One of Jung’s most notable ideas is the shadow – those inferior aspects of ourselves that we are not proud of. Shadow material involves unknown aspects of the self which make our egos uncomfortable, defensive and at times embarrassed.
If our persona is the face or mask that we show others, then the shadow represents the darker, hidden aspects of our personality that we hide from others. These two differing sides create a polarity of opposites and a need for psychic balancing. In fact, the larger the persona, the larger the shadow and the greater the need for balancing.
Jung stressed the importance of integrating shadow material into our consciousness through socially acceptable channels. Through representation, the ego is able to integrate rather than repress unpleasant unconscious impulses. When merely repressed, the shadow finds a way through the cracks of the psyche and jumps out in disturbing ways.
A person may exert a great deal of effort to maintain a persona as a pillar of society while exerting equal effort to maintain secrecy about some deviant behavior. For example, we have heard cases of a judge being a repeat DUI offender, or the scout leader or clergy who has a history of abusing children.
The shadow also has amusing aspects, as in Halloween costumes or comic book characters. Artists, writers, jesters and comics have often served as portals into shadow material. We enjoy seeing Tony Soprano open up to his therapist – showing a side of him which contrasts his usual outwardly rugged side.
Halloween offers an opportunity to reveal our shadow in a safe and socially acceptable manner. In fact, when we choose a costume we project certain traits onto the costume. It is believed that once the demons (from our shadow) are exorcised we are better prepared to celebrate the more positive holidays of Christmas and New Years.
We may unknowingly choose a costume that reveals our shadow. For example, a man who is shy or intimidated by women may dress as a devil, giving him the opportunity and courage to flirt.
However, costumes do not always reflect our shadow. A person may choose a costume that further perpetuates his or her persona. A person may dress as a devil because he or she truly has fiendish traits.
Shadow material can also be applied to how we dress our children and even our pets. We may choose a prisoner costume for our mischievous cat or put a frilly and feminine costume on a mean looking dog. In the first case, the owner accentuated the pet’s actual characteristic. In the second, the owner accentuated the opposite or shadow trait.
Even if you do not have the opportunity to dress up this year, take a moment to wonder what costume you might have chosen. Notice what costumes you avoid and which you feel more comfortable with. Does your choice emphasis your persona or reveal your shadow? Are you the superhero or the villain?