All of us have aspects of who we are that we deny to ourselves and try to keep secret from others.
We distance from them and believe, “That’s not me. I’m not like that.”
What kind of person does your family or community say you have to be?
What are you afraid of being?
What do you criticize in another person, or what ethnic groups do you judge harshly?
What do you hate?
Answering these questions can give us clues about what we fear or reject and have banished to the unconscious mind. Once hidden we rarely see this side of ourselves, but we can glimpse what we’ve suppressed in our reactions to other people. This is a psychological defense called projection. What we cannot see in ourselves we can see (or imagine we see) all too easily when it’s projected onto other people.
Not only do each of us have this dark side – a personal shadow – so do families, groups, communities, subcultures, and even countries. Together people create national shadows.
Deepak Chopra’s wise blog on the shadow in America’s 2016 elections was forwarded and forwarded again and again. It resonated with a sense of what is true for many of us, and it is deeply useful to read. (See link: https://www.deepakchopra.com/blog/article/5608)
Chopra writes, “…(I)n reality Trump isn’t bizarre or anomalous. He stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret.” This collective secret, our national shadow, has been created from “… all the dark impulses – hatred, aggression, sadism, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, sexual transgression – that are hidden out of sight.” He continues,
“But what hides in the shadows will out. When it does, societies that look well-ordered and rational, fair and just, cultured and refined, suddenly erupt in horrible displays of everything they are not about: violence, prejudice, chaos, and ungovernable irrationality. In fact, the tragic irony is that the worst eruptions of the shadow occur in societies that on the surface have the least to worry about. This explains why all of Europe, at the height of settled, civilized behavior, threw itself into the inferno of World War I.”
When I read this I thought of a small book by Robert Bly that was published in 1988: A Little Book On The Human Shadow. Psychologist Carl Jung named “the shadow” and saw it as made up of all that is not known consciously. Bly describes how the personal shadow is created and gives us ways to explore it. In fact, we must know something about what is held in the unconscious in order to manage our lives well. Bly’s vivid way of discussing the shadow can also help us to better understand 2016’s political furies.
Donald Trump’s electoral romp and celebration of political incorrectness has pulled the cloak off America’s dark side. He breaks all the rules of civility to roars of approval from some of the crowd. He has made public what has been hidden – the rascism, greed, selfishness, love of power, and the use of violence that are hidden behind the bright banner of American exceptionalism and our cherished values of “Motherhood, the flag, and apple pie”.
Chopra writes, “The present situation finds us trapped between denial and disaster. Denial is when you ignore the shadow; disaster is when you totally surender to it.” Forces have been unleashed that make us uncertain about what lies ahead, but disaster is not inevitable.
As Chopra says, we can, “See Trumpism for what it is, a confrontation with the shadow.” And, “Instead of demonizing him, (we can) acknowledge that the shadow is in everyone and always has been.” We can refuse to ignore or to surrender to the shadow by confronting our own personal shadow first. Then we can begin to sort out what’s going on in this time of turmoil and danger.