Accepting The Stranger, Embracing Shadow Self
On a certain level, human beings have a primal fear of strangers, the unfamiliar, the other, which connects with fear of embracing shadow self.
Depth case studies, like all psychology, knows there is a natural fear of the unknown that is built into our biology. As Jung and many others have noted, the fear, caution and natural conservatism of animals has immense survival value in the unpredictable circumstances of nature. When instinct is your only guide, taking unnecessary risks — like trusting strangers — could prove disastrous, or even fatal.
However, even though we have a strong set of instincts, human beings are able to function in ways that are not purely determined by instinct. Because of our unique make up, we’re able to do things that our instinctual side could only be completely opposed to, like use a potentially deadly thing, like fire, to warm ourselves and cook our food. We can learn to overcome our fear, and do things that are new and that are good for us.
Humans have a fear and anxiety response to unknown people. Our instinctual side can scream at us not to associate with unknown others, and yet throughout human history and pre-history, we have consistently overcome that fear to create larger and larger groupings of people. And that’s a good thing, because it’s hard to create things like art, literature, mathematics, airline travel, or even a nutritious meal all on your own, from absolute scratch.
We know all this, and yet each of us can find ourselves caught by fear of the stranger, even the stranger who looks harmless and has merely been through very difficult circumstances and who needs our help. Why exactly is that?
Enter Human Shadow
To understand the answer to that question, we must connect to this question of embracing the shadow self.
What is the shadow? Jungian case studies uses the term to refer to those parts of our total personality of which we are unaware, or which we don’t want to acknowledge. Shadow contains all our weaknesses, all our moral failings, all the things about our own being that make us feel small, vulnerable and ashamed. And if we’re really unaware, rather than embracing the shadow self, we can start painting others in its colours — what psychologists call projection.
Projecting Shadow – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
The way we feel about strangers can tell us a lot about how we feel about the unfamiliar parts of ourselves. Extending the welcome to the stranger — within us and outside of us — may be an essential part of our own healing and self understanding, and is a key part of the journey to wholeness in /a-midlife-transition.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst