We all have a dark side lying inside us that fights to come out once in a while.
Have you ever felt there’s something evil and dark inside you? I mean, not like a supernatural spirit living literally inside you. Let me rephrase: have you ever been surprised at how negatively or mean you’ve reacted about something you normally wouldn’t, and then wonder “is that really me?” It happens to me once in a while, when something inside me is triggered by random stuff and dark thoughts come to my mind. Well, you certainly have been in that situation at least once in your life, and although it’s not the best thing, it’s actually quite normal. No, it’s not that you’ve been possessed by an evil character or anything of the sort. It’s a feature we all have as human beings. Carl Jung called it the "shadow," one of the most famous archetypes of psychoanalysis.
To start with, let’s talk about Jung’s concept of the archetype. According to the Swiss psychologist, archetypes were models, patterns, or tendencies belonging to the collective unconscious, meaning that everyone has these traits that are transmitted as part of an evolutionary heritage. In that way, just as societies and human beings evolve, archetypes change from generation to generation but always appear in each individual.
His vision of archetypes changed the outdated idea stating that human beings are born with a blank slate and they shape their personality and other traits thanks to their social relationships as well as personal experience. Jung believed there’s an underlying psychological pattern and profile we inherit, which we shape with our experience as we grow up. They are the foundation of our species and the development of our mind.
Having said that, he developed his theory based on universal myths, characters, and concepts. Moreover, he determined a number of models that could be divided into archetypal events (for instance birth, death, and marriage), figures (father, devil, god, and wise old woman), and motifs (apocalypse, creation, or the flood). However, from this infinite range of possibilities, he determined there were some that prevailed the most in every person, being the shadow one of the most dominant archetypes.
For him, the shadow consists of those primeval instincts of our unconscious. It’s all those ideas, desires, drives, instincts, and weaknesses that are often repressed by our conscious mind, but that can be triggered once in a while. This is linked with the collective unconscious, so it also includes all those behaviors punished and condemned by the society we live in. For example, in those unacceptable behaviors we could include greed, envy, aggression, violence, abuse, among others. What’s interesting is that our conscious part is so aware of this that it works to make us follow the social norms and rules we live in.
Although this latent and concealed trait is part of our collective unconscious, it’s true that each person’s realities and mental conditions determine up to what extent the shadow is repressed or not. In that way, if our own mind, or to be precise, our conscious mind, is well aware of what’s acceptable by society, it represses this dark side, but when the lines are blurred, there’s a higher risk that these repressed impulses will be projected and rule part of our conscious mind. It's important to note that the shadow can surface once in a while, whether in dreams (mainly shaped by the unconscious) or in specific moments of our life.
So, next time you notice you’re acting in a kind of evil way, just think you’re just letting your shadow come out and that this is happening for a particular reason you can spot and work with. At the end of the day, our mind is a mysterious mechanism that once in a while does whatever it wants. Perhaps that’s one of the most important things about Jungian theories, the fact that he considers our collective consciousness as a relevant factor that shapes our individual mind, and the concept of "shadow" is a great example of it.
Here’s more on Jung if you want to delve into his life and work:
Photos by @huntergillman