Carl Jung, Anyone?
To the extent that we don’t know the deeper parts of us — the parts that speak of either rage or tenderness, and all the places in between, we will find people on whom to project those parts. And we will hate and fear those people — or those religions or races or nations — and we will blame them for the woes that on deeper exploration can be found inside us.
These are concepts brought to us by the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung believed that if we don’t try our hands at understanding ourselves in the varied shades of our own imperfections, we will be doomed to hate and fear the people we unconsciously choose as the designated villains in our lives. He saw it urgent that each of us try (with help to be sure) to accept our imperfections so we could truly experience human need, and human love, and so we wouldn’t need hate and blame as our staples.
Jung saw the crises of governments and the threat of nuclear war even, as resulting from the human compulsion to project, to find evil outside of us. And he saw this on levels both personal and political, and he saw both arenas as connected to each other. (See The Undiscovered Self, originally published in 1957) What is more, the more we work to recognize the lands that lie hidden within our own shadows, the more we will be equipped to recognize danger when it is real and not imagined. We will then be better equipped to find ways and people to help us cope. We will tend to see actual rage and hatred more readily, since we will also recognize them from having first recognized them in ourselves as well.
A man in his fifties, is crying in my office to his elderly but not infirm parents. They want to know why it has been so hard for him to visit them; after all he lives no more than an hour away. Yes, they disapproved of his life choices; but “that was then and this is now.” Why can’t he just forget the past, they say, even if they still are disapproving and if only slightly less intensely. They saw his being gay as a “selfish choice” rather than his really saying and living what he was and nothing else. They saw him as bad and themselves as good and this destroyed the chance of a bond based on mutuality and respect. And so, he tried to tell them that their rejection had hurt him, and he said this to them only after years of isolating himself from them proved too lonely and sad for him to bear — that is without at least his trying to see if things could be different.
They missed him, they said; they even added that they understood that their righteousness was hard for him. But, they said, they couldn’t help it. Their religious beliefs only reaffirmed their disapproval and their continued insistence that they were behaving like good people. And so, they couldn’t forge a deeper connection with their son, because their assertion of their own purity made them treat him like a stranger they couldn’t even want to understand and love in real time.
These parents know little to nothing of their shadows, of their angers and fears and their lusts and it is easier for them not to see their son than to find out. From a psychological point of view, their son held their shadows; they deposited their imperfections in him. In this sense they also used him; they could be innocent and he guilty when in truth nobody’s perfect.
His own therapy work would include his reclaiming his own right to dignity no matter what, and to find a place within, of self-acceptance. Meanwhile although he vowed not to be a complete stranger to his parents, he felt he was able to look for company outside them, company that would recognize his honesty and direction.
Even while recent political events may seem to indicate room for self-examination of a kind — in terms of racism at least — there has been for eons a cultural push for people to adapt to the norm which has so frequently been one of placing appearances above internal truth. And so, it is not completely surprising to see people that to all intents and purposes are normal, erupt in full on explosions what seems like all of a sudden.
Our current political crisis, (more specifically the White House response of sending or threatening to send federal troops to Portland and other cities) albeit a whipped up one at least on the surface, would seem to have the shadow at its center. This crisis that our president has pulled out of his hat before the upcoming presidential elections seems such a brilliant tactic.
It is brilliant because both he and his mentors, sense that a fear and hatred of “the other” is always right below the surface. It can be dredged up because it has never gone away. It is the “they” and the “them” that are the agitators, and the “we” that are the white voters, on whom Trump is counting to become agitated. He is counting on their/our violence, at least on emotional levels, while he blames the demonstrators for being the cause of both violence and fear.
After all, are a country based on us and them, us and the Native Americans, us and the slaves and then the people who reminded us of slavery so we could wind up treating them like slaves. The people who were us in the suburbs while those we wouldn’t let in we have scorned and refused to help because it was and still is their fault. And if we are exceptional that would mean, well sorry rest of the world because you are not.
In general, problems can be better evaluated if we step back from our assumptions and our own rage. And if we risk exhibiting and owning a real curiosity about how things could get better. We have all seen how incredible progress can be made at all sorts of levels and in all sorts of fields, when people capable of assessing and planning, get together for the purpose of finding solutions.
However, as long as there is a race or a class of those better than, there will be reason to find fault and to scapegoat. No matter what, we, seriously, all need to dare to accept that as we speak we are being manipulated, begged by the powers that be to oversimplify complex issues, and to blame a whole race, or a whole city — never mind a governor or a mayor.
It might just be possible, though, that the reasons behind our being stuck as a nation, may be getting some more play time. As more people anguish about what is so wrong with America, there may also be more of a felt need to explore aspects of the shadow. As it turns out, in addition to often leading to disastrous results, keeping scary feelings hidden tight inside is also exhausting. It’s exhausting to constantly pretend, to appear, and to make believe we are better than we are.
As such, something positive may be here or on the horizon, in terms of us, and in terms of us and the shadows. Perhaps this is because of the above-mentioned exhaustion, perhaps because of a longing for truth. I have noticed, certainly also within me as well, a longing to join forces with the estranged parts inside. I know too that we are ultimately lesser without a degree of unity inside us, without our parts that we had left behind.
As already suggested, the more we know of our own shadows, the more we will be able to pick up on those occasions when someone is trying to needle us so as to fire us up with hate and blame. The more we will be able to say no to that manipulation. This would be instead of being so susceptible to the people all around us trying to seduce us — seduce us to hate or to cower.
There are Jungian societies all over but the “shadow” has not become a term known by just about anyone. It is not yet central in our daily lives, though I think it very much needs to be so. Just maybe, its time may have come or at least be coming.
Maybe it is a term that will “arrive” in an example of synchronicity, another concept of Carl Jung. Wikipedia — but who’s judging? — says, “Synchronicity holds that events are ‘meaningful coincidence’ if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.” Perhaps the times we are in call forth, from inside and out, attention and relevance to the shadow in ways that we were not yet ready for earlier.
The Human Climate: Facing the Divisions Inside Us and Between Us, World Dignity Press, 2019
#Carl Jung; the shadow; synchronicity; Portland