Carl Jung was the first psychiatrist to propose the theory that our minds are split into two very different archetypes: the persona and the shadow self.

The persona is derived from a Latin word that means ‘mask’ and it means the person we present to the world, the person we want the world to think we are. The persona is rooted in our conscious mind and it represents all the different images we submit to society. The shadow self is a completely different beast.

In fact, we are not even aware of it. As we grow up we quickly learn that certain emotions, characteristics, feelings and traits are frowned upon by society and as such we repress them for fear of negative feedback. Over time, these repressed feelings become our shadow self and are so deeply buried that we have no notion of its existence.

How the shadow self is born

Jung believed that we are all born as a blank canvas, but life and experiences start the color this canvas. We are born as complete and whole individuals.

We learn from our parents and people around us that some things are good and others are evil. It is at this point that our archetypes begin to separate into the persona and the shadow self. We learn what is acceptable in society (persona) and bury what is deemed not to be (shadow). But this does not mean they have vanished:

“But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion.” Carl Jung

These buried feelings can lead to many physical symptoms in the form of speech impediments, mood swings, accidents, neurosis, and also mental health problems.

Typically, a person will compartmentalize a shadow self so that they do not have to confront it. But these feelings will keep building and building and if nothing is done, they can eventually burst through a person’s psyche with devastating results.

Shadow self and society

However, what is acceptable in one society is quite arbitrary as cultures differ vastly around the world. So what Americans might deem as good manners by making strong eye contact would be seen as rude and arrogant in many Eastern countries such as Japan.

Likewise, in the Middle East, burping after your meal is a sign to your host that you have greatly enjoyed the meal they prepared for you. In Europe, this is seen as particularly offensive.

It is not just society that affects our shadow self, however. How many times in spiritual teaching have you heard the expression of ‘reaching for the light’ or ‘letting the light into your life’? Light reflects emotions such as love, peace, honesty, virtues, compassion and joy. But human beings are not just made up of these lighter elements, we all have a darker side and to ignore it is unhealthy.

Instead of ignoring our darker sides, or our shadow self shall we say, if we embrace it, we can understand it. Then, we can learn how, if need be, we can control and integrate it.

“The shadow, when it is realized, is the source of renewal; the new and productive impulse cannot come from established values of the ego. When there is an impasse, and sterile time in our lives—despite an adequate ego development—we must look to the dark, hitherto unacceptable side which has been at our conscious disposal.” (Connie Zweig)

What happens when we embrace our darkness

As many people say, you cannot have the light without the dark, and you cannot appreciate the dark without the light. So really, it is not a case of burying the dark and negative emotions but accepting them.

We all have a light and a dark side, just as we have a right and a left hand, we would not think to only use our right hands and leave our left hands hanging useless. So why would we dismiss our dark sides out of hand?

Interestingly enough, in many cultures, particularly Muslim and Hindu, the left hand is considered to be unclean, as the left is thought to be associated with the dark side. In fact, the word sinister comes from a Latin word that means ‘on the left side or unlucky’.

Instead, embracing ourselves as a whole can only create harmony and a deeper understanding of what it is that makes up our total identity. To deny our darker shadow self is simply to deny a part of ourselves.

When you look at the world as a whole and our different cultures that give us ways of acting within societal norms, it seems ridiculous that in some parts of the world we can be seen as polite and righteous, and in others rude and hostile.

Therefore, it makes no sense to bury our shadow self. Instead, we should release it from its depths and bring it into the open, ready for discussion without shame.

Only then can we all benefit from embracing the darkness, when we all do, and only when our shadow selves are fully exposed, then no one will need to feel ashamed.

“That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” (Carl Jung)



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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Cvetomir

    hm pretty interesting what do you mean by exposing and letting it go ?

  2. David Scott

    Very interesting I need to study this article more.

    We must embrace all of ourselves , I have gone through life hating my shadow self. Denying it. Imagining that it should not exist. I catch myself sometimes saying out loud ” why am I like this, why do I think or say these things ” – I believe my duality dilemma was caused by Christian teachings as a child (a mormon, now ex) …that has screwed my mind up so bad.

    Now I am trying to not hate myself or blame myself, or feel guilty for being me… I am light and dark….all things are permitted.

  3. Kai

    Great help! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Stacy

    I have felt this is true since I was very young. I had never put a name to it. Thank you. At an early age I realized that there is a real self and the self you let others see. In third grade my mother was murdered and I felt like a light had been turned on and I could really see beyond what is acceptable and what is real. Keep posting.

  5. Kathleen

    It is so true. Not to get “religious” but it does say in the Bible “what is done in the dark will always come to light”… So why not basically the same theory of bringing out the dark in ourselves to for transmutation into the Light so we may integrate and become whole? No hiding is necessary as we all have both sides.

  6. Julie

    Thank you Janey. Timely and interesting.

  7. Julie

    Thank you Janey. Spot on information.

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