I think the shadow-self can be described in a number of ways by people who have different approaches to life, for example, you may well find other explanations for the shadow-self in science, religion or spiritualism. The approach I personally like to use in my books and articles is psycho-spirituality, in which I use psychology to try to explain what are essentially, metaphysical or spiritual truths.
Carl Jung and Archetypes
Regarding the shadow self, I usually begin with the important work of Carl Jung, the world-famous psychologist who spoke of a collective unconscious or collective subconscious, to which we are all said to be connected. Within this deep collective level of the subconscious mind, we find what he called universal, archetypal forms or patterns of energy.
Personal versions of these archetypes can also be found within the human psyche. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the ‘inner child’ but may also have heard of the ‘victim’ archetype, the ‘nurturer’ or the ‘hero’. According to Jung, our personal archetypes can be explained as collections of unresolved or repressed energy from unpleasant past experiences, trauma or unresolved needs and desires which we have pushed deep into our subconscious minds.
For example, if, as a child, someone is prevented from fully expressing their childlike innocence and emotions, desires and urges, these unfulfilled emotions could come together and form a sort of sub-personality we call the ‘inner child’, one which would (metaphorically) long to be loved, nurtured and be allowed to freely express its childlike joy. We can touch this archetype of the inner child when we, as adults, do things that children love to do, such as riding on a roller coaster. This thrill can take us back to our childhood days and unlock the energy of our inner child for brief moments.
However, there are many other archetypes that are not that pleasant to have. For example, the ‘victim’ archetype, which is a nasty fellow, a toxic accumulation of pain from the past, resentments and anger against certain people or even against the social system itself. There are also other not-so-pleasant archetypes as well, those revealing themselves in negative traits such as repressed rage and anger (the ‘Angry Man’) and the ‘Greedy Man/Woman’ archetype, which houses an intense desire for wealth and possessions. If not satisfied, we can end up with this repressed negative energy forming an archetype deep within our psyche.
How they work
When we start thinking about a situation or have an experience that makes us unlock these repressed negative emotions, we are actually ‘cueing’ our negative archetypes, which release their energy and we then reveal this unpleasant trait or side of us all over again.
From my own studies and meditations, I found that archetypes (including negative ones) can cling to each other and even bring about more sub-archetypes, almost like a mother giving birth to a child.
During a meditation I did many years ago, I was able to connect with my own archetypes and found out that a very powerful archetype, the ‘victim’ archetype, can give rise to smaller versions of itself, representing different character traits such as anger and resentment that go with the experience (or perception) of seeing oneself as a victim in a ‘grossly unfair world’. This accumulation of different archetypes is important.
So how do we move from Carl Jung’s archetypes to the idea of a ‘Shadow-self’?
We now understand how different negative archetypes, as well as their ‘offspring’ can come together to form an interconnected system of negative archetypes which can take up a large part of our subconscious mind. I see the shadow-self as that collection or system of negative archetypes deep within our psyche, forming a large, but unseen part of our personalities.
The shadow self and self-development
We often read in self-development books or articles that we need to acknowledge our shadow self. Yes, we do need to accept that we’ve within us these unfulfilled archetypal patterns which form the shadow self. But that is only half the story. As I said, I’ve worked intensively with archetypes during my meditations and studies, and I’ve found that one can work with them, in fact, we can resolve and even transmute them into higher forms to release their pent-up energy to help our personal growth.
Connecting with your shadow-self
Let me explain how this works.
As I said earlier, in a manner of speaking, our archetypes are sub-personalities within our subconscious minds and during deep meditation we can connect with them.
This will have to happen during meditation, when our conscious minds are very relaxed, crystal-clear and fully open to impressions. We can either decide to connect with one archetype at a time, or deal with our shadow-selves as a whole. In any event, archetypes will appear in our imagery, one-at-a-time, as humanlike forms with visible characteristics which point to their type and inner content. For example, our inner child may appear as a small, disheveled, dirty child huddling in a corner, suggesting that it has been neglected. We need to interpret what we see metaphorically, as our subconscious minds communicate with us mostly in symbolic images, such as during dreams.
Communicating with each archetype forming the shadow-self
We pick up the impressions from these archetypal pockets of energy within our subconscious and form the humanlike images in our conscious minds. As I said, we can actively engage them. They are almost like separate personalities. With the scene changing spontaneously, we will find that the archetype responds to us in some way or another. It’s actually quite amazing. We usually see their responses in gestures, movements or facial expressions, but if we are fortunate and familiar with inner work, we may even hear words popping intuitively popping into our minds.
The following process should be used with each archetype as it presents itself:
Acknowledge the archetype
‘I acknowledge you and I know that you are part of me.’
Give thanks (express gratitude)
Thank the archetype for its role in your life. Remember that you created them for a reason, even if it is a negative archetype.
‘I want to thank you for the work that you’ve done over the past years.’
As a counsellor I know that It is not easy to say ‘thank you’ for a devastating traumatic experience, but it is not the fault of the archetype, but our own choice in holding onto self-destructive emotions which have given rise to the archetype and indeed, our shadow-selves. In other words, balancing or resolving an archetype is the same as forgiving others and forgiving yourself.
Acknowledge the experience
By now, from memory or intuitively, you may start picking up on what has given rise to this archetype, something from your past that you have done or not done or simply had the misfortune to experience such as past trauma or even the ‘dark night of the soul.’ Once you have an idea of what may have given rise to this archetype, acknowledge their pain (which is actually your own pain).
Admit that you are sorry
Be prepared to admit your mistakes and apologize to the archetype for the pain you have caused it. In other words, acknowledge your own pain. Remember that the archetype is part of you, your own creation. At the end of the day, you are talking to that inner part of yourself that is hurting.
‘I’m sorry for hurting you, for what I’ve done, what you’ve had to go through’.
Recommit to a new path
In the presence of the archetype recommit yourself to a fresh start and approach to life.
‘I commit myself to positive thought, positive actions and to avoid the thinking and actions that created you.’
Resolving or balancing the archetype
After you have acknowledged the archetype, apologized, and recommitted yourself to change, address the archetype and ask it to balance or resolve itself.
‘I now ask you as my archetype to release your energy’
If you have done the necessary inner work and your archetype is satisfied, you will see it recede into the background.
Transmuting the archetype
However, if you wish to make new use of their energy, ask them to transmute or transcend. In this case say to the archetype:
‘I feel now I want to move on. I want to ask you to release your energy now so that I can use it for further growth.’
How is this done?
Negative archetypes have the potential to be raised an octave or two into higher, more positive and useful forms. For example, the transmuted form of the ‘victim’ archetype would be the ‘victor’. This request also needs to be given with thanks and a new intent.
‘I thank you for what you’ve done. I have overcome these feelings with your help and am no longer a victim. I’m now a victor.’
‘Please release your energy that I can use it wisely as a victor.’
Once again, if you follow the process correctly, your archetype will respond and you’ll feel a surge of energy and release. This will tell you that your archetype has transmuted or transformed into a ‘victor’ archetype, a much higher form with a positive energy. If you have mastered imagery you may even see the transmutation taking place.
Using this process your whole shadow self can be transmuted and the freed-up energy used wisely for personal growth and unfoldment. They are wonderful sources of energy.
Why is all this this necessary?
You may ask why all this is necessary? Consider this. One of the tasks of life is to deal with our past ‘baggage’. And these unresolved issues and feelings are packaged or embodied in our archetypes. Instead of years of counselling or therapy we can do-it-ourselves quite quickly by acknowledging, facing, and resolving them in this manner. Obviously, this approach needs a commitment to do inner work and to learn the skills of meditation and spontaneous visualization or imagery.
This article is extracted from my latest book, Understanding Metaphysics, in which I use psychology to better explain metaphysical experiences. Thank you