In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is one of the major archetypes of the Self. It represents all the things you have identified as ‘not me’ during your formative years, when you were building your sense of who you are. It’s the other side of the Persona archetype, which is your identity, or how you see yourself and expect other people to see you.
A classic depiction of the conflict between Persona and Shadow is ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, which came to him in a dream. In the story, Dr Jekyll is a respectable pillar of the community, but he has a secret other side – at night, he is addicted to the pleasures of debauchery.
He invents a potion which can completely change his physical appearance so that, as Mr Hyde, he is able to go out on the town and not worry about being discovered. Effectively, he turns himself into two people, one embodying his Persona, and the other his Shadow.
Whatever we don’t identify with as ‘me’, we project out. We may disown it so completely that we can’t recognise it in ourselves at all. We can only see it in the mirror of the world.
One way we project undeveloped aspects of our Self is onto the people around us. A person who thinks of himself as hard-working and high-achieving may find other people lazy and unambitious. A person who thinks of herself as ugly may feel that virtually everyone else is good-looking.
In a couple, the tasks of personality are often shared out. One partner may be good with money, so the other can enjoy financial security without having to develop good money-sense themselves. One might be fun-loving and dizzy so the other can be sensible and steady, yet still enjoy a party lifestyle.
On a collective level, cultures, countries and sub-sections of society also have a Persona and a Shadow. In families, for example, it may mean one person becomes the black sheep, with all the family’s unacknowledged problems projected onto them.
Where there is Shadow projection, there is always emotion, because we’re defending our very existence, insofar as that is our idea of ourselves. Which brings me on to Jimmy Savile.
This was a man who appeared to be helping the young and vulnerable but was actually hurting and abusing them in secret. Quite rightly, there’s been huge public outrage, because nobody should have the slightest doubt that what he’s alleged to have done was heinous and wrong.
According to Jung, there may be another dimension to this natural disgust and condemnation – extreme public outcries of the dig-up-his-bones, may-he-rot-in-hell variety may be intensified by Shadow energy. ‘We’re not like that! We’re the opposite of that! We protect children from sexual abuse!’
So, do we? Young children are regularly exposed to highly sexualised music videos on daytime television, and sexual story-lines before the watershed. Magazines and video games which are targeted at children contain sexual content, and children’s clothing which could be seen as sexually provocative is sold in high street shops. A large proportion of primary age children have seen internet pornography. If you google ‘sexualising of children’ you’ll find page after page of examples.
Jung called the Shadow ‘the seat of creativity.’ Embracing the Shadow means letting go of fixed ideas about who we are and the way life is, opening to unconsidered possiblities and engaging with complications, so to create something new.
Something new is happening because of these horrific revelations. People who have kept their own experience of abuse to themselves for many years are suddenly speaking out. Not just the hundreds who were allegedly abused by Savile, but thousands more are flooding helplines with their stories. That in itself is the beginning of a major change.
I hope the high profile and new openness given to the problem of child sexual abuse because of this case will mean that the sexualising of children by adult society in recent years will come under proper scrutiny and be seen for what it is.
Jimmy Savile’s dirty secret may be holding the mirror up to ours, showing us something about our society that we prefer not to acknowledge. Like all Shadow work, simply to acknowledge it is to begin the transformation.
More about the personal Shadow next week – where to look, and how to see it