musings on Self-realization in the light of psychoanalysis … by Jennifer Lilla PhD
The process of becoming whole, and getting in touch with the sacred Self, involves coming to terms with the shadow elements of one’s personality. This is not always an easy task. Carl Jung tells us:
“To become conscious of [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance…
Closer examination of the dark characteristics– that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow– reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality.” (CW 9ii, para. 14-15)
Carl Jung says that our shadow is closely related to our projections. Because we are unable to see the shadowy aspect of our own personality, we project them onto other people. Jung explains:
“While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s own personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in other person. No matter how obvious it may be to the neutral observer that it is a matter of projections, there is little hope that the subject will perceive this himself. He must be convinced that he throws a very long shadow before he is willing withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object…
As we know, it is not the conscious subject but unconscious which does the projecting.” (CW 9ii, para. 16- 17)
The problem with our projections is that they isolate us from our environment and from other human beings. Our projections block the formation of deep relationship with the people in our lives. If we are busy seeing our own projections how can we see others as they truly are?
“The effect of projection to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projection changes the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face… The more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the ego to see through its illusions” (CW 9ii, para. 17)
According to Jung, each of us must come to terms with the ways we have projected parts of our personality on the world. It is only in doing so that we can reclaim the wholeness of our personality.
“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, course– for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.” (CW 9ii, para. 18)
It takes time and patience to work with the shadow element in ourselves. Carl Jung’s work is a testament to the power of doing such work, and of being honest with ourselves. It is through the process of pulling back our projections that our personality (and our true being) comes fully into the world. And from this place we can come into a deeper and more true relationship with the world around us.