Carl Jung’s Concept of the Shadow

Richard Mansfield playing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde photographed by Henry Van der Weyde, circa 1895, Public Domain*

Carl Jung was a Swiss Psychiatrist and pupil of Sigmund Freud. Jung later went on to found Analytical Psychology. Jung developed a deep understanding of human nature and communicated this through his many works. In many of these works Jung wrote about the Shadow. So what was the Shadow? Jung believed that people have two parts to their psyche. A person will have their main conscious identity which consists of the values and beliefs that he or she recognises as important as well as the familiar parts of their personality. However there is another side which is concealed. This is the shadow.

In his work ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ (Jung, 1961), Carl Jung writes about his childhood circa 1890. During this time he had seen the crowning of Kaiser Wilhelm I of the Germany, the ‘archetypes of Wagner’ and read the philosophy of Nietzsche. In his own words he had become

unconsciously caught up by this spirit of the age and had no methods at hand for extricating myself from it‘ (Jung, 1961, p.262)

In other words, Jung had become caught up in events which were soon to transform the world in the early 20th Century during a period of immense turbulence. These are the events which created the problem for which Jung sought a solution. He found it in Goethe’s ‘The Faust’. Goethe’s work was based on much older folklore. Jung saw Mephistopheles as the shadow of Faust and went on to write that

Most of all, it awakened in me the problem of opposites, of good and evil, of mind and matter, of light and darkness‘ (Jung, 1961, p.262)

Jung wrote that he sought what Faust had overlooked. For Jung this included a respect for man’s rights as well as the continuity of culture and this started him on a lifelong journey of discovery. Jung also wrote about analytic psychology as a method for making the shadow conscious. However this process of helping the person to see their hidden shadow had consequences

The conflict between the opposites can strain our psyche to the breaking point if we take them seriously or they take us seriously‘ (Jung, 1961, p.367)

Jung wrote that this strain could be resolved symbolically. He gave the Mandala as an example of a universal symbol representing the ‘wholeness of self’. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is another example of the conflicting parts of the psyche. However it would be wrong to think of the shadow in terms of morality as Jung also writes that

‘the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reaction, realistic insights, creative impulses etc‘ (Aion, Collected Works, Vol 9, Part 2, p266)

For Jung, the shadow was an integral part of self, hidden from view. Integration of the shadow into the psyche was part of the analytic process of individuation. A person may also project their shadow onto others. In other words they can see qualities in others that they do not like but which form part of their own shadow. Individuals have shadows and many people have many shadows. Jung suggested that there was an interaction between people’s shadows. Indeed at one level Jung thought of the shadow as part of the collective unconscious.

Short Video on the Shadow

Jung’s concept of the shadow can be interpreted in terms of values. If we hold certain values and recognise these consciously then the opposite values may form part of our shadow. The shadow is not just restricted to values but the example of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde illustrates the point well. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde clearly manifested different values and these were translated into differences in their behaviours. Considering value differences is perhaps a more intuitive way of understanding the shadow. Taking this further we can also see that sharing values would lead to a ‘shared’ shadow – the opposite of these values. The group would collectively hold unconscious and opposite values with the potential for projection. Jung’s concept of the shadow while incorporating this interpretation was more complex still.

Jung’s concept of the shadow is a powerful one which enables a person to reflect on their identity by using symbolism and also by considering their relationship with others.

Short Biography of Dr Carl Jung

References

Carl G Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Fontana Press. 1961 (republished 1993).

* Public Domain in all countries where the copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years

Appendix – Related Resources on This Site

Carl Jung

An index of the TAWOP site can be found here and here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

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