Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Red Book and the Idea of the "Shadow"

For Jung the “shadow” archetype embodies those aspects of the self that the ego rejects as evil, damaging or reprehensible. According to Jung, the ego acts as if the “persona,” the “acceptable” aspects of one’s personality that one presents to the world, as coextensive with the self, with the result that one’s shadow aspects emerge without warning and wreak havoc upon self and others. Jung arrived at the view that the process of individuation involved the acceptance and incorporation of one’s shadow into one’s personality and the forging of a self that is far wider and deeper than one’s ego or persona.

While in the Red Book Jung does not make explicit reference to the shadow archetype, his struggle with his own shadow as well as the ideas behind the shadow archetype are evident throughout this work:

“I have to recognize that I must submit to what I fear; yes, even more, that I must even love what horrifies me” (233).

“You are entirely unable to live without evil” (287).

Jung’s thinking here is partly covered by the rabbinic dictum that “were it not for the yetzer hara (the “evil impulse”) people would not build houses, take wives, have children, or engage in business.” The idea here is that while one may reject and at times be horrified by one’s baser or animal instincts and desires (and indeed if such desires go completely unchecked they can be destructive and evil) without them one would not have the drive for life at all.
Jung sees other values in the darker aspects of human personality as well. He advises, “He who comprehends the darkness in himself. To him the light is near” (272). Much, of course, can and has been said regarding the insight afforded by an encounter with one’s shadow. Awareness of one’s own aggressive and thanatic impulses provides one not only with a wider awareness of one’s own possibilities, but provides an important basis for empathy with others. Goethe, who Jung revered and apparently believed to be his ancestor, once said that he had never heard of a crime that he could not imagine himself committing. In my work as a forensic psychologist I have held “Goethe’s principle” as essential for coming to terms with the behavior of those I am asked to examine and work with. (In this light it is interesting to note that Goethe’s Faust, despairing of his capacity to achieve perfect knowledge through book-learning and science, makes a pact with Mephistopheles who promises to show him things he has never seen; it seems that one can learn things from one’s [inner] devil).

In the Red Book, Jung suggests that a confrontation with one’s dark side is necessary for psychological transformation: “You will need evil to dissolve your formation, and to free yourself from the power of what has been, to the same extent which this image fetters your strength” (287). The idea here is that an incursion from one’s shadow self can break apart the limiting structures of one’s persona or ego ideal and open one to creativity and change. Indeed, in spite of and even because they are rejected by the ego, there are many positive aspects of the shadow self.

Only by accepting the evil within us can we prevent it from harming and controlling us. Jung writes:

“Thus we probably have to accept our evil without love or hate, recognizing that it exists and must have its share in life. In doing so we deprive it of the power it has to overwhelm us” (288).

One should not work to suppress or eliminate the shadow aspects of one’s self. This is because, “the more the one half of [one’s] being strives toward the good, the more the other half journeys to Hell” (314). Jung adds, “Because we know that too far into the good means the same as too far into evil, we keep them both together” (315). Jung is here developing is notion that the psyche tends to compensate unconsciously for a one-sided diet of ideas, feelings and actions.

Jung’s comments on the “shadow,” also apply to the “personality” of God which, as we have seen, Jung came to believe to be an archetype that is equivalent to the self:

“the God I experienced is more than love; he is also hate, he is more than beauty, he is also the abomination, he is more than wisdom, he is also meaninglessness, he is more than power, he is also powerlessness…” (339).

Indeed, God’s completeness and the fact that the divine is the template for the human personality necessitate the existence of the divine shadow:

“If the God is absolute beauty and goodness, how should he encompass the fullness of life, which is beautiful and hateful. Good and evil, laughable and serious, human and inhuman? How can man live in the womb of the God if the Godhead himself attends only to one half of him” (243).

According to Jung, God himself “suffers when man does not accept his darkness” (287). It is for this reason that “men have a suffering God” (287). Presumably God’s suffering would end once mankind accepted the evil within itself! This seems to me to be the meaning of Jung’s statements in the Red Book, “I also want evil for the sake of my God” (289), and “Because I wanted to give birth to my God, I also wanted evil” (289). As we have seen, in the Red Book, Jung sees a close correspondence between God and self, and, as such, the God who suffers because of the individual’s failure to accept his own darkness, is the inner God of the self. One might translate this in psychological terms as follows: the failure of the ego to integrate the shadow results in a deeper suffering on the level of the self. While in Psychological Types Jung seems to suggest an equivalence of the individual’s shadow and the unconscious (Par. 268), Jung’s more considered view appears to be that it is possible, even imperative for an individual to attain consciousness of his shadow self.