C.G. Jung described the shadow as the part of the psyche which splinters off and forms itself into the psychic opposite of whatever is privileged by the conscious ego. Susan Rowland explains Jung’s concept of the shadow in this way:
“The shadow is, on the one hand, a wonderfully economic expression for the tendency of the unconscious to grip the ego through opposition or compensation. The shadow as “thing” is monstrous, for it is what we have no desire to be. Usually evil, the shadow cannot even be grasped as inner darkness, for a bad ego or evil person may possess a lighter shadow. What the shadow heralds is the arrival of moral problems: psychic life demands to be lived, and the shadow, carrying those parts of ourselves we do not approve of, strives for expression even against the conscious will.” (p.12)
The shadow is a psychic reality for individuals but it can also form (and thus require expression) in the collective unconscious of families, communities, cities, countries, and even humanity as a whole. For example, on an individual level, I often experience my shadow in the form of anger and rage because those emotions were rejected by my conscious ego as being too similar to my father’s personality, and I fear and utterly reject my father. On a more collective level, I am experiencing the shadow in the form of Donald Trump because, in my broader, liberal progressive community, all the things that Donald Trump stands for and symbolizes have been collectively and vehemently rejected. There is an oft-repeated talking point among conservative pundits which claims that it was the movement toward excessive “political correctness” in the liberal world that essentially spawned Donald Trump and his followers, and this is not far from the truth. Of course for certain white people, the striving towards gender and racial equality by one side of the population is necessarily a form of persecution since that very act challenges the idea that all is well under white, male, Christian rule. But that subject is for another time.
By understanding first that all life is also psychic life, we can see that the choices we make each day are reflections of inner psychic realities we are living out in the world. All choices and moral stances existing in the world, regardless of which side of them we choose to stand on, were taught to us by the adults we grew up around. People are fond of indulging in passionate emotions which arise from holding one position or another in a political climate but rarely do these same people wonder who taught them what they are so passionately decrying. They think what they believe is entirely unique to them, that they invented thsoe ideas and beliefs. My point is that there is psychic continuity between what we believe and what happened to us as children. There is psychic continuity between our adult ideas and emotions and the things we studied in school, the movies we watch, and the types of news channels we prefer. None of our ideas arose in a vacuum-sealed mind and therefore none of our ideas are original. It is, therefore, imperative that we explore and investigate not only the sources of our ideas but the psychic connections they form, for these are vastly important building blocks of communal consciousness. We must recognize that our psychic contributions to reality have a great deal to do with what sort of reality we come to inhabit. Which brings me back to Trump and the shadow.
Many people are bewildered by what is taking place in America. “How could this happen in America?” they wail, often hysterically. There is ample evidence of everyone from the poorest immigrant farmer to the most distinguished Ivy League intellectual expressing total shock about the election of this individual and the rising to power of his “unsavory guides.” But really, I don’t think it’s that hard to understand if one is able to muster an honest assessment of not only America and its policies, but of world religions and centuries-old global socioeconomic practices. Starting with popular religions which form the most aggressively persistent mythologies and which take up the most space in the collective unconscious, we can see how the idea of a vengeful, yet paradoxically merciful, Father in Heaven who watches our every move and sends the virtuous to heaven and the wicked to hell, is a rather complicated idea with far reaching psychic consequences. This “heavenly” father is superior to all things earthly. Ascending to heaven, leaving the filth of the sinful body behind, for religious people, is a “consummation devoutly to be wished.”
The psychic consequences of two thousand years of father worship have been devastating for women of the world, and for qualities and characteristics more commonly associated with the feminine. The three main religions, over which there has been near constant war, all promote a male god and all prioritize masculine qualities to the detriment of everything feminine, including “mother” earth. In too many cases, this masculinization of reality has translated into a literal destruction of women, girls, and the planet. On a less literal level, it has dominated common knowledge and made women into either mothers or whores, and the planet into a cash cow, another sort of whore. As a rabidly Christian (read father worship) nation, America has waged a methodical war on women (and on the earth’s natural resources) that continues to this day. Even as we speak, the American Taliban, also known as the Christian Right, has infiltrated the United States congress and is writing legislation to ensure women stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchens while the men do the bidding of “the lord” unimpeded by reason, for, in their view, faith is its own reward. The trouble with religious people is that they take the ideas of their religion literally, when, in fact, these ideas are meant to be experienced and expressed metaphorically, symbolically, inwardly, and psychically. In this sense, faith can be very useful as a mysterious inner expression of the soul, rather than an iron cudgel with which to destroy one's imaginary enemies in the sandbox of life.
When it comes to economic and foreign policy, the United States, since its inception, has been involved in an unceasing campaign of death, destruction, lies, thievery, slavery, and every imaginable horror, all aimed at its own citizens and everyone else too. Most of the world (including entire generations of Native Americans and African Americans) is the way it is today because America had a hand in it. In Africa, in South America, in the Middle East, not to mention Korea and Vietnam—all these locations have seen American involvement dash any hopes for stable, peaceful democracies and healthy economies. The rest of the world is kept in total disarray so that America and her client states, the ones that pay her to defend them and their interests, can maintain whatever level of existence they prefer.
I’m not writing this to give a lecture on religion or world politics. I’m mentioning these things because we are talking about the shadow. We are living in an America that proudly calls itself the land of the free, an America that believes itself to be morally superior to other nations, to Russia, for example. The people of this country basically believe that their presidents are the “good guys,” valiantly defending freedom and democracy across the world. There hasn't been a good guy president since FDR, and even he threw innocent Japanese people into internment camps. Many people on the left think Obama was a god in terms of his moral superiority to Trump. (Hint: he wasn’t. Sorry if that statement makes you call for your smelling salts.) Very few people are willing to look at things as they really are. People reject the “bad stuff” to the point of mass hysteria, and, without realizing it, they help create a very big and nasty shadow with orange hair, the opposite of that which they believe (and want) themselves to be.
So it would be nice, at this late stage in the game when humanity is staring down the barrel of a gun, if we could stop with the endless hysterical bullshitting and the projecting of our own fears onto others; stop with the insane mythologizing about how chaste and pure we are; and stop the endless cries of: “How could those people over there be so awful?” We must find the courage to examine our own psychic imbalances which are massively contributing to manifesting everything we say we hate so much. Yes, I mean you!
In conclusion, I would just like to say:
A) Jung said that too much light casts a massive shadow.
B) Americans are so obsessed with being morally superior and totally awesomer than everyone else and anyone who says otherwise is a meany!
C) Psychic continuity is real. Take the hint, America.
Rowland, S. (2010). C.G. Jung in the Humanities: Taking the Soul’s Path. Spring Journal. New Orleans, LA.