Two Paths to Knowing Our Shadows

The Valley of Shadow, Evelyn de Morgan

The following is an excerpt from my book Becoming Whole: A Jungian Guide to Individuation.

There are two primary paths that we can follow in looking for our shadows. The first one is in dreams. Figures who are the same sex as ourselves represent shadow aspects of ourselves. Let me give you a brief example.

A few days ago, an analysand told me a dream. It had followed a long and somewhat controversial discussion he had the previous evening with his wife. In the dream, he was at a celebration with former President Clinton. When I asked him what his associations were with President Clinton, he said that he considered Clinton a completely political animal. That he could not tell if he truly had any values or not, because he always seemed to be compromising what he said he believed in, for political expediency. As he was talking, his face began to change its expression, as he recognized the dream image in himself, in terms of how he dealt with his wife.

The second pathway to our shadows that we can follow is in projections. The irrational strength of our feelings and our inability to get rid of them alert us to the idea that the projection is our issue, no matter how justified we feel otherwise. The resentments that keep us from going to sleep and the arguments that go on and on in our minds illustrate that projections are at work. In an extreme case, we may see someone who seems to personify all that is shifty, cowardly, or evasive. They will arouse in us dislike, animosity, and even fear. We will find it impossible to be fair with them.

They are unbearable to us because they stand for something within ourselves which we do not wish to own. They enable us to maintain our good opinion of ourselves, because the projections carry our rejected, bad qualities. In some cases, the projections may even carry good qualities-which, otherwise, we might have to acknowledge as our very own qualities.

Getting to know our shadows is a painful journey because we must crucify our own opinions of ourselves. The mystics aptly termed this process the “purification of the Self.” Literature and mythology refer to this process as a “descent” that requires faith, courage, and usually a guide.

I think that it is probably apparent at this point that the realization of our shadow compels us to outgrow our parents’ psychology, as well as to become aware of and outgrow our society’s psychology. Both of these are closely tied in with our shadow-our parents, our parental homes, policemen, institutions, and their representatives often show up in our dreams, in order to help us come to grips with “conventional” attitudes and values we have internalized.

For Reflection

  1. Dreams – same sex people in your dreams
    • What are your associations with, or to these people, in specific, or in general if you don’t know them?
    • What are they doing in your dream? How are they behaving? What do you think about their character?
    • Are you attracted by them or repelled by them?
    • Are you afraid of them, disgusted by them, etc.?
  2. Projections
    • Note the irrational strength of your feeling about someone.
    • Note your difficulty in getting rid of these feelings, passion, the broken heart and so on.


Art credit: The Valley of Shadow, Evelyn de Morgan

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2 Responses to “Two Paths to Knowing Our Shadows”

  1. Frank

    IMO there is no reason to punish yourself in your journey with your shadow. You’ve been on it since birth, simply not aware of it, but with it none the less. So when we do become aware and do begin to engage with it and see how it has manipulated and influenced our path our past should not matter. Nothing you can do about it. The purpose, the value, I believe of such a journey is to make sure that today, this moment we walk with a full relationship with our shadows and use that relationship to guide us.

    • Dr. Bud Harris

      Dear Frank, Thank you for this thoughtful response. Knowing our shadows often puts us in touch with uncomfortable truths about ourselves and how we have been living. But you are right, punishing ourselves doesn’t help. Greeting our shadows with strength, understanding and compassion can help us find unlived potentials in them. As you say, walk in a full relationship with them. -Bud

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