avoidance of consciousness is a major component behind most mental illness. Addictive and compulsive behaviors, for example, usually serve as an escape from thoughts or feelings we don’t want to be conscious of.
Jung recognized that the dark figure behind him was his own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by his little light. In the development of the personality we embrace and identify with some aspects of our nature and reject others. What we choose to integrate becomes part of our persona and ego identity. What we reject becomes part of our shadow. In reality, however, we are never free of our other half, our disowned self. And what we do not come to terms with in our self is projected upon the “screen” of our outer world and relationships. This is what is meant by the term “projection.” In projection we react to elements of our own psychology encountered in the behavior of other people. For example, if I am lazy but believe myself to be just as hard-working as the next person, then my laziness and the attitudes that support it are denied and disowned. Although it may be apparent to everyone else that I am lazy, my laziness is outside my conscious awareness, and so dwells in the shadow of my unconscious. In my dreams I may encounter a friend of mine who I think is lazy. In the dream he is a symbol of my own laziness. In outer life I may criticize him for his laziness. In fact, I may be acutely sensitive to his sluggard behavior and more annoyed by him than other people are. My strong reaction to his laziness arises from the fact that I am projecting my shadow onto him. There is a part of me that is fed up with my own laziness, but I am unconscious of this. I externalize my anger in much the same way that I project my laziness. I berate my friend instead of turning a more critical eye upon myself.
We can project both positive and negative aspects of our disowned self onto other people. For example, when we fall in love we typically project our soul onto our beloved. Our other is irresistible partly because we have projected onto them our own “gold,” the positive attributes of our other half. In our society, men have tended to project their capacity for feeling and nurturance onto women. Women, on the other hand, have tended to project their courage, strength, and heroism onto men. It is human nature to discover aspects of our self in other people before we discover them in our self. But in time the honeymoon ends, the projection collapses, and we wake up wondering who this person is in bed next to us. It is at this time that the opportunity for a more authentic relationship begins. We can now begin to know our partner in a more human light, and develop those attributes of our self we had formerly projected.
It is often the case that the person or situation on whom we project our disowned attributes possesses them to some degree as well. Their behaviors or attitudes provide the “hook” onto which we hang our projection. (So, the next time you call someone a “moron,” and they fire back, “You’re projecting,” it may be legitimate to respond, “Well, I probably am projecting, but you’re still a moron.”) Humor aside, projection offers the opportunity for us to learn about ourselves. Our responses to other people and life events provide a mirror into our own unconscious. In the process of withdrawing our projections we are able to reclaim and develop parts of our personality that will make us more complete, whole, and conscious people.
Regarding the encounter with one’s shadow, Jung wrote: “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. He lives in the ‘House of the Gathering.’ 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.”
As the new year dawns, so may the opportunity for a new level of consciousness in your life. So when you see your shadow beside you on a cold winter day, invite him inside, pour him some hot chocolate, and let him tell you about life on the other side of your world. Perhaps it has been a long time since he felt the warmth of your attentive gaze.
- Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Random House, Inc., NY 1963.
- Jung, C.G. CW 11: Psychology and Religion, translated by R.F.C. Hull. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1977.
- Sanford, John A. The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde: A New Look at the Nature of Human Evil. Harper & Row, San Francisco 1987.
For more info contact Dr. Andy Drymalski, Reno psychologist at (775) 786-3818.