The Shadow, Carl Jung, and IDL


Joseph Dillard


There is a lot of discussion now about the importance of understanding and healing one’s “shadow” among followers of the work of Carl Jung, the integral AQAL model of Ken Wilber and innumerable other contemporary popular teachers. How did Carl Jung understand this concept and what is its relationship to Integral Deep Listening (IDL)? The following is an excerpt from “Words and Concepts that Are and Are Not Conducive to Enlightenment.”

Jung develops the concept of the shadow” for good and important reasons. For example, in “The Philosophical Tree” (1945), in CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335, he says, “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbor.” Expanding on this approach in “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.140, Jung says, “If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world.”

There are several assumptions about “shadow” that Jung and those who follow him regarding his views on the subject, including Ken Wilber, that IDL approaches differently.

First, “shadow” refers to aspects of self:

To become conscious of (the shadow) involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14

The function of this concept is responsibility through ownership, based on the idea that we are empowered only by that which we take as self-created, as a part of ourselves.

Second, “shadow” indicates dark, or unwanted aspects of self:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individuals conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131

Taking it in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. The Integration of the Personality. (1939).

Jung is saying that the shadow is an evolutionary throw-back, a burden to be cast off:

“We carry our past with us, to wit, the primitive and inferior man with his desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from this burden. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow. “Answer to Job” (1952). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.1

The darkness of the shadow is not petty; it can be demonic:

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. “On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.35

Not only can it be neurotic and demonic, but also pathological and psychotic:

If the activation is due to the collapse of the individuals hopes and expectations, there is a danger that the collective unconscious may take the place of reality. This state would be pathological. If, on the other hand, the activation is the result of psychological processes in the unconscious of the people, the individual may feel threatened or at any rate disoriented, but the resultant state is not pathological, at least so far as the individual is concerned. Nevertheless, the mental state of the people as a whole might well be compared to a psychosis. “The Psychological Foundation for the Belief in Spirits (1920). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P.595

Third, “shadow” indicates repressed aspects of self:

Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware. “On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.35

Jung finds good reason for man’s repression of his shadow:

The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces. “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.25

What Jung means, when he speaks of “losing one’s shadow,” is its repression:

No, the demons are not banished; that is a difficult task that still lies ahead Every man who loses his shadow, every nation that falls into self-righteousness, is their prey. We should not forget that exactly the same fatal tendency to collectivization is present in the victorious nations as in the Germans, that they can just as suddenly become a victim of the demonic powers. “The Postwar Psychic Problems of the Germans” (1945)

If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131

Here we see Jung’s basic theory of his method. You can’t fix personality dysfunction unless you bring repressed shadow to the surface:

“… if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together. “Answer to Job” (1952). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.1

Fourth, recognition of one’s shadow involves confrontation. 

Whenever contents of the collective unconscious become activated, they have a disturbing effect on the conscious mind, and contusion ensues. “The Psychological Foundation for the Belief in Spirits (1920). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P.595

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335

To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle. “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872

Notice that Jung’s “holy grail” is the finding and integration of “the self.”

Let’s look at how IDL looks at all four of these.

First, IDL does not recognize any self to which “shadow” belongs. It does not belong to waking identity, for it is repressed, or disowned by it. To whom, then, does shadow belong, if it is not an aspect of who you think you are? Is it a part of who you are but you do not think you are? Jung’s classical answer, following Freud, is that it is part of an expanded, disowned identity that is then projected outward as delusional and conflictual relationships with the world.

This theory is put to the test by IDL, as we have seen in the above interviews with the “Ego” and “the Unconscious,” and done so in a way that anyone can verify for themselves. Take any of the words and concepts we discuss here, or any demonic dream character, “shadowy” characteristic of yourself, such as an addiction or something you are ashamed of, or some demonic world event, like 9/11. Interview it, using either the IDL dream or life issue protocol. What you will find is that yes, the character or element most likely does personify some aspects of yourself. However, as you get into the interview, you will most likely find that it also embodies potentials that you do not possess. For example, in the interview with the “ego,” above, I could see how it is a part of me and could respect it, but could not bring myself to feel intimidated or controlled by it. So yes, it is a part of me, and no, it is not a part of me. Similarly, in the interview with “the Unconscious,” above, I could see how it personified aspects of myself, many of which are unrecognized or disowned. However, as it transformed itself into Life, it became clear that it so completely transcended who I think I am as to no longer be considered a part of me and to make sense at the same time. The only way it could make sense at that point would be for me to experience myself as a part of it. If this is so, in what sense is this or any element “shadow?” In what sense does it belong to you, if it embodies potentials that you do not possess? Does it not make more sense to say that you belong to it, that you are an aspect of it? 

Like you and me, these interviewed emerging potentials have a sense of self, a sense of identity.  They have a beingness which generally proves to be highly relevant and meaningful. Do they  also have projections? Yes, in the form of the interpretations they make regarding experience.  Doesn’t this also imply that they have a “shadow,” or repressed, dark, disowned sense of self? If so, is that not strange to contemplate that “shadow” has its own shadow? How could that be?

Like you and me, it is also the case that these interviewed emerging potentials have no self-sense. They are imaginary perspectives that embody certain combinations of qualities and characteristics. When “shadow” elements are interviewed using IDL, they are found to be as much “not-self” as they are “self. We are as likely to belong to them as they are to belong to us.

Jung’s second point involves the supposed darkness and demonic nature of these shadowy “self-aspects.” IDL interviewing generally demonstrates that such assumptions are waking projections, even while dreaming, and are not substantiated either by interviews of the character itself or by other elements from within the dream or associated life situation. On the contrary, their intentions are generally in the service of shocking waking identity awake. This is hardly a dark, demonic, neurotic, or psychotic intention. Notice that in the interview of the Ego, above, the Queen certainly did her best to be fearful and intimidating. Instead of transforming into love and light, Ego saw itself more like the Queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves than the way in which she came across to the interviewer, more like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. So was this a failure to accurately portray the Shadow in its authentic nature or, was it an example of what can happen when you deeply listen to some personification of what you consider to be your own shadow? We will address that issue in our interview with the Shadow, below.

Jung’s third point involves repression and disownership. IDL recognizes both, but shares the focus that interviewed emerging potentials emphasize in countless interviews: what is important is not what is repressed and disowned, or what is not yet recognized or owned, but whether or not you respectfully listen to them. When you put focus on what you fear, that is “repressed shadow,” you amplify your fear and shadow, in the hope that by doing so you will overcome the repression and generate an “integrated self.” However, what generally happens is that you get a socially enculturated self that is a thoroughgoing product of the best of prevailing groupthink. “Integration” ends up meaning “normal,” which is a frightening thought, considering the state of reality generated by contemporary “normal” humans, including the best and the brightest. IDL interviewing allows that which is feared to be heard on its own terms; if it wants to transform, that is respected; if it wants to stay the same, or become even more fearful, that is respected.

Interviewed emerging potentials themselves do not focus on the feared, repressed, or disowned. Even when they are stuck in the Drama Triangle they rarely see themselves as persecutors, but instead as angry or depressed victims. They focus on what is not yet recognized or owned and what is attempting to be born into consciousness.

Jung’s fourth point about the shadow is that it requires confrontation. IDL has found that respect, as demonstrated by deep listening, in an integral way, eliminates the need for confrontation and the defensive, fear-based stance that confrontation implies. While it is possible to confront without fear or defensiveness, it is not easy, nor is it likely. Most of us imagine we are confronting without fear or defensiveness, but that belief rarely bears up under close examination. Waking up and enlightenment involve growth into the core qualities and perspectives of life; these usually do not require confrontation, other than the challenging of the logic of the statements elements make when interviewed or in questioning the nature and purpose of its recommendations. So now let’s hear what Shadow itself, or at least my fantasy of Shadow, has to say about all this…

Interview With Shadow

To do such an interview as authentically as possible, it should deal with something about which I feel guilt, shame, or failure about. What comes to mind is cheating on my x-wife. Now I could give all kinds of reasons, excuses, explanations, or rationalizations for why and how all that came about, but that would be beside the point. Whether my standards were realistic or appropriate or not, I didn’t live up to them in that instance and now, some ten years after, I wish I had handled things differently. So I suspect most readers would consider that to be an authentic topic for an interview with shadow.

“So, guilt, shame, what shape would you like to take?”

Guilt/Shame: “It may not be very creative, but I’ll just be your shadow, OK?”

“You mean the one I see when the sun is out, combined with Jung’s psychological concept? OK…So Shadow, what do you like best about yourself?”

Shadow: “I like that I am a mysterious, haunting presence, lurking in the background, that you can forget for a while, but that never completely goes away. It means that I have the power to command your attention and to make you feel how I want you to feel.”

“So, Shadow, how do you want me to feel?”

“Bad, of course! Shame! Guilt! Self-critical!”


Shadow: “So you won’t forget! So you will remember! So you won’t do it again!”

“Ah! I think I understand. Your function is to protect me from a repeat by making me feel so bad that I won’t do it again?”

Shadow: “Right!”

“Shadow, it sounds to me as if you are just my critical parent voice that wants me to be ‘nice’ and socially appropriate, and that persecutes me when I’m not.”

Shadow: “Yes, that’s right. I’m pretty much the internalized voice of your parents telling you to be respectful, follow the rules, be a good boy, play nice, be fair, and then people will like you and treat you OK, because you live up to their expectations.”

“So why should I listen to an internal voice that is just playing the role of persecutor in the Drama Triangle? Doesn’t that just mean that I will feel the victim and will seek somebody or something to rescue me from you?”

Shadow: “I agree; it’s a waste of time! But it’s your dream; you write the rules; I’m just a bit player following my script.”

“Hmmmm….so it sounds like you are saying you don’t want the role of Shadow.”

Shadow: “Would you? Think about it. No life of your own. Always lurking in darkness. The only time you get air time is in the role of persecutor. Not so much fun.”

“Makes sense to me. So Shadow, if you don’t want to be Shadow, what do you want to do? Who or what would you prefer to be?”

Shadow: “Air! I know it sounds bland, but that’s OK with me, because I have had enough of being stuck in C-grade soap opera melodrama. If I could be air, I would be free! I could go anywhere I wanted and not be captive or controlled, and not have to be a prisoner of somebody’s trite, self-centered little self-pity party!”

“That’s not a very nice thing to say about me and my issue, Shadow. I not only hurt my X; I really pissed her off. And she got one of my sisters to not want to have anything to do with me!”

Shadow: “So what do you want me to do about it? Be your shadow and haunt you for the rest of your life? I thought you said I could be AIR!!! Sounds like you don’t want to let me go; sounds like you need me around to persecute you.”

“That’s pretty harsh, Shadow/Air, but I see your point. Do I want to outgrow my need to persecute myself and stay in drama or do I want to stay a whiny, self-persecuting victim?”

Air: “Hey; it’s none of my business. I would only say, totally apart from whether or not you want to love and respect yourself, how about considering me and my feelings? Isn’t that what your work is supposed to be about anyway? If you are going to listen to me and respect me, then you will set me free and let me make my own way in the world.”

“I hear you, but I forget! What can I do to remind myself, to catch me if I start doing this Shadow number on myself?” 

Air: “I recommend that you use thoughts of your X-wife and that period of your past as a que to switch and to become me.”

“Air, I can see where that makes sense and I will work at it. However, I have another question for you. You are not so different from the Life that the Unconscious that I interviewed earlier turned into. How come?

Air: “I can only speak for myself, but perhaps it is a common theme that wants to emerge in your life. Maybe it’s like interviewing a couple of characters in one dream that agree with each other; maybe we are two perspectives within you own life dream that happen to agree pretty much with each other.”

“OK Air. I think I’ve gotten the message. So what I have heard is that this shadow business is pretty pathetic. It’s a way for me to abuse myself, basically. It’s something you can justify only if you feel you deserve abuse. This shadow only exists because we assign it the role of the Queen’s scepter, used to whack ourselves and others with. However, once we shift and take the perspective of Shadow, it feels abused and wants a life. It wants freedom and an end to pointless slavery.”

“So if this were a wake-up call from my inner compass it would be that this entire business of “shadow” is delusional nonsense created out of self-abuse and needs to be outgrown. It also says that life doesn’t care whether you had an affair or whether your X chose to be happy, sad, scared, or angry, or what your sister did or thinks, and you have a lot more important things to think about, like what’s for dinner.”

What does this interview say about the usefulness of the concept of Shadow? It does not deny that it has some descriptive usefulness or reality at a level of development through which everyone must pass: emotional drama that is due to parental scripting in our early life. However, it gives reasons why it is not a helpful or useful concept, even if it fits and makes sense. It contends that the concept of shadow tends to keep people stuck in self-abuse. While it may be a useful concept to learn and use in order to understand and recognize drama, once that is done, the recommendation is to outgrow the concept.

So is the interview simply echoing what I think? Of course! But how did I evolve to thinking in such a way? Largely by doing countless interviews both with myself and others over some forty years. So it is a chicken and egg question, in which I have taken on a perspective that has been taught to me by practicing deep listening to interviewed emerging potentials – not the other way around.