Carl Jung and the Shadow Self:

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”

– Carl Jung

To kick off our discussion into the world of Jungian psychology and how we can use the shadow self, I’d like to briefly explore the story of Jekyll and Hyde.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella from 1886 written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.

In the book Dr Jekyll, a large, well-made man battles between the dual internal personalities of good and evil.

The good man Henry Jekyll wants himself to be and the evil, impulsive, and cruel Edward Hyde. Jekyll knows that the Hyde in him contains urges that are not befitting the man he wants himself to be, and the internal conflict and repression of Hyde feed this darker side until it becomes all-encompassing.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde is a great illustration of the ego and the shadow in Jungian psychology.

Today we’ll be exploring both the nature of the person we want to be and the nature of our shadow. The shadow is the form taken by the aspects of our nature that we dislike, the parts of ourselves we’re ashamed of, and the primal and impulsive parts that we hide from ourselves and those around us.

We’ll explore both of these aspects of our personality to help give context to both; we’ll see the dangers that lie in the shadow in us, and we’ll see how we can overcome them, accept the shadow, and use it as a powerful tool to help us live better and more constructive lives.

A summary of The Shadow Self:

Jung wrote:

“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”

Within each of us lies two parts of a whole: the person we want to be and some part of us that conflicts with that ideal version of ourselves.

Often, the part of us that conflicts with the ideal is the part that has impulsive urges, desires, and things we feel but don’t like.

The shadow, as described by Carl Jung, is the unconscious part of our character or personality that does not align with the ideal version of what we’re aiming for; this is the version of us Jung called the ego ideal.

This contrast between the ego ideal and the shadow causes us to reject and resist the shadow, and through our rejection of the parts of ourselves we dislike, we unconsciously project them onto others. This can be seen easily in our dislike for certain people. Often, the specifics we dislike in others are an indication of what we dislike in ourselves.

Jung wrote:

“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”

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Carl Jung and the ID:

To properly understand the shadow and its nature, we first have to explore one’s id.

Your id is the instinctual part of your personality that exists from the moment you’re born; it’s the drive you feel for desire, impulse, the need for food, shelter, companionship, and aggression.

The id is driven by impulse, desire, instant gratification, and the avoidance of pain and discomfort.

Sigmund Freud explained the id as an unconscious force within us, writing:

“It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the dreamwork, and, of course, the construction of neurotic symptoms and most of that is of a negative character, and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. . . . It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organisation, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.”

carl jung and The Ego:

When we are born, we are born with our id; however, as we mature and begin to orient ourselves in the world, we develop our ego.

Where the id is the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, the ego is how we decide our place in the reality of the world around us and how we choose to present ourselves to the world based on each of our experiences, values, and beliefs.

In Freudian psychology, the ego is the mind’s way of assessing the external world and orienting itself according to what it observes and in alignment with what it judges most appropriate.

This is in contrast to the id, which acts according to pleasure seeking and pain avoidance. The ego mediates the id in delaying gratification and making executive decisions not to act on every impulse but to act in alignment with our values and how we think we should behave, rather than how we want to behave.

The Risks of The Ego

However, as the ego attempts to satisfy the impulse of the id in ways it can justify in the context of reality, there is a risk that it will disguise the desires of the id with unconscious rationalization.

In other words; as the ego attempts to balance pleasure seeking with acting in a way it believe is conducive of being a good person, the ego can warp reality to create stories that validate the impulses of the id and the behaviours that come from those impulses.

This is something we have to be on the lookout for. An example of this is the person who eats an entire cake while telling themselves that they deserve it for doing so well on their diet this week.

As humans, we tend to warp reality to serve the impulses of our id, and this behavior is something we should be aware of.

Maturing of the Ego

As children, we are consumed by our id, we act on every impulse, we look to avoid all sources of pain, and in that state, the balance of ego and id are almost entirely towards id.

As we mature, we learn that not all impulses are constructive and that not all pain is to be avoided. The more we experience and the more we learn, the better we are able to tell the difference.

This is part of wisdom. The ability not only to decide what we should and should not avoid, despite the pressure of the id, but to combine it with the discipline to act on that understanding.

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What is Carl Jung’s shadow?

With a better understanding of the id and the ego, we can better understand the concept of the shadow.

Jung explained that the shadow is a cognitive blind spot of our psyche, an undercurrent of who we are that we’re completely unaware of; it’s an element of our own nature that exists in our unconscious and is made from our repressed desire, ideas, instincts, weaknesses, and shortcomings.

It’s the gap between the ego and the id. More specifically, the shadow is caused by the resistance that comes from the differences in the life our ego consciously has us live to fit into the world around us and the behavior our id draws us towards.

Jung described the shadow as “the thing a person has no wish to be.

An easy way to check the nature of our shadow is to look at others and find out the qualities you like the least.

These are often qualities you dislike in yourself and push down or avoid—this is called projection and can lead us to have a warped perception of the people around us.

While we may not like what we see when we begin to look at our shadow, it’s exploration is important for personal development.

Jung wrote:

“The meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is.” 

What is the risk of the Shadow Self?

When we feel the pull of our id, and that pull is in conflict with our ego and the person we want to be, this friction is where the shadow presents itself.

The risk of the shadow is that it projects itself unconsciously, meaning that it can seep into our thoughts and our actions without us knowing.

We may get defensive, we may protest too much about something we actually desire internally, we might lash out at people, or we may use our ego to generate stories that validate the needs of the id and, by extension, the shadow.

In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung wrote:

“A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps…living below his own level.”

However the shadow presents itself, there is a good chance it will be destructive to a greater or lesser extent and have an impact on our lives and our wellbeing.

Many of the self-destructive behaviors we inflict on ourselves are caused by the struggle of the shadow. Some addictions are driven by the conflict we experience.

As Stevenson wrote in the story of Jakyll and Hyde, man is not one but truly two; he has a conscious personality and a shadow, each of which often battles for supremacy within his mind.

“Man has to realise that he possesses a shadow which is the dark side of his own personality; he is being compelled to recognize his “inferior function”, if only for the reason that he is so often overwhelmed by it, with the result that the light world of his conscious mind and his ethical values succumb to an invasion by the dark side. The whole suffering brought upon man by his experience of the inherent evil in his own nature – the whole immeasurable problem of “original sin”, in fact – threatens to annihilate the individual in a welter of anxiety and feelings of guilt.” 

– Erich Neumann

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Before we look at accepting the shadow and assimilating it into who we are, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what the shadow can do for us.

Within its chaos and impulse, the shadow may also contain a number of qualities and potentials that can help round out our character and personality.

For example, if you believe that being assertive or aggressive makes you a bad person, you may have allowed other people to push your boundaries while you said nothing, not wanting to cause trouble.

However, your shadow may contain a nature that is assertive, a nature that you can feel push back angrily when you are being pushed by others.

If this is the case, then you can learn to harness this element of your shadow so that when you’re in a position that requires strong boundaries or negotiation, you have the ability to say no and hold your ground.

Other examples could include allowing ourselves to express how we’re feeling if we’ve grown up believing that expressing our feelings is a weakness.

Our shadow can help us understand others; when we know our own shadow and see hints of it in other people, we can be more compassionate about what they’re feeling.

Whatever the nature of your shadow, knowing it will help you accept it, and accepting it will not only loosen its hold over you; it will also begin to unlock its potential.


So, how do we take the shadow and connect it with who we are?

Carl Jung said:

“There is no generally effective technique for assimilating the shadow. It is more like diplomacy or statesmanship and it is always an individual matter. First one has to accept and take seriously the existence of the shadow. Second, one has to become aware of its qualities and intentions. This happens through conscientious attention to moods, fantasies and impulses. Third, a long process of negotiation is unavoidable.” 

So what does this mean?

Firstly, we have to accept that part of who we are is this mass of undesirable impulse and desire called the shadow. It is part of all of us, and whether we want it to be there or not, it will influence the way we behave and perceive the world around us.

Second, we have to learn its nature. This requires self-reflection. As Jung put it, “conscientious attention to moods, fantasies, and impulses”.

This attention can be achieved through meditation, to observe the workings of the mind in the present moment, and through practices like journaling, where we write down our thoughts, moods, fantasies, and desires. Both methods are helpful for learning how our mind works, and both will slowly, over time, allow us to learn the qualities of our shadow.

Thirdly, and finally, the negotiation—this is the back and forth that we will inevitably have between accepting the shadow and rejecting it and finding out what is useful to us and what is not. This can again be done through meditation, but you will also need to expose the shadow to the world to see which parts feel constructive and which do not.

There are a couple of techniques that can help us with this journey with our shadow:

  1. Learning to be consciously aware of how we respond to things and to other people will give us insight into what triggers us, what makes us defensive, and what specific traits in others we tend to dislike. These patterns in our behavior, over time, help us understand the nature of our shadow. So when we feel the urge to instinctively act in response to something or someone, try to catch yourself in the moment and get a feel for why and what you’re feeling.

  2. Use the qualities you like about yourself to understand the qualities you dislike. If you like being a calm person, look for examples where your calm has broken and what caused the response. If you like being a kind person, look for areas in your life where you tend to be unkind, cold, or lacking compassion. Look for exceptions to the goodness in you and try to understand why that might be

  3. Manage your inner dialogue—we all speak to ourselves, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. The language we use internally will go some way toward influencing how we react externally. Keep an eye on the language and what is being said; it could lead you to some clarity about the nature of your shadow or the stories we tell ourselves to cover up or validate the needs of the shadow.

Finally, there are a few things that can be useful when we’re exploring the shadow in ourselves:

  1. Self-compassion is our ability to be understanding of ourselves when we find something about our character we don’t like. It’s important to understand that everyone has a shadow beneath the version of themselves they decide to show the world. Some are more destructive than others, but we all have them to some degree. Don’t kick yourself too hard.

  2. Self-awareness is our ability to understand how we feel and what we’re thinking in the moment.

  3. Honesty—and our ability to accept what we see in ourselves and see it for what it is, rather than trying to warp it because it may be uncomfortable.

“The shadow, when it is realized, is the source of renewal; the new and productive impulse cannot come from established values of the ego. When there is an impasse, and sterile time in our lives—despite an adequate ego development—we must look to the dark, hitherto unacceptable side which has been at our conscious disposal….This brings us to the fundamental fact that the shadow is the door to our individuality. In so far as the shadow renders us our first view of the unconscious part of our personality, it represents the first stage toward meeting the Self. There is, in fact, no access to the unconscious and to our own reality but through the shadow. Only when we realize that part of ourselves which we have not hitherto seen or preferred not to see can we proceed to question and find the sources from which it feeds and the basis on which it rests. Hence no progress or growth is possible until the shadow is adequately confronted and confronting means more than merely knowing about it. It is not until we have truly been shocked into seeing ourselves as we really are, instead of as we wish or hopefully assume we are, that we can take the first step toward individual reality.”

-Connie Zweig


There you have it, Carl Jung’s Shadow Self.

Hopefully you can see the benefit of making the unconscious more conscious and using the parts of ourselves we might not want to think about.

This shadow work can go a long way towards helping us feel less resistance to the world around us as we begin to understand the reason for that resistance and even harness it for our own benefit.

Understanding our own shadow takes honesty, time, and focus but it’s well worth the journey.