“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!”
An excellent movie about people confronting their shadow selves is Network (1976).
Among the most famous bits of dialogue from the film are these lines, spoken by the main character, anchorman Howard Beale:
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad–worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad.
Howard Beale: [shouting] You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddammit! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,
Howard Beale: [shouting] ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:
Howard Beale: [screaming at the top of his lungs] “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
Assimilating the Shadow
Every confrontation with one’s shadow self does not necessarily have to end with telling someone to shove something up their ass or telling them to go fuck themselves, as my personal anecdotes illustrated yesterday, but it almost certainly will if a person does not go about the meeting consciously. Howard Beale’s demand that we stick our heads out the window and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more,” could act as a talisman against sudden outbursts of the “fuck you!” variety, but it will do little to help the individual realize his or her other inferior functions. The shadow embodies all that is repressed, pushed aside, locked up, forgotten-not only the seven deadly sins, but also the introvert’s extraversion, the intuitive’s sensing side, the thinker’s feeling function, and the emotional person’s thinking side. The shadow contains what we left behind in childhood, our wishes, and our dreams. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, we need someone to help us by lovingly re-attaching our shadows.
As with the other archetypes, the shadow is re-attached and worked with best as we notice our dreams. The opposite attitude and the inferior functions that are trying to assert themselves are commonly personified as shadow figures in dreams and fantasies. Perhaps you will recognize your shadow contents in the movies you avidly watch again and again, in your most favorite movies, books, or short stories, or in the art you hang on your walls. Have you ever gone through a phase of watching a movie over and over again? Take a look at the characters who are of the same gender as you: they may reveal hidden aspects of your shadow. Likewise, fascinating figures of the opposite sex may well reveal aspects of your anima or animus that long to be assimilated and used fully in your whole, individuated personality.
To assimilate or develop a function or aspect of an archetype means to live with it in the foreground of consciousness. It is not enough for the intuitive personality type to do a little cooking, a little sewing, or a little sculpting. As Marie-Louise von Franz writes,
Assimilation means that the whole adaptation of conscious life, for a while, lies on that one function. Switching over to an auxiliary function takes place when one feels that the present way of living has become lifeless, when one gets more or less constantly bored with oneself and one’s activities. . . The best way to know how to switch is simply to say, “All right, all this does not mean anything to me any more. Where in my past life is an activity that I feel I could still enjoy? An activity out of which I could still get a kick?” If a person then genuinely picks up that activity, he will see that he has switched over to another function.
He or she will also have assimilated an aspect of the shadow by utilizing the less-favored, or inferior, function of the personality.
The Role of Projection
I have written earlier about projection, but it is worth noting how projection works specifically with regard to shadow. Everything about ourselves that we are not conscious of is shadow. Psychologically, the shadow opposes and compensates the conscious ego personality. Without realizing the shadow, and seeing that dark being on the path that leads out of our home village and into the yonder, we cannot progress on our quests. The more we become conscious of our shadow, the less of a threat it is, and the more psychologically whole and substantial we become.
As we have seen, the shadow is composed of our inferior personality traits and also of our morally inferior wishes and motives, childish fantasies and resentments, guilt, etc.-everything about ourselves we are not proud of and regularly seek to hide from others. In civilized societies, aggression is part of the shadow because aggression is not socially acceptable; in less civilized societies, aggression is more necessary to survival and not as readily suppressed.
As Daryl Sharp writes,
By and large . . . the shadow is a hodge-podge of repressed desires and uncivilized impulses. It is possible to become conscious of these, but in the meantime they are projected onto others. Just as we may mistake a real man or woman for the soul-mate we yearn for, so we see our devils, our shadows, in others. This is responsible for much acrimony in personal relationships. On a collective level it gives rise to political polarization, wars and the ubiquitous practice of scapegoating (45).
Yet we need the shadow. The shadow reminds us that we are human, whereas the persona aims at nothing less than perfection. If we identify too closely with the persona, we are bound to become like Icarus, in our grandiosity flying too close to the sun and having our wings melt. We’ll realize as we flounder in the sea below the deadly mistake we made.
In what guise does such floundering in the sea of the unconscious appear? The mask of the persona falls away when we are under the influence of a shadow fed up with the persona’s fakeness and hypocrisy. We cheat on our tax returns, we pilfer at our jobs, we take too long a break at work, we lie, we sleep with our neighbor’s wife, we find lost things and we don’t even try to return them.
Another way of seeing the shadow is to ask those closest to us to help us to see it. They are usually quite familiar with our shadow and can tell us the truth, if they dare and if we dare to ask. Our shadow is seen through our bursts of anger, emotion, irritability, or rage. It is seen in slips of the tongue, or when we put our foot in our mouths, or in sudden reactions. Perhaps we’re cruel or petty or stingy in surprising ways. Again, these are our inferior functions not because they are inherently bad qualities, but because we have not exercised them and brought them into robust maturity.
If we acknowledge the existence of our repressed stuff of the shadow, a moral problem remains. As Daryl Sharp writes, “It is one thing to realize what your shadow looks like-what you are capable of. The next step is to determine how much of it you are prepared to live out, or with. In practice, this evolves through trial and error” (46). Sharp suggests that assimilating the shadow is much like the practice of diplomacy or statesmanship, and always an individual matter. The shadow and the ego are like political parties vying for power:
If one can speak of a technique at all, it consists solely in an attitude. First one has to accept and take seriously the existence of the shadow. Second, one has to become aware of its qualities and intentions. This happens through conscientious attention to moods, fantasies, and impulses. Third, a long process of negotiation is unavoidable (Sharp 47).
For example, when one day I was mortified to hear myself tell a clerk at Walgreens to go fuck herself, I was using an inferior function, that of using my anger to advocate for myself in a situation provoked by a person who refused to listen to me. The clerk’s angry refusal to listen to me activated a complex from childhood that developed over many years of feeling helpless in the face of parental anger, for only the parents in my family of origin were allowed to express anger (and only the parents could refuse to listen). A child cannot learn how to use anger in such situations, and in fact in our culture few positive examples of righteous indignation exist. Thus it was that 30 years would pass before I would get the wake-up call from my shadow that my 90-lb. weakling was weighing in at around 195 pounds at the Walgreens that day.
Since that time, I’ve learned some things about managing my shadowy contents, for I have not since told a clerk to go fuck herself. I also have not shoved my shadow contents back down to where the sun don’t shine and become that Nice Woman again. No, indeed. What I’ve done is to try to breathe when I feel that surge of indignation, of anger, of astonishment at people’s ineptitude, their unwillingness to listen, their indifference, their failure to do their jobs or to follow rules or to do, in short, whatever it is that I want them to do so that my life will run more smoothly and I (and I alone) will be happy, like some little household god needing appeasement. I just keep breathing, patting my feelings on the back and hugging them to me, and (as Thich Nhat Hanh says), I “smile to the feelings.” At least, I try.
I’ve also worked harder at looking at people, really looking at them, for the act of repression is, first of all, an act of blindness to the difficulties of discipline and suffering. I try to see people as people, and imagine myself in their shoes. Then I imagine myself in my shoes and acknowledge how frustrating the situation is or was, and how I too have been exactly what that other person is, and there is no room for judgment.
After all this is done, I finally try to move to “win-win” if I can, so that I don’t abandon myself or the other person, nor what is right. And I try to keep in mind the wonderful serenity prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” And, because it takes lots of time to develop these skills through practice, sometimes I can put my self through these paces quickly, and other times I fail, and yet other times I halfway succeed, but have to go back and make some amends.
In spite of my flaws, I keep working at laying down my weapons and refusing to force other people to live out the shadow role for me, so that I can continue to find the source of my discontent outside myself and despise them, while loving only myself. No, as Jesus said, I must love my neighbor as myself. Until I can see myself in my neighbor, and my neighbor in myself, I have not learned to love at all. So I keep working at both loving my self and at loving my neighbor.
The Bright Side of the Shadow
The main reason the shadow is a necessary harbinger of the wholeness promised by the Quest is that we need him or her. As I wrote before, images of the shadow often involve the wilderness, the woods (full of dragons, ogres, and thieves), or the sea as a watery wilderness. Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus all met God in the wilderness, which meetings served as their initiations into the mystery of self-realization. Only the rigors and deprivations of the wilderness pull out of us the Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus spirits lying dormant in our souls.
Just as the wilderness promises deprivations, thirst, hunger, and temptations by devils, so too does the shadow promise hardship, tortures, difficulties, and insatiable longings. However, the very wilderness that brought the hunger also gives the Hebrew children manna; the hungry prophet hiding in desert caves is fed by ravens; and Jesus is ministered to by angels after his temptation.
The shadow holds more than the dark underbelly of the conscious personality; it has its bright and transcendent side in its aspects of our unlived lives. Talents and abilities that have long been dormant or never even realized consciously are part of the shadow, too. They are available potentialities, and once realized, they often release an amazing amount of energy. According to Sharp, “that is why a depressed person is counseled to go into the mood rather than try to escape it. You don’t find buried treasure unless you dig” (47).
In an analogy every woman who has given birth without drugs will understand, one has to go into the pain, into the contractions, and master them by becoming one with them, by submitting to them, and by allowing the energy of all of one’s sisters who have gone before us in childbirth to coach us along. Experienced this way, childbirth is one of the single most transcendent experiences of a lifetime, and a woman is indeed “saved by the bearing of children” (1 Timothy 2:15). If we are consciously able to take a standpoint toward our shadow contents so that we can control or direct them rather than be controlled by them, we are on our way.
Jung said that no redemption is possible without tolerance and love-attitudes that we know we ought to exhibit when dealing with others, but that we don’t usually think of applying in any constructive, loving way to ourselves. Think about your recent dreams, your recent emotional outbursts (or inbursts!) and ask yourself which parts of yourself are you refusing to acknowledge, to see, to tolerate, to love? Find them, and then begin to dialogue with them and see whether your Shadow will not help you along the path to individuation.
Jung, Carl G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Sharp, Daryl. Jungian Psychology Unplugged: My Life as an Elephant. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1998.
von Franz, Marie-Louise, and Hillman, James. Lectures on Jung’s Typology. Zürich: Spring Publications, 1971.