The things you hate in others are the things you refuse to see in yourself, and it’s keeping you from living your best life
Think about the people that annoy you or whose behavior you find unacceptable. What makes them so off-putting or undesirable? Their arrogance? Their greed? Their vanity or insensitivity towards others?
Chances are those traits you despise so much in other people are ones you also contain, ones that your defense mechanisms refuse to let you acknowledge.
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud termed this tendency to judge others harshly and deny your own flaws as projection. Psychology Today defines this term as “the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object.”
And Freud’s research, combined with the later research of other psychologists, conveys that this refusal to identify your own “dark traits” and attempt to overcome them hinders your ability to have fulfilling relationships and also saps your energy, creativity, and success.
Projection and the “shadow”
Carl Jung, a student of Freud, built on Freud’s ideas of projection and coined a phrase he called the “projection of the shadow.”
The shadow is the combination of traits individuals have that they subconsciously try to avoid, largely due to their childhood experiences. The Society of Analytical Psychology explains that in our early years, we internalize the opinions and attitudes of parents or other people with whom we are surrounded. Consequently, we define our worth (or lack thereof) based on whether or not we display the attributes these people value.
In our attempts to satisfy the expectations of these influential figures in our lives, we often deny the existence of parts of our personality with which we fear they would find fault. Those feelings we suppress become what Jung referred to as our “shadow selves.”
Jung believed that when we are “confronted with some undesirable or embarrassing [parts of ourselves], [we] immediately see that quality in someone else” or we “project that fault or unacceptable urge onto the morality of someone else.”
Writer Scott Jeffrey gives an example of this phenomenon, explaining that our irritation at a coworker’s selfishness is a “result of not owning [our] own selfishness.” He goes on to say if we faced our own “shadows,” our feelings of irritation would decrease because “[we] would see [our] colleague’s selfishness and immediately acknowledge the selfish [parts in ourselves].”
The dangers of not acknowledging our “shadows”
The dangers of not owning up to the reality of our own flaws and feelings can cause a multitude of problems. An article entitled “Shadow Work: Seven Steps to Heal the Wounded Self” explains Jung’s belief that “repressing or suppressing one’s shadow can result in addictions, low self-esteem, mental illness, chronic illnesses, and various neuroses.”
In addition to the physical and psychological ramifications of ignoring our “shadow selves,” the ability to have intimate and fulfilling relationships also becomes exponentially more difficult.
In an article by Christopher Perry entitled “The Shadow,” he explains that when people repress unexplored sides of themselves, it causes conflicts that prevent them from having fulfilling relationships with others. These relationships are damaged because refusing to recognize one’s shadow often prevents an individual from being authentic and compassionate and limits one’s “capacity to think clearly about situations and relationships.”
The foundations of “shadow work”
Jung states that “one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
In other words, the first step to avoiding the consequences of rejecting our shadow selves is to learn to recognize when we are projecting our shadow on others.
For example, when we find ourselves becoming critical of certain individuals, we should ask ourselves the following questions:
What specific qualities do I not like in these people?
What feelings do these individuals and their behaviors evoke in me?
How do I tend to react to these specific people?
How might my reaction to these people have been influenced by caregivers or other important people in the formative years of my childhood?
Then, after asking ourselves these probing questions, we should do an honest appraisal of ourselves, asking if those same qualities are also part of our own characters or personalities.
Once we recognize these darker facets of our personality, we must then dedicate ourselves to doing certain things:
- making a continual effort to recognize our shadow self and when we attempt this self onto others
- practicing self-compassion by acknowledging that all humans have these negative behaviors and tendencies
- taking active steps to understand and manage these darker aspects of our personalities and using them to improve our own relationships and interactions with the world at large
How shadow work can improve our lives
In a “Complete Guide to the Shadow,” Scott Jeffrey illuminates the benefits of doing shadow work. He states the advantages of shadow work as follows:
- We become more comfortable with and accepting of who we really are, increasing our ability to live authentic lives.
- We create more harmonious relationships with others because we relate to their weaknesses and, in doing so, develop more compassion and understanding of those whom we originally decided were less worthy than ourselves.
- We increase our energy to live more truly and work towards being the person we seek to be. For example, he states that “with Jungian shadow work, [we] liberate a tremendous reservoir of energy [we] were unconsciously investing in protecting [ourselves].
The bottom line:
Author Mateo Sol, author of the Awakened Empath: The Ultimate Guide to Emotional, Psychological and Spiritual Healing states:
“Your Shadow is a dark omen, a powerful teacher that reveals to you the places in your life where you are energetically blocked. When you continue to ignore these signs, you perpetuate the cycle of your suffering.”
To live in self-righteousness is to deny our humanity and to prevent our connection with others. The truth is we all have light inside us, and we all have darkness as well. And this fact is nothing of which to be afraid or ashamed. It is what defines us as humans.
Only by accepting the reality that each of us has light and dark within us can we draw more light into our lives. Because honesty brings light. And light brings happiness.