Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

How acknowledging the darker corners of our psyche can lead to greater self-awareness.

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."

- Carl Jung

Meet your shadow self

Though the concept is very ancient, the term "shadow self" was most recently introduced by psychiatrist Carol Jung to describe a phenomenon of the human psyche. There are parts of our collective and individual human nature that are less than noble. When we don't like these aspects of ourselves, are ashamed of them, afraid of them, and don't even want to know they exist within us, the psyche buries these unacceptable parts deep within the unconscious mind. That way, they're "disowned," literally out of sight and out of the reach of our everyday awareness.

In this way, the mind is something like an iceberg. The conscious mind is the tip we are aware of above the water, and the unconscious mind is the other 98 percent, invisible under the water. Like the hidden part of the iceberg, less than noble feelings, urges, beliefs, prejudices and the negative energy they contain, are out of sight, but they are there in the shadow self.

What we file away in our unconscious runs parts of our lives and eventually leaks out in negative ways, until we are willing and able to acknowledge and then neutralize those disowned parts.

What it means to make the darkness conscious

It should be noted that the idea is not to bring our nasty urges up to the surface and act them out. Instead, what amazingly happens when a less than noble feeling/belief/urge is openly acknowledged and owned, is that the negative charge dissipates. When it is brought "out in the open," it is neutralized and it loses its power.

That's why in every program for healing destructive behavioral patterns and addictions of all sorts, the first step is always the same. People take turns standing in front of the group and saying something they may have not wanted to acknowledge for some time. They admit to being an alcoholic; a compulsive liar; a sex addict; a drug addict; a hoarder; a cheater, etc. You cannot simply go beyond hatred, or prejudice, jealousy, or addiction if first you don't admit that you do in fact possess those urges and behaviors. Once you "own it" it is no longer hidden. Then you can choose to dismantle the negativity and change your life.

When the dark side rises

Carl Jung and others postulated there is also a collective shadow side to every culture, to every country and to humanity as a species. Recently Dr. Deepak Chopra and other experts have offered explanations as to why we are seeing a current horrific uptick in wanton global violence rooted in racial, gender and religious prejudices. They attribute it to the collective shadow side of humanity, which has now risen to the surface.

Harnessing opportunity in the face of darkness-questions worth asking

The horror of what's happening is obvious. But what if this is also an unprecedented opportunity to help humanity become more tolerant and understanding?

What if every person were to openly own his/her secret biases, shames, and fears and therefore neutralize them so they are neither hidden nor acted out?

What if how we become whole and evolve is by bringing the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly of who we are into the light?

What if all humanity as a collective species owns up to and faces our secret biases, shames and fears?

What if, just as an individual frees himself to change after acknowledging his addiction, humanity will have created the opening to upgrade the world to become a planet where people live in harmony.

Time is now to free the positives, too

Incredibly, there are also positive and creative aspects of us locked away in the vault of the unconscious. They found their way there because they didn't fit in with society or someone dissed on them, or we felt shamed and then to avoid the pain, our psyche hid them away. Human beings all have talents, skills, insights, heart and creativity to share, which is sometimes stifled. Imagine the hidden treasures we can now bring to the surface, shining as individuals and as a species.


I realize this week's column may sound like a pipe dream. But then, my favorite song-and ostensibly one of yours too-is John Lennon's "Imagine." This song resonates with myriad people because it reminds us that anything we can imagine can exist. Are you in? PJH