Carl Jung stated the Shadow Self to be the unknown dark side of the personality. According to Jung, the Shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognised as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, “The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realise its object – if it has one – or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.” These projections insulate and harm individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.
I had encountered the concept of the Shadow Self in a number of texts and readings last year and earlier this year. It was as if the universe was sending me clear signals that I needed to embrace my Shadow Self, the “undesirable” aspects of my personality – if only I could figure out what they were.
Do not feel ashamed of your strangeness and your shadows. They can be beautiful and mysterious if they are loved, embraced and owned.
For there is a part of you that you feel is not suitable to be shown to others. You feel that this part of you is unacceptable and lacking in beauty. However, this part of you, in being denied, is causing pain and guilt to surface within relationships where there needs to be none. You deserve to be loved for all of you, for the parts that are claws and thorns, for your lines and your grief, for your irritability and your sadness. Do not go into these parts and stay there, but know that what you consider to be unacceptable is, in fact, part of your beauty – and true beauty is wholeness.
I didn’t fully understand what this meant. One person posting on the Mindvalley Facebook page who was doing some work on this suggested it was akin to an evil aspect. I didn’t know how far this Shadow Self went, how dark was it, what it was, or how I had been suppressing it. When does the Shadow become abnormal and what does “embrace” mean?
The Other Half
I have been following a spiritual course recently which said that we attract partners into our lives who exhibit qualities that we are missing in ourselves – like a mirror half. These qualities may exhibit themselves in negative ways in the other person which we do not find favourable, but this is because the universe needs to teach us an important lesson to allow us to grow and heal and become whole again. The course said these qualities are the Shadow parts of ourselves. We may not need to exhibit them in the same manner as the other person (and in some cases should not), but these are qualities that need to be embraced to become fully whole and thrive. These aspects of ourselves were usually repressed in our formative years by parents, teachers, peers, etc who had our best interests at heart but unwittingly created flaws in our personality.
The penny dropped.
All the reading I have done has pointed in this direction without being explicit. However, without this process of learning and piecing all the elements together, I may never have understood it. That is part of the work a good coach can help you with – though I have trodden the path of self-coaching and taken longer.
Finding Your Own Shadow Self
Take a look around you at the significant people in your life and the qualities they possess that you find abrasive or disapprove of. Journal those qualities and look to see if there is a version of that quality that you may be missing in yourself.
For example, you may not set boundaries and find one person has zero respect for boundaries. Or you may find yourself a people-pleaser, not wanting to rock the boat, and another person may seem to have no shame in asking for (or taking) what they want. The reverse may also be true. Or you may be courageous and a significant person may be very humble, showing you that you need to embody more gentle qualities at times.
The books that were the greatest signposts to my Shadow Self were No More Mr Nice Guy, Home Coming and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself but it has been a long journey through many books, videos, and short courses to finally reach my awakening.
At the most basic level, ask yourself what are your strengths and weaknesses? Then ask what qualities do you need to learn to strengthen the weaknesses? This is your Shadow Self.
The Dark Factor of Personality
I stumbled across this research project and have now completed my own analysis based on the full survey. More on that below and how it helps confront your Shadow Self.
You can read the excellent summary article on the Scientific American: The Dark Core of Personality. You can read the full study at darkfactor.org (including access to the original research paper), and find out your own dark factor score. You can take the full test, or an abbreviated version of it to get a quick idea of your score.
D (your dark score) is defined as
The general tendency to maximise one’s individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others — accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.
D is an average across the following 10 dark personality traits, which are individually scored in the full test:
- Egoism (excessive concern with one’s own pleasure at the expense of community wellbeing)
- Greed (dissatisfaction of not having enough coupled with the desire to acquire more; e.g. insatiable desire for more resources, monetary or other)
- Machiavellianism (a cynical world view, manipulativeness, strategic-calculating orientation, and callousness)
- Moral Disengagement (a set of cognitive processing styles of decisions and behaviour, e.g. dehumanisation, misattribution of responsibility and blame)
- Narcissism (ego-reinforcement, tendencies to approach social admiration by means of self-promotion and to prevent social failure by means of self-defence)
- Psychological Entitlement (a stable and pervasive sense that one deserves and is entitled to more than others)
- Psychopathy (deficits in affectation, e.g. callousness, lack of remorse or concern for others, and lack of self-control, e.g. impulsivity)
- Sadism (tendency to engage in cruel, demanding or aggressive behaviours for one’s own pleasure or dominance)
- Self-Centredness (indifference or insensitiveness to the suffering and needs of others)
- Spitefulness (tendency to harm others for pleasure, even if this entails harm to oneself)
I am pleased to have scored low and it is interesting to see how I relate to the outer world and I would say this test is an excellent way to explore areas of your Shadow Self objectively.
You may be happy with your results, wherever you may lie on the spectrum, but if you (like me) wonder why you’re not achieving as you would like in areas of your life, the results may highlight areas you can explore, journal or meditate on so that you can unblock the self-limiting beliefs you have inherited or developed over the course of your life in response to external situations.
By facing your Shadow Self and integrating these elements holistically, becoming whole again, you may find you begin to live the life of your dreams. Now that’s worth working towards.