A human being is only breath and shadow – Sophocles

‘The shadow’ is one of the key elements of Jungian psychoanalysis. It sounds a little creepy, but essentially it’s the part of our personality that we repress or ignore. The shadow has its roots in our unconscious, but it can find its way in to our everyday discourse. I heard someone paraphrase Jung very aptly at a recent business training event: If our personality and desires are the light that we turn towards, the shadow is what is cast behind us. This picture by Ron Pyatt sums it up rather neatly:

 


The shadow is a factor in projection: when a personal inferiority is turned into someone else’s deficiency, someone else’s problem. People that intensely irritate us – especially when we don’t know why – are probably mirroring an element of our shadow back to us. Here’s a quote directly from Jung:

“We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior “soul” has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves.”

Our shadow may contain elements of ourselves that we dislike or think we could do without, but it’s more useful to explore rather than ignore them. As well as being a driving force creatively, our shadow elements may not necessarily be ‘bad’ themselves. They may simply be things we personally don’t do or think don’t fit. Even if they’re elements that we dislike, that doesn’t mean they might not be valid in some contexts. For example, if you’re a real extravert and lose patience with introverted people, doesn’t mean more introverted communication methods aren’t often valid.

It’s difficult to find a diagram to adequately demonstrate this, as the concept is more intuitive than measurable. It’s also – in the original Jungian writings at least – based on some more fluid concepts like the anima/animus that we won’t delve into here (partly because they aren’t really relevant to Lumina Spark, but they are extremely interesting – if you haven’t read much Jung I’d suggest having a browse). I do have this rather handy image, taken from the Collected Works:

 

Although Jung uses the terms ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ I don’t think he’s making a value judgement. He’s using them in their original sense meaning simply ‘higher’ and ‘lower,’ so in this case thinking is simply the preferred (higher) function.

 

Jung suggested that, at a personal level, integration of the shadow (merger) was the only way to address it psychologically. Otherwise you run the risk of it controlling you whenever you are stressed or unhappy, when you take your eye off the ball, so to speak.

“A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps… living below his own level. In terms of the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, ‘it must be Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow … and not vice versa. Otherwise the conscious becomes the slave of the autonomous shadow.”

So being aware of the shadow is necessary if we want to avoid reacting to it in a purposelessly negative manner. The problem with the shadow is that it’s often unconscious. The following quote comes from Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, an absolutely seminal text for business trainers.

“Research has shown that in the first few milliseconds of our perceiving something we not only unconsciously comprehend what it is, but decide whether we like it or not; the ‘cognitive unconscious’ presents our awareness with not just the identity of what we see, but an opinion about it. Our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold views quite independently of our rational mind.”

So the difficulty is in identifying our shadow, if only so we know how to deal with it in a productive manner. And this stretches to interpersonal relationships: firstly, we want to avoid projecting on to other people, secondly, we want to be able to work well with people who demonstrate elements of our shadow.

The Lumina Spark psychometrics tool goes well beyond the Jungian method of personality profiling, mainly by dropping the binary structure of Jung’s model. People can be one thing as well as –rather than instead of – another. However, the shadow is one element of Jungian psychology that Lumina explores. Partly this is down to Lumina’s embracing of paradox: the more complete the portrait that you create, the more specific you can be in addressing weaknesses. Lumina also highlights methods and strategies for dealing with similar and dissimilar people. The ‘mirrored self’ – the personality portrait that is the exact opposite of yours – also contains elements of the shadow.

A lot of this is similar to what we discussed in a previous post relating to Ofman’s Core Qualities. There’s elements of Jung’s shadow in two – apparently contradictory – elements of that model: the traitor and the allergy. One contains overstretched parts of your personality, the bit you slip into when you’re stressed. The other contains the things that really irritate you in others, which according to Jung could be fuelled by your irrational feelings.

A conceptual awareness of the shadow can be useful, especially in personal and team development. What’s even more useful is a) a good understanding of your own personality, so you can draw some informed conclusions about your own shadow and b) an understanding of your personality under stress, so you can pick out the shadow elements of your overextended self. Lumina does a good job with both of these, and so I think the Jungian shadow is a relevant and ultimately useful ‘lens’ under which to examine the model.

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