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  • How Does Your Shadow Personality Show Up in Your Life?

    In recent years, there has been a lot written about the shadow, or shadow personality. Although the idea originates with C.G. Jung, many other therapists and authors are now writing about it, and many find awareness of the shadow personality to be of great importance in understanding themselves and their lives.

    What is the nature of your shadow personality? How does it fit into the whole of who you are, and the overall journey of your life? And how is it affecting you now?

    Photo by Maria Belen Levy 

    As I’ve written in an earlier post, Jung defines the shadow as “that which we do not wish to be”. Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp elaborates on this, relating that the shadow is “hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized”.

    Becoming conscious of how the shadow is present in our lives may be a matter of great psychological importance. There are many cases of individuals who go through their whole life journey with little or no awareness that they have a shadow, or how that shadow affects them. The consequences of this can be grave, and sometimes they are downright tragic.

    The shadow can actually show up in many positive ways. However, it can also be incredibly destructive. There are many people who journey through their lives completely unaware of the damage wrought by their shadow.

    The Way We’d Like to See Ourselves vs. The Truth of Who We Are

    We all have an inner sense of ourselves, an inner picture of who it is that we are. Often this is aligned with a picture of ourselves that is quite positive and idealistic. On the other hand, the shadow is primarily compased of aspects of our personality that we are not proud of. 

    So how does the shadow show up in our lives? In many cases, it makes its presence felt most strongly through projection. By projection, we mean the unconscious process of taking characteristics that are really parts of ourselves and “projecting” them on other people. Sometimes the other person actually has the characteristics that we are projecting on him or her, and sometimes he or she doesn’t

    For instance, we may identify someone who annoys us because that person seems to be a grasping, penny pinching cheapskate. Yet we may not recognize the tendency in ourselves to avoid spending wherever possible and to ensure that someone else always picks up the cheque at the restaurant!

    The projection of the shadow is associated with what Jungians would call a bright persona. This term refers to a concept of ourselves and a social self that doesn’t acknowledge the weaker or morally suspect aspects of our personality. As Sharp puts it,

    To the degree that we identify with a bright persona, the shadow is correspondingly dark.

    The times when we experience a direct conflict between our conscious persona and an overly positive assessemnt of ourselves and the realities of the shadow are very often psychologically difficult experiences. We may have this experience at times of major life transition; this may be especially true during the midlife transition

    When the Shadow Starts to Show Up

    The journey with the shadow starts in earnest when we accept that the shadow exists, and we start to take it seriously. This can happen at lots of different points in our life journey, but some of the most dramatic examples can occur during midlife.

    For instance, imagine a male individual approaching midlife, who has exhibited a “straight arrow” persona all through adulthood. This man may have a fairly conservative career, perhaps as an accountant or insurance actuary. He may be a strong family man of scrupulous fidelity who attends all of his kids’ sports events. Yet, suddenly, in ways that dumfound even himself, he may start to act in ways that are quite contrary to to the picture that others, and even he himself have had of him. He may turn into a “party animal”, or someone who crosses the line in terms of extra-marital liaisons.

    If such a thing happens, the individual involved may live with a split. He may simply never acknowledge the contradiction between the image he has previously presented with of moral rectitude, and his desires and actions now. If so, shadow will continue to exist and act itself out, without actually coming into direct connection with ego consciousness. In that case, as it were, persona and shadow would co-exist in the same house divided without acknowledging each other.

    But what if this man were to engage with his shadow? He would first have to acknowledge to himself that his shadow was a part of him, that the emerging patterns described above were actually an expression of who he is. This might prove exceedlingly uncomfortable. The individual may well feel that he is stuck being someone that he is not very proud of.

    Yet, this is the point at which an exceedingly important and creative inner dialogue may begin. For, as it turns out, the shadow is not just the dark underbelly of the personality.

    Dialoguing with the Shadow

    In fact, connecting with the shadow may have deep, lasting importance for our lives. It may release creative and life-filled aspects of ourselves. For as Jung tells us,

    The shadow is merely… inferior, primitive, unadapted and awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities which would… vitalize and embellish human existence, but—convention forbids!


    [The shadow] displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.

    So not only does confronting the shadow bring us into awareness of parts of ourselves of which we not proud; it also brings us to awareness of new life possibilities. So this confrontation with the shadow may turn out to be a matter of fundamental importance in our life journey. 

    Working with the shadow personality can be very difficult to do on one’s own.  Gaining insight and support through a working alliance with a depth psychotherapist who is well experienced in working with the shadow can be remarkably helpful.

    With very best wishes for your continuing personal journey

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2024