Frightened of our very own Depths
Encountering Our Shadow 3
Many people will neither attend a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or even counsellor for fear of what they may find out about themselves. This is true indeed. Due to personal circumstances, that is having being diagnosed with clinical depression (also called endogenous or uni-polar depression) when I was approximately 40 years of age I have been accustomed to attending a consultant psychiatrist every three months for the last eight years. Added to that I recently attended some 20 sessions of counselling to explore where I am now in my life at 48 and what possible change in direction I may need not alone for my sanity, but to live a more fulfilled life. All of this allows me some little knowledge of the quest for self-knowledge and some little understanding or rather appreciation of Jung’s process of individuation. This journey has indeed proved to be frightening and illuminating by turns. It initially involved being hospitalized for seven weeks where I was bombarded with the hard-hitting psychiatric drug largactil (an antipsychotic drug which acts as a neuroleptic drug or major tranquillizer) which allowed me to escape severe agitation of mind and soul and being. I have described this elsewhere as my descent into hell. Being weaned off largactil was also a strange and difficult experience.
Anyway, the journey to individuation requires that we meet our shadow self head on as it were. Personally I have been keeping a dream journal for over 15 years and during that time I have encountered many of my demons. I will probably outline some of these images in a later post and how “domesticating” them helped me incorporate other aspects into my personality that had been suppressed or repressed for years.
I will return to a story I have told many time in these pages and others. When I was a senior student in O’Connell School in the late 70s of the last century we were fortunate to have a wonderfully erudite and wise teacher called Michael McLoughlin whom we fondly called “Mac”. Once when we were studying Hamlet, a play on which he and his brother had written an excellent introduction for students, he informed us that anyone of us was capable of being Hamlet, that anyone of us was capable of murder, given the right circumstances. I was always fascinated by this fact which I instantly believed and still do. We all have good and bad in us. An unpalatable corollary of this basic axiom is that there are no such reality as a totally good person and a totally bad person. Jung would agree – we’re a complex admixture of both. The trick seems to be in acknowledging the dark or bad or shadow side of us and incorporating it into our total personality – we thereby somehow domesticate it, take away its sting, disarm it and prevent it from causing further evil as a separate personified demon or devil as it were. What comes to mind here is how quickly two opposing nations, or two opposing political parties as we have in the North of Ireland demonise each other. Rather than facing and incorporating one’s own national or racial or denominational shadow in this case either side prefers projecting it large and demon like on the opposition.
How often have you heard a man or a woman say something like: “I was drunk. It was the wine that made me say all those dreadful things. It will never happen again!” Facing the Shadow means that we have to travel down into the dark and shadowy valleys and sometimes into dark and damp caves if I may speak metaphorically but really and truly. Meeting our shadow is daunting – it does make the hair stand upright on your neck. This encounter tears holes in our masks – which are only that masks – skin deep! There will be aspects of our unconscious of which we are ashamed, embarrassed, find totally unacceptable and even obscene. There is a great book which is well worth the read called Romancing The Shadow by Connie Zweig Ph.D. and Steve Wolf, Ph.D. (Thorsons, 1997). I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in getting to grips with their very own Self through shadow work.
The picture I have placed above is of a small jellyfish I took on Donabate Strand this summer 2006