Archive for the ‘The Shadow’ Tag


I, along with almost everyone I know, was horrified by the campaign rhetoric of fear, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and hate. I physically feel the pain caused by world-wide cruelty, and fight despair over the violent hostility that’s emerged in my own United States. Yes, I was shocked at Trump’s election.

But long experience with psychology helps me see the positives in today’s turmoil. It’s all about The Shadow.

During psychotherapy, the movement to good health begins with the emergence of our Shadow side, that hidden cauldron of hatred, fear, anger, hostility, hurt, desire for vengeance, or maybe even fear of some of our own good but challenging qualities. Its forces cannot be integrated in healing ways as long as they secretly and energetically chew away at our inner selves,

So, what does that have to do with the situation now that Trump has been elected? Let’s be clear, the campaign didn’t cause the racism, sexism, xenophobia, rage, and violence, i.e. the Collective Shadow. It helped unleash it. And as a therapist I can see that as a good thing.

Good thing? Yes. When all those Collective Shadow toxins are operating outside our awareness they cause their damage without control. Now they’ve been released. It’s awful to see the monster side of our humanity being displayed, but we know what we are dealing with and we can get to work healing our country. Processing it won’t be a matter of short-term therapy. The work of change will be long and terribly painful. But as individuals we can reduce our own stress and strive toward solutions.

How? By focusing on the present and action for the future. By taking whatever personal control is most appropriate for each of us. No one of us can solve everything, but we can avoid despair (lack of hope). The lesson from successful therapy is to choose a few things on which to focus and take action based on our own capabilities. Keep informed; maybe join protest marches if that’s our thing, or perhaps subsidize others; sign petitions; donate money; write letters; make phone calls; discuss with friends and neighbors; perhaps just meditate or pray. Do something to prevent, promote, or protect the issues that concern us.

Remember, the Shadow gets hidden because all that’s good in us doesn’t want to see it. And that “good” side is pretty darn powerful. Right now the Shadow side is making a scene, but its counterforce is quietly and powerfully active.

There are more good psychology lessons to be shared as we enter this historic period. Today’s theme is The Shadow, and taking personal control.





Rule #1 requires honesty and accepting responsibility. Both those things require knowing one’s self, including the Shadow. And that’s not easy, because the Shadow is that part of ourselves that lurks deep in the background where we don’t want to acknowledge it. Why is it hidden? Because it’s not acceptable. So the thought scares us – seeing things we don’t like about ourselves.

In fact, this may be the hardest “rule” of all. Those shadow places are pretty well closed off. But if you can do it, be prepared to hang on to those shadowy things when they pop up. And even if you reject it when someone suggests something about you that you don’t like, take it home with you and examine it when no one is looking. Nothing says you have to tell them you’ve discovered they’re right. (Though it might not hurt.)

It does help us, though, to understand – even empathize – with those “others” out there. And when we understand and empathize, we’re better able to come up with a way to handle the situation to our own benefit as well as for the general welfare.

There’s a funny thing called attribution. We can look at the same thing and attribute different causes depending on who’s involved. Someone else walks out of the store without paying the bill. They’re stealing. I walk out of the store without paying and I’m forgetful. It plays right into the blame game.

From my adult vantage point, I can get pretty uppity about violent kids in “good” neighborhoods. Then I remember when I was ten years old, visiting someone with my parents. I went with their ten-year-old daughter up to the privacy of her bedroom. There she described the gang she belonged to, the idea being to fight with the other gang – and win. The funny thing is, I remember it to this day because I was jealous. I mean deep in my bones, to the bottom of my well of emotion, jealous. The Shadow practically filled the room.

So it’s important to acknowledge our own unacceptable parts. And besides, folks tend to like others who are as flawed as they are. “Perfect” people are pretty boring, or maybe just not believable.

But here’s the funny thing. For some of us – my fellow Scandinavians may recognize this – part of what’s unacceptable may be stuff that other people think is great. “You shouldn’t think so highly of yourself.” “Don’t puff yourself up.” “Being humble is a good thing; don’t brag.” It may seem weird, but good things can lurk in the Shadow because those childhood warnings drove them there, and the general culture keeps them there. How many good assertive contributions are lost because one isn’t willing to admit to positive virtues?

My apologies to the Shadow. It’s so much more powerful than I make it sound here. But because it’s so powerful, it’s worth getting to know and accepting.

The path to forgiving [or any other healthy thing] means accepting your own dark side. Preface to “Forgiving One Page at a Time: The Diary of your Journey to Restoration and Confidence.”

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