Owning our Shadows by Peter Metzner

“Shadow” work

January 17, 2011

Peter Metzner

“To Honor and accept one’s own shadow is a profound spiritual discipline. It is whole making and the most important experience of a lifetime”.  Robert Johnson

What is the “Shadow”?

Our Persona is what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen in the world.  It is our psychological clothing and mediates between our true selves and the environment.

Our “ego” is what we are and know about consciously.  We need it and it contains  our identity.  It is when we become “inflated”  or “deflated” that we run into difficulties, feel separate, self sabotage and  often hurt others.

Our Shadow” is that part of us we fail to see or know.

These are the refused and unacceptable characteristics of our personality.  Those parts we are not aware of in a conscious sense.  They can even be some of the noblest aspects of our personality.

These refused or unacceptable parts don’t go away. They collect in the dark corners of our personality and when hidden enough they take a life of their own. If  our shadow  accumulates more energy than our ego, an overpowering rage can erupt  or an indiscretion may  slips out.   Like the famous televangelist adamantly opposed to homosexuality and then caught having a seven year  relationship with a male prostitute and other men in his church.  Or the famous New York  governor and former Attorney General crusading against corruption – and then found to be spending thousands of dollars on call girls.

Our  Shadow can be a source of  depression or an accident that that seems to have its own purpose. (C G Jung)

Ignoring the “gold” in our personality can also be as damaging.  According to Jung, some people may suffer a severe shock or illness before they learn to let their gold out.  This gold is our hidden talents, creativity and abilities that are seeking an outlet.  If we do not allow them a place in our lives we can feel empty or like we are missing out on a major part of life.

Generally the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process discipline, gaining skills, raising a family, establishing oneself in the world…..

The second half  of life offers the opportunity to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life.  When we are stuck,  this often is seen as the “mid life crisis.”

To admit and acknowledge our shadow is to admit that there are many more sides to us than the world usually sees.   A great insight from Jung “the ego and shadow come to the same source and exactly balance the other.  To make light is to make shadow; one cannot exist without the other.

The more refined our conscious personality; the more shadow we have built up on the other side.

According to Robert Johnson: “to own one’s shadow is to reach a holy place – an inner center – not attainable in any other way. To fail in this is to fail in one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life”. *

Rituals to balance the shadow.

Catholic mass

Fine works of art

Less effective ways: watching horror movies gangster epics, violence, murder mysteries.

To refuse out dark side is to store up or accumulate the darkness, later being expressed as a black mood, psychosomatic illness,…

As a whole,  society has worshiped the light side and refused the dark.  This residue appears as war, economic chaos, strikes, racial or even religious intolerance. (Robert Johnson)

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow.

Nothing “out there” will help if the interior projecting mechanism of human kind is operating strongly. Jung was asked if there is hope for mankind?  He answered only if enough people do their inner work.

“A whole generation can live a modern, civilized life without ever touching much of its shadow nature.  Then predictably, (twenty years usually) that un-lived shadow will erupt and a war will burst forth that no one wanted but to which everyone (both men and women) has contributed. (Johnson )  There are better ways of coping with shadow but until they are commonly known and practiced; we will continue to have these outbursts in their most destructive form.

The greater the civilization; the more intent it is upon its own destruction.

Our work then is; for each of us to pick up our own dark side, combine it with our hard earned light, and make something better that the opposition of the two. This is the meaning of holiness…. Making whole or integrating our psyches.

Pitfalls to watch out for:

Projection. Projection is always easier than assimilation. “Whenever there is an emotionally charged encounter between two individuals a projection is taking place”  (ML von Franz)   – What I or we can’t accept in ourselves we project onto the other.


Men lay their shadows on Women

Whites upon blacks

Germans on Jews

Muslims on Hindus

Christians on Muslims (and vice/versa)

Republicans on to Democrats (Good examples of this can be seen on Fox News, Glenn Beck  or by listening to Rush Limbaugh)

Democrats on to Republicans

It may be that historically we have coped with our shadow by projecting it on an enemy.  But modern man cannot continue this dangerous process. “The evolution of consciousness requires us to integrate the shadow if we are to produce a new age.”  (Johnson page 33. Owning your Shadow)

Awareness needs vigilance for “Our capacity for self deception is truly monumental”. (Kaufman)

William Blake spoke about the need to reconcile these two parts of the self.  We should go to heaven for form and hell for energy – and marry the two. “When we can face our inner heaven and our inner hell, this is the highest form of creativity” .   This is what  becoming whole is and holy.

When we can love our inner enemy i.e. our own shadow then there is a chance of loving the outer and redeeming the outer.  If enough of us do this individually then collectively we will move towards healing the world.

Suggested reading: Inner Work, Using Dreams & Active Imagination For Personal Growth, Owning Your Own Shadow- Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert Johnson.

“Why Good People Do Bad Things” by James Hollis


2 thoughts on “Owning our Shadows by Peter Metzner

  1. It is easy for me to recognize the incompetency and failure in others while ignoring my own carnality. The shadow work forced my attention off everyone around me at home and outside of it. It made me take a good, honest look at me. As much as I would like to blame everyone else, I must acknowledge my own contribution to certain failures instead of projecting my attitudes onto others.

    I enjoyed covering the material related to shadows. It helped me to understand who I am and who I aspire to be, as well as, the motivation and reason for some of my behaviors. It forced me to take a deeper inner look to realize the ugliness and beauty that lies within me. It is now up to me to embrace the good while acknowledging the bad and allowing them both to flow in harmony for my highest moral development.

    My shadow is a part of me. It does not exist apart from me and I do not exist apart from it. It is a degree of who I am. It is mine and I will embrace it to be a better person.

Thank you for your feedbackl!

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