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  • Jungian Therapy & the Meaning of Dreams, 4: Shadow

    Why does the Shadow have such an important part to play in understanding the meaning of dreams — and why does Jungian therapy care about it so much?

    the meaning of dreams

    What is the Shadow?

    Jung once described it as “the thing a person has no wish to be”; Andrew Samuels describes it as “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the ‘inferior, worthless and primitive’ side of man’s nature, the ‘other person’ in one, one’s own dark side.”  It’s easy to persuade ourselves that our Shadow doesn’t exist; but it does!

    Shadow amounts to all those aspects of our personality that we don’t want to acknowledge, and that we wish weren’t there — but which are anyway.  The Shadow is, and particularly as we move through midlife and beyond, we increasingly have to deal with it.  That’s why it often shows up so powerfully as part of the meaning of dreams.

    A brilliant, very humourous portrayal of the relationship of ego and the Shadow, and the ways ego often tries to “dress up” Shadow is embedded in a famous scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein“:


    Some manifestations of unconscious, repressed Shadow are humorous; as in the notorious “Mr. Guilty” case ;

    meaning of dreams


    some are unspeakably tragic.  If the Shadow is not acknowledged by the conscious ego, we can pay a great price.

    How Does It Appear in Dreams?

    Jungian therapy knows that Shadow appears in dreams in many forms.  It may indeed appear as “Frankenstein’s monster”, something almost inhuman and threatening.  Or as a person of unfamiliar race or ethnicity. Or in the form of those stigmatized by our culture, such as criminals, prostitutes, addicts, or ne’er-do-wells.  Also, there may be Shadow elements in a character from your past whom you disliked, or dismissed — but who secretly shows you something important about an aspect of self.

    Why Does It Matter?

    What our dreams reveal about Shadow can be a of great importance, if we are able to understand it.  We really need to know about, and to come to terms with, the Shadow aspects of our personalities, especially in the second half of life.  There comes a point in life where the repressed thoughts and feelings, ways of perceiving reality, hard to face truths and possibilities in ourselves that have not been lived out demand our attention.  To have any sense of wholeness, completeness or integrity in our lives, we have to come to terms with the unacknowledged and devalued aspects of the self — the Shadow.

    What Do I Do?

    In some way or other, if we seek wholeness, we will have to confront and come to terms with the Shadow, and that portion of our lives that is held within it.  The journey of Jungian therapy affirms that the meaning of dreams has a lot to do with confronting the Shadow.

    Next post in the series: Water


    PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved  JaneRahman |   VIDEO: “Young Frankenstein” © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (1974) (USA)
    1. jamenta


      October 29, 2012 at 2:26 am -

      It’s interesting you bring up Frankenstein’s monster Brian. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus – that literary masterpiece written by a young 19 year old Mary Shelley. Her title page quotes
      Milton: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me man?
      Did I solicit thee From darkness to promote me? -” -Paradise Lost.

      1. Brian C
        October 31, 2012 at 7:35 am -

        Thank you for your comment, John. I agree with your assessment of Mary Shelley: she was a genius, and her creation of “Adam”, Frankenstein’s monster stands as one of the striking visionary imaginal moments of the 19th century, which is saying a lot, actually. It is striking that Adam, although the product of Victor Frankenstein’s hubris, also embodies his shadow — and, in some ways, the shadow of the entire 19th century, and of Western man. Thanks again for your comment.

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