The Shadow as Divine

Danger arises when a man feels secure in his position. Destruction threatens when a man seeks to perfect his worldly estate. Confusion develops when a man has put everything in order. Therefore, the superior man does not forget danger in his security nor ruin when he is well established, nor confusion when his affairs are in order. In this way he gains personal freedom and is able to protect the empire.


–Confucius


Enantiodromia: The Divine Adjuster

Don’t let the big word enantiodromia intimidate you. I can hardly pronounce it myself. But I’ve included it here because it fascinates me to realize that the ancient Greeks already knew of this great psychological law even before the field of psychology was conceived. Jung identified this as the principle which governs all cycles of natural life, from the smallest to the greatest” (1971: pare. 708). Jung’s recognition of the inevitability of enantiodromic change helped him anticipate psychic movement (cf Samuels et al. 1986).


An emotionally laden fanaticism or one-sideness autonomously reverts to its other side when it has run to the end of its potential in one direction. Enantiodromia is a great psychological law at work, one that keeps us from becoming too one-sided. Instead, we are forced to know something from both sides. At some point, all extreme attitudes and feelings revert to their opposite to make the “unlived” side conscious. As we’ve seen, everything created has an opposite. Therefore, if we insist on only one side of anything at all, we’ll be guaranteed a huge surprise one fateful day when the inner Self suddenly says, Okay, time’s up! You’ue learned all you need to know from this side of it. The compensatory function of the psyche kicks in, and now everything will rapidly shift. We’re forced to tumble all the way to the other side of our nature–the part that’s being ignored, disowned, or denied. Our happiness turns into unhappiness, love shifts to hate. That perfect couple who never fight enter into a nasty divorce and a vicious custody battle. The fanatical preacher who raves at us about the sins of the flesh is caught in the arms of a prostitute. Exaggerated spirituality or “goodness” reverts to acting out basic instincts. We see evidence of this all the time.


When there are gaps in our conscious willingness to see and own any piece of ourselves, we can know for certain that the unconscious mind will compensate for this deficit and throw out an image in our psyche or an actual experience of it in our outer life so we’ll deal with it. Jung called this process of something shifting to its opposite extreme by its Latin name: enantiodromia. This psychological principle was first outlined by Heraclitus and meant that eventually everything turns into its opposite.


The inherent workings of enantiodromia within our psyche will continually lead us to accessing and integrating our shadow. If you notice that someone is always good, always smiling, always anything, you will know that the shadow is probably hiding in the opposite that’s never being expressed. This is a divine law of the psyche that has gone unnoticed and become a missing link upon many a spiritual path.

Accepting Your Shadow as a Conscious Companion (The Shadow as “Symbol” or “Symptom”)

The shadow is our passionate response to life, our heart’s intensities borne from the suffering taken on so that we might enter fully into the human predicament. It is the first archetype we meet along our journey to wholeness, the first we make “real.” It acts out so terribly, we simply have to notice. Jung believed that we meet the shadow by going through a narrow door–one that many wish to avoid entering. But it isn’t possible to avoid this, for until the shadow is accessed, brought into the “light of day” and accepted with love and forgiveness, i.e., integrated, it runs–or perhaps ruins–our lives. It distorts our human interactions in ways that keep us unclear, victims of our excesses and addictions.


According to Jungian Jolande Jacobi, in psychic inner reality the archetypal Shadow is a symbol for an aspect of the self (1959). When we cannot find a way to work with our shadow through our dreams or in other ways, it becomes a symptom in our outer world.


Jungian therapist and author Jeremiah Abrams says our personal shadow came into play when we were about two years old. When as little children we were not allowed to be ourselves, our egos were not able to make conscious and integrate certain parts of us. As a survival mechanism during our developmental years, certain aspects of our nature had to be repressed, hidden away through denial. And there they remain in our subconscious to “cook.” Psychic energy has no place to go when repressed; like a pressure cooker it builds, causing tension and stress–even physical disease (Abrams 1990).


Until it is made conscious, the shadow causes us to create emotional explosions and catastrophe or to explode in emotionalism. It stands there at the threshold of our unconscious mind, reflecting back to us our blind side. We must learn to embrace the shadow without trying to win it over. It is our teacher. Often we aren’t even able to hear the more kindly offerings from our friends, so to command our attention the shadow must pop out and remind us that it exists from time to time.


The shadow is emotional in nature, not a “thing” or a certain “person” we can ever know concretely. It is often made up of our aggressive or sexual urges and promptings from the extremes, or some other “untamed” aspect of our human/animal nature. Since our rage and sexual desire are two aspects of human nature we have the hardest time integrating and respect the least, they are often the aspects of us that operate in shadowy ways.


According to Jungian Marie-Louise von Franz, the shadow takes the form of laziness, greed, envy, jealousy, the desire for prestige, aggressions, and similar “tormenting spirits” (1980: 123). When we ignore our shadow, it is like opening a door and allowing negative powers such as wrath, hatred, envy, lechery, or faintheartedness to step in. In ancient times, these were known as demons or bad spirits (von Franz, 1980: 116.).


When we try to deny the shadow it multiplies. When we choose to integrate it instead, we gain stability and expansion of consciousness, losing our one-sided self-righteousness and becoming flexible instead of defensive and rigid. If your shadow seems to you to be fairly hard to accept, or you’re having trouble finding it at all, you may want to ask for the help of a good therapist who is as at home in the shadow’s domain as in the light, acquainted with the wilderness experience we humans must travel through if we are to realize our full potential. Jung writes:



Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.


Embracing Our “Sparring Partner”: The Personal Shadow

If you’re brave enough to undergo the task alone, knowing you have a great deal of ego strength, you can ask your shadow to show itself to you through inner work, using imagery or other methods that access your unconscious mind. You can go within and talk with your shadow in the silence of your mind anytime it constellates and begins to bother you. Or you can keep a “shadow journal” and write letters to it, letting it respond to you. Tell it you will accept it, no matter what. And that you will hold it in your heart.


Here is one guided imagery experience that will enable You to access your shadow more concretely. You may have a surprise in store if you think you already know who it is or what it looks like. Most people are quite surprised at who is there. Your shadow is part of your emotional life and defies analysis. You can’t know your shadow intellectually; it can only be known through experience.


You can put this guided imagery on tape, if you wish, and play it back. Or you could have a friend guide you through it. Either way, be sure to use enough pauses to give your psyche a chance to do the imagery. (The dots represent brief pauses.) You can also use evocative music (with. Out words) in the background for this experience. Music activates the emotions and makes the process more of a sacred ritual, and hence, more powerful. Guided imagery is effective when you allow time for it to activate in your mind. Be sure that you accept whatever images spontaneously appear, without struggling to change them in any way. The more spontaneous, the better.


If some image should frighten you, instead of running from it, command the scary image to take off its mask and show you who it really is! Be firm. You are the one in control.

A Guided Imagery: Making Your Shadow’s Acquaintance

Close your eyes, and take a little time to relax. Feel your body settling down, and open your mind so you can use your active imagination for a while. Take a little time to do this before you begin.


Then, using your imagination…see yourself sitting in a room, looking at a trap door in the comer across from you…. You know that if you open that door, your shadow will come out, for it lives down in the basement of your house.


As you look at the closed trap door, something underneath it begins to stir, and you know your shadow is there. You get up. . .walk toward the door (notice how you are feeling) . . .taking a lit candle in your hand, and putting on a violet cape (to protect you if you need it)…open the door …and wait Now, accept what comes out. (Take a long pause while the music plays and the shadow reveals itself.)


Notice what happens now, as the two of you relate…. Note the quality of your relationship…. Ask it what it needs from you. . .and tell it what you need from it if it is to be a part of your life…. Now, take some time to just be with your shadow, and see if the two of you can embrace…. Notice what happens as the two of you merge…. If you could not come together, notice what does happen, and make a contract to meet with it again at some later time…. See what it does or says….


Find a way to end your contact with your shadow for now…. And gradually, within your consciousness, everything turns into a fine gray mist, and the scene begins to fade…. Now, you are sitting on the couch again, in that same room, alone once more. With your eyes still closed, take a moment to reflect on what just occurred….


Now, come gradually back from this experience…. Feel yourself to be fully back in your body. You may want to move a few muscles, to come more fully back…. And when you feel ready, open your eyes and take some time to look around the room and ground yourself.


Once you are back, you may want to write down what happened. This is similar to dream work. If you do not write it down, draw a picture or otherwise externalize this experience, or it could fade into a sense of irrelevance. Now, just sit quietly for a while and reflect on what you learned from this experience.

The Shadow’s Sacred Gift: Enhancing Aliveness

To live a transformative life and avoid the enantiodromia pendulum, one must find that place of tension right at the “zero-point” in the exact middle between opposites–and learn to live there, not needing to identify with either extreme, but in acceptance of both sides at once. For example, when you hear yourself beginning to sound as if you’re taking an all-or-none stance, stop for a moment and listen to yourself. Then bring in a little balance: Well, though I feel I am totally right about this, perhaps the other side does have a point. At least I can be patient and listen. Then, relax a little and stop taking yourself so seriously. Otherwise, Life may start living you, and remove all that control you think you have!


Anytime you find yourself caught up in a negative condition, stop and ask yourself: What would be this disastrous quality’s positive counterpart? What would I need to counteract this tendency in me? And let an image come of the “helper” you require. This will constellate the archetype that is hiding in your unconscious mind, trapped by your own denial and lack of recognition of its power.


For example, let’s say you are furious because your boss said something that made you feel inept and unappreciated. Your day has turned into a funk and you are sullen, have no appetite and find that at every opportunity you are saying something sarcastic about your boss. Well, your boss has gone merrily on the way, so obviously, this is your problem! You’re the one left stewing. So take some time now to remove yourself from your activities, sit down somewhere quiet, and go within.


Who is this sullen person you’ve become? Get an image. Once you see him, her, or it, take some time to commune with it. See what it needs; let it tell you. (This is done simply through a silent inner dialogue that takes very little time.) Now ask it to bring forth its mate in the inner life. And take some time to observe through your inner eye who comes upon the scene. If it was a pouty little child who had hurt feelings, for instance, perhaps its divine Partner is the Divine Child. Let your own imagination give these symbols to you. Once you get the positive, denied side of the polarity, invoke its qualities by allowing yourself to name them inwardly, and then take them on. This means that you return to your regular activities and begin acting as if you are this positive One.


Sometimes instead of ending with the positive side of the pole, there will be a spontaneous transformation right there within your psyche; the little hurt child and its Partner will become One Self. Either way will bring you some relief, and perhaps also a great new self-understanding.


Abraham Maslow called this “dichotomy transcending.” We kind the balance between work/play, selfish/unselfish, childlike/mature, and so on. And we see that we are both/and. In this way, we learn to “pull into shape” something new and higher that is on the periphery of emergence, while holding steady what we may still be in the midst of clearing.


My inner Self has had to teach me a great deal about extremes. For I can become a World Class Hysteric when I am acting out my shadow self! Southern women from my heritage taught me well. And this has caused me so much grief, I finally begged God to help me understand my passionate nature. My Beloved comforts me with this:


When polar opposites split to either side, they become visible and distinct. They do this so you can see your dilemma more clearly and deal with it directly.


I’ve discovered through inner work that this “splitting off” serves a psychic function. In Reality they are always two halves of the same invisible center. I must always ask myself: What am I really seeking here? What is my highest aspiration? then let an image come into my mind that represents the pattern for the whole matter. I discover which archetype has constellated, and I can wrap my mind around what I am dealing with.

The Shadow as the Addicted and the “Needy” Self

Many a poor unassuming soul flounders upon the path of Self-realization. And quite often, it is through an addiction of some sort. And perhaps this is our plight: Without a philosophy that honors both our psychological and spiritual “parts,” we spiritual beings in human form cannot find the sacred and essential healing we require. We’re all in need of healing, not from just one or two uncomplicated symptoms, but from having gotten caught up in the throes of the multifaceted, paradoxical, and alluring human condition!


Addiction can be viewed as untamed libido, the human shadow running out of control and not giving us true gifts of the truth of our denied side. We can never be whole when we are involved in blocking out one side of our nature through severe judgment, denial, and projection. The shadow is craving expression to be understood.


If one side of us gets starved out, we create a compulsion. This can lead to dysfunctional addictions and unnecessary attachments. Or sometimes the shadow can get even more forceful and carry us to obsession: extremes, fanaticism, one-sided bigotry, dogmatic convictions, compulsive overactivity.


Closer to our ordinary lives, let’s see what the process of addiction does within our personal development: First, we begin doing something quite natural enjoy a bottle of beer, fall in love, get excited about a project, invest in a new interest, buy expensive things, or maybe brag about ourselves. And at some point, we do this natural and enjoyable thing more and more often. Eventually we become obsessive about it. Now it consumes our thoughts and our time. We sacrifice other areas of our lives to maintain a steady flow, and at some point we have lost control. Our self-esteem, our hopes, visions, and dreams begin to die and so do we. And we hit bottom.


It is as though we’d been living within the tension of a rubber band stretched fully. And suddenly, from the place of greatest strain, :he tension broke! What has happened? We’ve been left wide open, raw, and vulnerable–completely “seen.” And herein lies the blessing: There is nothing now between us and our root consciousness All our defenses are gone, and we are utterly finished as that one we were before. We’ve run our old identity as far as it could go. And from these depths, a new life begins.


You can sense the transcendent psychological function in operation within our psyches. Within the addict’s frenetic search to find what would finally be enough lies the key to our transcendence. The psyche, as we’ve seen, will push us to any extreme to force us to become conscious. Becoming an addict, whether we lose our freedom to a chemical or to a behavior, is so painful that we have no other alternative but God.


Addiction serves as a transcendent function. It is the shadow’s movement through our lives giving us the experience that searching outside of ourselves for something to fulfill us doesn’t work, eventually leading us back to our Source. Addictions are the negative side of our desire nature and show us who we’re not.


Befriending our Contradictions Unleashes our Creativity

Trying to regulate some part of ourselves we see as “wicked,” “immoral,” or “wrong” can cause us great trouble leading to a barbaric backlash. As long as the denied side remains unacknowledged, and therefore unexpressed, it builds up a tension that becomes the explosive, shadow emotions that stew around in a cauldron of repression denial, self-hatred, and misunderstanding. And it’s only the lack of recognition as a legitimate part of us that the shadow grew into such potent force. When we can learn to live within this tension, meaning we acknowledge the paradox of both sides having purpose, the drama of enantiodromia will not have to take us over.


Sometimes people try to simulate equilibrium, but they are, in reality, sleepwalking. Balancing the tension between Opposites may appear as “being positive” or as a state of passive nonmovement. But balancing the tension of the Opposites is not like that at all; it is a pleasurable state of tension that doesn’t pull us into a one-sidedness. When we are in this state the conscious and unconscious minds meet one another in harmonious play. We notice that our inspiration comes more freely into a creative expression. The healthy, creative person uses this tension for nurturing one’s talents. This transmutation of energy, from being blocked and denied to becoming openly expressed, is how our shadow heals and becomes the active dynamism of passion in our process of co-creation. Our passions and true calling merge.


For you to become consciously creative, you must learn to bear your inner contradictions. Consciousness flourishes through contrasts–by separating figure from ground. When you explicate something by your focus on it, you are making it conscious.


Learning to live from center creates the contrasting deign. We can move any which way, however the energies of the moment sway us. We can flow this way and that in open-mindedness, not becoming rigid at any point. There is no longer anything to get rigid about! For we are no longer trying to prove anything. Like riding a rainbow, we allow whatever colors are pouring through to have their natural expression. We are just being ourselves, with total acceptance of what is, and never are we experts on one side of the equation! Once we become this self-accepting, we can learn to love and accept others. But not before! The degree of our healing will determine the degree of our loving nature.


We can enter into the dance of the opposites, or we can remain aloof and nonattached. From the center, we see that we don’t really have to hook into everything that’s going on around us. We can remain The Onlooker, and become more selective about when to play ourselves into life or when to remain uninvolved. Whatever we focus and give our passion to will become our reality. We want to conserve our precious energy for the Sacred Work and not waste time on melodrama. As conscious beings, we have free choice.


But when we don’t get the point, the psyche sets up a different way to present the discrepancy. Our errors then, and obstacles along our path, become great gifts, if this is the only way we can learn. That is, if becoming conscious is our goal. Once something is made conscious, it settles back into the pleroma of oneness, but now we possess a deeper sense of self-reflection, which is very pleasing, apparently even for God.

Avatar Written by Jacquelyn Small LCSW

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