According to Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, projections come from the ‘shadow’ side of our personality. He coined the term ‘shadow’ to describe the unconscious aspects of our psyche that harbour and express all the ‘negative’ parts of our personality that we have concealed so well for so long that we have become unaware of them.
From childhood, we begin to make decisions about how we believe the world wants us to be. If we think that aspects of our behaviour are unacceptable then we try our best to keep a lid on them to avoid unpleasant reactions from others. We learn to adapt, and we get really good at it.
Over time we may have learnt to do this so effectively that others are unable to detect these aspects of our personality that we (now unconsciously) conceal.
We become so practiced at concealing these aspects that we even begin to fool ourselves, we become ‘out of relationship’ with our unwanted personality traits, psychologically keeping them pushed deep below our conscious awareness.
Concealed in the Shadows
The trouble is we still have those aspects within our personality, lurking deep within our psyche like a dark and foreboding villain, concealed in the shadows. We just don’t notice them because we have distanced ourselves from them to the point that we truly believe we aren’t wired that way.
Others notice our shadow behaviour when we are tired or stressed, trying to contain the shadow is a bit like trying to hold a ball underwater; when our arms get tired… WHOOSH! Up it comes to the surface finding its release, often with a lot of energy behind it.
Yet more often than not we remain blissfully unaware of our shadow behaviour, preferring to see it as a positive quality. If we are working late several nights in a row to complete a big assignment, we may see ourselves as persistent and focussed, whereas others may experience us as behaving in a stubborn, inflexible manner. We may think we are being responsible, while others may experience us as controlling, micro-managing, or authoritarian.
What we do notice is our shadow side in the behaviour of others. Because we’ve alienated ourselves from our own shadow nature, its easier and far less confronting to see these aspects in others, and we become very sensitive to seeing this behaviour.
Someone else who shows a stubborn streak, or a controlling element can become the target of our own projections; we see a little of what we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves and this person becomes a reflection of our own shadow side, evoking our irritation and intolerance (What is it about you I don’t like about myself?).
Shadow can be played out in a family dynamic too. If parents act in a overly proper manner, repressing their emotions, not showing intimacy, and having little tolerance for the expression of anger or boisterousness from children, this can provide all the ingredients for at least one sibling (or a spouse) to begin ‘acting out’ the shadow side of the family, and becoming the antithesis of family expectations.
Harnessing the Purposeful Aspects of Shadow
We cannot ‘get rid of’ our shadow but we can become aware of it and embrace the purposeful qualities within shadow energy; developing the ability to direct it consciously and appropriately (sometimes we need to be stubborn or authoritarian).
Working with shadow is very much a part of how I can help deepen awareness and bring about sustainable change; such heightened self-awareness can enrich personal and professional relationships in ways that are difficult to replicate using superficial technique alone.