“We allow ourselves the most amazing illusions about ourselves and think other people take us seriously. It is as if I should have the illusion that I am only five feet tall—just mad! This is no more absurd than people who want to make us believe that they are very moral and respectable. It isn’t true, and how can you establish a real relation unless people are real, as they really are? We know that people, instead of being respectable and moral, are just hopelessly blind. How can you establish an individual relationship with such a creature? One gets seasick, it is nauseating. I would far rather have an individual relationship to a dog, who doesn’t assume he is a respectable dog…”1

C. G. Jung

I tend to think that part of what makes a person a genius is his or her ability to perceive and communicate truth. Whereas most people speak (and possibly even think) in platitudes, the great person simply speaks the truth, even when it’s startling.

This past weekend at a Jungian Studies seminar, I had the privilege of witnessing a courageous confrontation. In this situation, although many of us had felt uncomfortable and even disturbed by behaviors going on in the classroom between two fellow students, no one had mustered the courage to say anything, myself included. Finally, though, one of us grew impatient with herself for only talking about the problem. She decided to try to solve it.

Witnessing my friend’s courage was a stunning experience and had the effect of bringing me back to a part of myself that I’d been pushing aside. This part is the part that rewards bad behavior with silence, with looking away. I pretended, with everyone else, that the rudeness going on under our noses wasn’t rude at all. We moved our chairs, we looked away, we talked about it afterward, we griped–but nobody confronted the behaviors.

Why do we fail to confront? Many times it’s because we’re fearful, but other times it’s because we think a confrontation is useless: the person is so unconscious or so far gone that they won’t change. “What’s the point?” we ask. Seeing someone take responsibility as my friend did caused me to look into this type of reasoning, though. I thought about adoption, and how when you adopt an older child who comes from a damaging environment, a culture clash occurs. The adoptive family’s nurturing culture is foreign to the newly-adopted child. The child, accustomed to abuse, neglect, and cruelty, doesn’t know how to handle love. He can’t live in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. He’s used to having adrenaline pumping through his body, supporting his survival, and doesn’t know how to live in a nurturing environment because there’s not nearly as much adrenaline in the quietly nurturing home.

Skilled foster and adoptive parents know that they must help the new child adjust to their culture, and they try to help by assisting the child as he recognizes and grieves losses. After this, they teach new skills of living within a nurturing family; and, finally, they teach the child how to give back. We’re here to do more than receive, we teach: we’re here to give something to the universe.

Sometimes people never do learn that they’re here to give back. Sometimes people become black holes of humanity who only take and take and take. They pretend they’re not sucking the life out of others or the universe by saying all the right things. They tell us they are good and loving and generous. They may even volunteer to feed the hungry, or work at the hospice, or be helping professionals or good mothers, attending little league games and ballet recitals.

However, what Jung is saying here is what many great spiritual teachers have said: If you meet a person who claims to be good, they’re lying. Nobody is really good. This is why the most religious people, such as pastors and preachers and priests, can be some of the worst offenders. We’re still surprised when we read that yet another so-called spiritual leader has molested a child, or embezzled church money, or run off with the choir director. Why are we surprised, though? The whole congregation is sitting there also proclaiming their own virtues. Even though they have hurt their friends, cheated employers, lied to their family, pilfered, offended someone without apologizing, they will still tell you how good they are, and how much they love God or how enlightened they are.

People show us who they are through their actions. Words are nearly meaningless unless accompanied by action. This is why the person who says he is a good person can’t be believed as long as he says or does cruel things. All he is saying is that the mask he wears is called “Good Person.” All he is saying is that he is blind to his shadow.

Last week when my friend confronted mean-spiritedness, she was doing us all a service and acting out of goodness, yet she would never say that she’s a good person. Ironically, that’s what makes her one.


1Jung, C. G. Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930. (1984). (Bollingen Series XCIX). 2 vols. William McGuire, Ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 68.

13 responses to “Shadow”

  1. David Avatar

    Really an interesting post, Eve. I had a bit of an ironic smile when I realized that my own past willingness to point out the nakedness of the emperor had a lot to do with the fact that I automatically assumed everyone in any given group disliked me anyway, because that had always been my life experience. It’s easier to be the firebrand when you feel that you’re already standing in a burning building. It’s harder now that I know people don’t necessarily automatically hate me, but I’m kind of in the habit of speaking my mind, so I usually do, though I tend to save it for fairly important things. I also tend to say my piece, then wash my hands of the situation and walk away, in the company of anyone who agrees and wants to come with me. That’s something I wonder about … my lack of interest in staying to fight the good fight. I can’t tell whether I’m pragmatic, cowardly, or lazy. Probably all three. 🙂

  2. ohmylady333 Avatar

    You are right. And I think your post is meaningful for many ones.

  3. Elizabeth Avatar

    Glad to see you back Eve.

    Very thought provoking post. I also fear judgment more than rejection, as you do. Thanks for this moment of clarity, as I had never thought about it like that before.

    1. Eve Avatar

      Elizabeth, there’s that saying that goes, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” I’ve wondered what that means, really… why keep an enemy close? Yet it seems there’s a masochistic side in human nature that keeps us spellbound when we’re being undermined or used. I think when we keep presenting ourselves for that, some old magic is at work from our pasts.

  4. Deb Avatar

    I had to laugh when I read that line by Jung “I would far rather have an individual relationship to a dog, who doesn’t assume he is a respectable dog…”. I love dogs so much because they do not pretend to be anything other than what they are. If they have an itch, they will scratch it. If they have to shit, they will wherever. If they find something disgusting, they will roll in it.

    If only people were so easy to get along with.

    I confronted a couple of young people behind me at the movie a few weeks ago. They talked through the entire movie. Finally I turned around and told them who rude they were. They laughed and crowed and generally thought I was hilarious, apparently for expecting to be able to listen to the movie that I had paid $12.75 for. I let it go after that but I was proud of myself for speaking up politely, not aggressively and telling them what my experience had been like.

    I too find it amusing that students in a Jung course would be so unconscious as well. Although I teased my analyst the other day. Turns out she has a boyfriend, in Zurich! I commented that it was telling that there was an entire ocean between them. She laughed at that.

    1. Eve Avatar

      Deb, your experience at the movie theater seems pretty typical, doesn’t it? We finally muster the courage and sense of boundaries to actually tell someone that their behavior is affecting those around them, only to discover that they’re the sort of person who–big surprise!–doesn’t care! Wow, how can that be? It’s a whole new world when we finally confront the reality that there really are people who don’t care about others. They just don’t care. Everything is about them and their needs.

      We seem to be in the age of narcissism. I think it’s one of the aspects of having so much that’s so troubling. We’ve never had higher standards of living, historically speaking, and yet how blighted is our spiritual landscape.

  5. Irene Avatar

    Eve, it’s so good to hear from you. 🙂

    I think I know what you are pointing to. To address what is before you, what is dishonest, or disrespectful. Or just when another is blind and unaware. To hold up a mirror and say ‘I see you’ (for what you are). To call another’s bluff, or their illusion/unconsciousness. Perhaps to not allow another to walk over you with aggression or bad behaviour. I respect that kind of courage. It takes a lot of strength and presence of mind, something I would like to consciously cultivate more often in a balanced way.

    For me, to fail to confront means I am afraid of being rejected by the other person, am trying to be pleasing overall to others, even if they are not friends (being seen to be ‘good’). I think the seed of loneliness lies within that.

    1. Eve Avatar

      Hello, Irene, it’s good to be back here again. It’s been kind of lame to come here and look at my last post from back in October!

      You wrote that “the seed of loneliness lies within” acting out of one’s fears of rejection, or one’s people-pleasing, and I agree. The biggest loneliness is the alienation from one’s own true self, the part that sees but then immediately turns away. If a you keep turning away, not only do you forget what you saw, eventually you forget your own self.

      Something that I find I fear is not rejection as much as judgment. Usually a person won’t outright reject another person without quite a bit of provocation. What’s more typical in my experience is that the rejection will come covertly, through slander, backbiting, gossip, undermining behaviors, and things like these. Then you have an enemy who is in closer proximity, with more opportunity to damage you, than an actual rejection would have allowed for. I think we all know this and instinctively play nice because of the statistically unfavorable situation that would arise were we to be outright rejected by everyone we confronted. We’d have a hundred or more outright enemies, rather than a hundred hidden ones. ;o) So much better to play nice, as we all know that it’s not always preferable to tell the truth or be honest about someone’s behaviors, especially if it’s obvious that they’re not going to change. If a person were going to change, they already would have.

      1. Irene Avatar

        You’re so right – “what will they think of me?” Guilty, Ma’am! I realise the two (judgment and rejection) feel quite the same in my body.

        I have been having accupuncture for a while for various reasons, and not so long ago, I had a dream about two specific points either side if my belly button, administered quite deeply by my (female) doctor. When I spoke of this to my practitioner, she looked up the points – which were actual – and read up about their relevance. Amongst other physical things, these points referred to individuals with anxiety, whose “spirit does not reside in the heart”. How perfect is that? As you said, alienation from one’s own true self.

        I think it takes a while to learn that you really can’t change others unless they really want it themselves. The best one can do is to work hard on one’s own individuation.

  6. orwhatyouwill Avatar

    “Why do we fail to confront? Many times it’s because we’re fearful, but other times it’s because we think a confrontation is useless: the person is so unconscious or so far gone that they won’t change.”

    Is it always worthwhile to confront? I found my way to your blog because I am dealing with someone living in his shadow. I don’t know if that’s the proper term, but anyway, it was what got me started reading about Jung and then I found your blog. In my case, it’s very clear to me. It’s like Darth Vader… he’s gone to the dark side. Also, I am the unlucky recipient of his negative anima projection. I understood this the second that I read about anima projection. A lightbulb moment for me. Nothing had made a bit of sense to me until then. This Jungian stuff I can wrap my mind around.

    Explains it, but doesn’t make him rational or reasonable to deal with. I had tried for months to talk, explain, reason… nothing, nada came from that. Then, I started understanding about the shadow and anima and I realized there was no point in confronting. No point in explaining. No point at all. He is irrational. Let him go spin.

    Maybe that’s a more extreme case than the day-to-day soporific lack of consciousness that you usually see. So, is confrontation helpful in those cases? I guess it must have solved the problem in your seminar or you would not have posted. It’s interesting to me that people attending a Jungian studies seminar were so unconscious!

    1. Eve Avatar

      You asked if it is always worthwhile to confront, yet the answer is one you already know. No, at times confrontation can only cause more difficulty. Though we sometimes like to think we can jar another person out of his or her behavior through confronting it, we know this isn’t usually the case. We’re all blind to ourselves from time to time, sometimes more often than not.

      To be honest, I think that confrontation is usually more effective for the person doing the confronting than it is for the person who’s off the mark. Speaking the truth in love, as St. Paul exhorted people to do, is a study in wisdom for the one doing it more than the one on the receiving end–that’s what I think, anyway. I think so because my observation of human nature is that many people only pay lip service to goodness (as Jung is pointing out in this quote), but in reality are even less developed than a dog in terms of their self-appraisal.

      The confrontation in my seminar has only just begun to ripple out. It by no means solved the entire problem. In fact, it served (again, this is my opinion) rather like opening Pandora’s box, letting out what we’d been collectively shoving down. This happens everywhere that people go. Some of the most unconscious people I’ve ever met have been mental health professionals, just as one sees among the clergy and just about anywhere else where one would at least hope for more enlightenment. Human nature being what it is, I think we’re far too optimistic that education alone will confer wisdom and consciousness on a person; of course it won’t. This is why in Freudian and Jungian circles, at least, all psychoanalysts are required to have had over 100 hours of analysis themselves, and are expected to maintain an analytic relationship after licensure.

      1. orwhatyouwill Avatar

        None of this is intuitive at all for me, so every word I read helps me heal bit by bit. Forgive me for my tangent here… it has nothing to do with your post, but it’s just about how your post got me thinking about things.

        “To be honest, I think that confrontation is usually more effective for the person doing the confronting than it is for the person who’s off the mark.”
        I think this has been true in my case. I tend to be bluntly honest with people. I have learned to be less so in general. It’s something that I struggle with. I have a thing going on with my son’s teacher now… I am trying to balance my honesty with her perception… trying to put myself in her place. It is not easy. I do feel that “telling her off” — the confrontation — would be cathartic for me, but not solve the issue with her. It is not easy.

        My whole current experience with the anima projection/shadow stuff has taken it to a different level for me. Before reading the psychology stuff, I was responding intuitively, with utter confusion, but with love and honesty. It was not received that way. It made me feel better for having said my piece, but it made the situation worse (at least not better). It is very counterintuitive to me, but obvious now that there is no point in any of the conversation. It is a very difficult and painful lesson for me to learn.

        Your response to Irene: “If you keep turning away, not only do you forget what you saw, eventually you forget your own self.”

        This is what concerns me now. I am detaching and letting go of the whole situation to the point of no return. It has been an emotional battering for me, and I cried “uncle.” No more. But I struggle with the concept of detaching from the siutation versus ignoring my feelings and stuffing down the stuff that makes me me. The honesty that I would normally use to confront the situation in all its details… that I am not allowing myself to do now. It’s a strange thing for me.

        I really appreciate your blog and like seeing you writing (on any topic). It all helps me, bit by bit. I am now reading “Invisible Partners” by John Sanford. I find reading this stuff head-on in books helps me, but reading it applied to real life in your blog takes my thoughts in a different direction and helps me make connections.

        So, thank you for helping me to think things through! And Merry Christmas. I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

        1. Eve Avatar

          Something that may help you is to remember that we tend to go from one extreme to another before finding what ‘the middle way,’ or a way of balance for us. I write this in response to your admitting that “the honesty that I would normally use to confront the situation in all its details… that I am not allowing myself to do now.” Perhaps you are using this same honest, confrontational energy to confront aspects of your inner life, self, or your behaviors. Perhaps at the moment, you’re seeing this energy and insight is better invested in yourself. Or, perhaps you’ve recalled your projections or a lot of the energy you used to put onto others, or your partner, etc., and that energy is available to your own self, for your own purposes now. When this happens, a huge shift occurs. There’s usually no going back once this happens. However, out of habit and self-preservation we may just find another surrogate for our energies, and replace the target.

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