“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”– Carl Jung
Most people aren’t good. Most people are cowards who mistake their cowardice for morality.
I’ve seen it before.
One day walking through New York City I saw a middle-aged homeless man laying on the ground with blood on his face. Everyone stepped around him. Nobody cared.
I don’t think it was so much that New Yorkers are jaded (even though we are). It’s that everyone was scared. No one wanted to do what’s right because what’s right is often unpopular, unglamorous, and takes a lot of courage.
What’s right takes you incorporating the darker elements of your personality. It takes integrating what Carl Jung would coin “the shadow.”
The Shadow Explained
Russian novelist, philosopher, and political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, ‘the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.’
In other words, every evil act ever committed was done by human beings — and you’re one of them. Get that through your head.
Therefore, Carl Jung posited that, in each of us, are unpleasant and immoral aspects of ourselves which we would like to pretend do not exist or have no effect on our lives.
These are our inferiorities, shameful impulses or capacity for inaction.
“Each of us contains both a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde, a more pleasant persona for everyday wear and a hiding, nighttime self that remains hushed up much of the time.” — Meeting the Shadow, Connie Zweig
To mask these insecurities, each of us puts on a persona to act in day-to-day life. We conform to social norms and niceties.
If moral effort requires separating from the pack then we quickly do mental gymnastics to rationalize why we don’t need it; after all, it’s easier to stick with the herd.
Would You Have Been a Nazi?
Every single day you’re faced with a moral quandary.
Here are some that we face today —
- Ghosting Others: Do you ghost your dates or friends because you’re lazy or lose interest? This is very cowardly — though we’ve all done it before. Ghosting is the fastest way to shrink your network. You burn bridges rather than build them.
- Accountability Problems: Do you fall through on plans with friends? Do you fall through on plans for yourself like working out or asking your crush out for a date? If you’re living life more through imagination and less through action, you have aspects of your shadow you need to deal with.
- Resentment: Do you pull other people down to your level? Do you make excuses for why you’re a failure and why someone else is successful (e.g. they didn’t have it as bad as me or they got lucky)? It’s important to not destroy your own ideals. I’d rather be wrong about something as an optimist than right about something as a pessimist.
These are all dilemmas we’ve dealt with in modernity. Be grateful our quandaries aren’t will you became a Nazi or be imprisoned or killed? (Read “Ordinary Men” if you’d like to know more about that decision)
The chances are you would have been a Nazi. And if you think otherwise given the opportunity, you’re the exact type of person Carl Jung is warning us against.
How to Incorporate The Shadow
*Sith voice* USE YOUR ANGER. IT MAKES YOU STRONGER.
If one word could be attributed to incorporating the shadow it would be learning when to say “no.”
Workplace toxicity, relationship turmoil, resentment, bitterness, and a general nihilistic outlook on life start because a person cannot say no. They don’t put their foot down and slowly life spins out of control.
If you can’t say no then you’re not a good person. You’re Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot” who makes everyone happy in times of peace, but in times of danger is completely useless.
Furthermore, keep in mind that Carl Jung didn’t imagine a perfect man. Instead, Jung imagined wholeness as the goal in which every human being should seek.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious,” Jung penned in his Red Book. “The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable, and therefore not popular.”
Confronting your shadow starts from noticing and contemplating your resentment or bitterness. Resentment makes us hate certain groups of people, it makes us undermine our ideals and creates a pessimistic outlook towards life.
Ask yourself: What cowardly stupid things am I doing on a regular basis that I could stop today and instantly improve my life?
Keep in mind, incorporating your shadow is a meditative exercise with no solution. The shadow isn’t something to be solved, but actively explored.
Only 10% of you might even be willing to admit your own insecurities — and even then only 1% of those people will actually confront them.
If dark aggressive feelings and impulses are integrated into your being, you become stronger for it.
Morality isn’t being too weak and innocuous. There’s no virtue in being a domesticated house cat. Virtue is being a lion who chooses to wield its power wisely, despite incentives to do otherwise.
This is why Carl Jung believed that genuine moral effort was a good substitute for therapy.
Easier said than done.
“Are you order? Are you chaos? Or are you the process that mediates between them? And if you are the process that mediates between them, you are the thing that transforms.” — Jordan Peterson
- Pride is not a good thing. Especially in the wake of modernity and excess comfort. Always seek to improve. Don’t remain content with who you are today as it eliminates who you could be tomorrow.
- Don’t assume you’re a good person. Better to assume you’re a coward who needs to constantly improve themselves through acts of virtue and bravery.
- Learn to say “no.”
- Keep in mind that an honest look into your shadow takes pain and personal sacrifice. If you’re not willing to examine yourself seriously then you will not change. You’ll be the person who people say didn’t live up to their potential.
- Remember what Nietzsche once said: “It is the same with the human being as the tree. The higher they climb into the height and the light, the more strongly their roots strive downward, into the dark, the depths — into evil.” (Nietzsche)
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