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The Jungian Shadow and Self-Acceptance    

By Gail Lonngi

Self-acceptance is a key aspect of mental health. Often, it’s among the first steps to self-healing, self-improvement, and stability. At all stages in life, especially those in which we are trying to define ourselves and our identities, it is important that we are aware of both our strengths and our flaws, and learn to accept every part of ourselves.

But everyone harbors their own demons. The darkest part of our minds makes up some of the most important parts of our identities. But for the majority of our lives, social and private, we repress the darkest things that deeply define us. The writings of mid-twentieth century psychologist Carl Jung testify to these facts of human nature, specifically his studies on the presence of the Shadow. 

Humans love to divide, classify, and categorize things in their lives and about one another. This is why they are drawn to the idea of personality archetypes, an idea introduced by Jung and now used frequently in fields of psychology, humanities, business, and literature. For the same reason, humans are also drawn to his concept of the “conscious” and “unconscious” mind, divided into the archetypes of the Persona, the Ego, the Shadow, and the Anima and Animus, which altogether create the Self. 

Jung’s goal was to understand the human mind and expose what determines people’s identities, makes us who we are. Enter the Shadow. This is the part of our unconscious mind that Jung believed to hold all the things about ourselves that we repress, whether because they are evil, socially unacceptable, harmful to others, or detrimental to our own health. Our Shadows embody our inner darkness, the things about ourselves we hide, the damage we experience in our lives but never fully heal, desires we cannot satisfy.

Jung chronicled much of his experience with the Shadow self in his work Aion, and it is agreed today that the Shadow self can be described as highly emotional, driven by primal instinct, often violent, and usually concealed from the social world by the conscious mind. Jung also believed the qualities in our Shadow were determined by the things we criticize the most in others. It is, so to speak, the dark mind, everything we separate from the rest of ourselves.

But it’s becoming increasingly recognized that humans ought to seek stability with their Shadow selves, and seek reconciliation. The harder one fights against the nature of their Shadow and the deeper they hide it, the more unstable their relationship is with that part of themselves they refuse to accept. Likewise, if one allows their Shadow to control them and their actions, they leave their mind open to being overwhelmed by their Shadow and can become a danger to others or themselves.

The key to stability with this darker nature is not to give in to the Shadow, but to embrace it and how it helps define one as a person, and find a balanced way to express it in one’s daily life. Interacting with and overcoming the Shadow in this way is often best done by self-reflection, meditation, dreaming, or daydreaming, with the goal of self-discovery, and the process is commonly referred to as “shadow-work.”

While this inevitably is a long, confusing, tiring, repetitive process, the result of its success is harmony with things one has denied in themselves, as well as peace with who they are, healing damage they have experienced, and healthy expression of their repressed desires. Accepting one’s Shadow is crucial to complete acceptance of ourselves and of one another. Our darkness makes us who we are, just as much as our goodness does.

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