Through a Jungian Lens

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Wrestling With the Shadow

with 14 comments

Some days the sun fails to give warmth and good cheer

I took this photo in mid-morning a few days ago. Sky conditions have been overcast creating a dreary scene in the city. The winter chill that hovers near the freezing point adds to the sense of darkness, even though it is daytime. Now that all of my exams are administered and I have begun the task of doing all the required end-of-courses documentation, I have somehow slipped into a deeper mood, one that is daring the unconscious to do its worst.

I can imagine that many would say that this isn’t a smart thing to do, to dive deeper into the shadow world of inner space. Yet I know that it isn’t about being “smart,” it’s about finding the right spaces and times to do what is demanding to be done, a demand that doesn’t come from my ego self. When “I,” the ego version of “I,” would rather just be present in the outer world, perhaps being a bit more sociable and animated, creating less of a headache for my wife and less worry for my children who read this blog; the unconscious aspects of self let me know in no uncertain terms that I can’t defer much longer the work that waits for me. So, rather than resist to the point of overthrow, I accept the task and risk the depths.

I have begun, again, to journal; and, I have begun, again, to attempt putting the images of the past on paper so as to bring some stability back. The mess has a lot to do with the fact that between kindergarten and grade eight, I attended seventeen different schools in four different provinces with changes in residences numbering more than twenty during the same time period. Wandering through the chaos of all of this with the images of places, events and people is proving to be a bigger challenge than I expected.

So why am I doing this? Why am I digging up old bones and skeletons in the closets? Wouldn’t it be best to leave the past alone and focus on living in the present one day at a time? Likely for many, that would be the route to take. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I find myself doing this work in spite of my common sense, daring to think that in returning to these ghosts of the past that I can allow them to finally be heard allowing me to finally be fully present in the day-to-day world.

Doing the work that is pressing upon me makes me think of Jung’s retreat into a similar work, in his Bollingen Tower, a place he built and which he dared confronting his own shadow, dared confronting his own potential madness.  Jung had begun his personal confrontation with the unconscious before he built Bollingen Tower, but the tower did give him a sacred space for the last seven years of that confrontation which became part of his Red Book. My work is not comparable to Jung’s work in depth or breadth or scholarship, but it is about the same confrontation with the same risks, the risks one takes when one wrestles with the shadow, with the darkness.

Closer examination of the dark characteristics – that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow – reveals that hey have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality. Emotion, incidentally, is not an activity of the individual but something that happens to him. Affects occur usually where adaptation is weakest, and at the same time they reveal the reason for its weakness, namely a certain degree of inferiority and the existence of a lower-level of personality. On this lower level with its uncontrolled or scarcely controlled emotions one behaves more or less like a primitive, who is not only the passive victim of his affects but also singularly incapable of moral judgement. (jung, CW 9ii, para. 15)

Yes, it is about wrestling with the shadow, wrestling with the roots of evil that exist within the self, roots which seek to escape the unconscious through the weakest points.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

January 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

14 Responses

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  1. My journal reminds me one of the highlights of 2011 was meeting you. I thank you again for that. I hope 2012 is a marvelous year for you and your Journey.


    January 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    • My hope (reasonable) is to have us meet again, likely on your home turf in the coming years. I will treasure our meet-up in Toronto for as long as my wits are still about me. 🙂


      January 3, 2012 at 9:57 am

  2. I am very familiar with this territory – having been on the creative and insane edge all of my life, been in and out of black holes and seen some aweful psychic images. It is as the alchemists say, a Great Work. And it is not recommended for everyone, as Jung says, until it is thrust upon us. So……good onyer I guess. I am sure you will be supported in this, even though it may be difficult for some to understand.


    January 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    • Michelle, thank you for visiting. Your blog site is amazing and I encourage others to visit. I do have support in doing my “work” which has had its ebbs and flows for many, many years. Happy New Year.


      January 3, 2012 at 9:59 am

  3. Nice post Robert! I’m not skating on the edge at this moment in time, but I’ve been given fair warning that shadow work needs to be continued in ways I’ve avoided for years. I’m preparing my sacred space, and looking at writing my stories, journaling again and seeing what arises. I agree about the inferior function. I think John Beebe called it the Devil’s place. I have a great article by Meridith Sabini that is on the topic of the inferiority of parts of us. Let me know if you’d like it and I’ll email you.

    Ruth Martin

    January 2, 2012 at 3:15 am

    • Hi Ruth, I am glad that you have taken time to prepare for the work. I have learned to recognize the signals which then allows me to prepare my space as well as those around me, for the skating on the edge of the razor. Please do send the article to me at – Happy New Year!


      January 3, 2012 at 10:05 am

  4. If you don’t love the shadow as much as the light, you might be missing the point. The whole problem with the shadow is that we judge it eroneously – and that way, it stays the shadow. Being fully confronted with the dark side means accepting it completely. I grant that this is an extremely difficult thing to do.


    January 2, 2012 at 7:23 am

    • I can’t say I love the shadow, I can say I respect the presence of the shadow, the necessity of shadow if there is to be light. Interesting letter to Freud talks about this – likely will use it in a future post 🙂 – The danger is in getting caught up in the archetype losing the grounding of the “self.” Thanks again, Michelle, for taking the time to connect here.


      January 3, 2012 at 10:08 am

  5. I think I have spent most of my life’s energy fighting my shadow self and only recently become aware of the value of integrating both the shadow and light. I am also training to become a marriage and family therapist. Can anyone point me in the direction of some good shadow-work resources for me and my future clients? I know this is a terribly important and fundamental topic…. Thanks so much!


    January 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

    • Hello Mary, good to hear that you are in training. There are many books dealing with the Shadow. Perhaps a check at JungNet will yield you some good articles as well. As I am in China, I don’t have my personal resources at hand other than a few books that I am using here. Perhaps some of the other readers here will point you in good directions. There are good people here who are well versed in the world of psychology. I wish you a great New Year and success in your training.


      January 3, 2012 at 10:12 am

  6. Robert,
    I would like to read the article by Meredith Sabini that Ruth Martin mentioned. Would it be appropriate to post my email address, here, on your blog with the hope that Ruth could let me know where I can get a copy? Thank you, Patricia


    January 3, 2012 at 1:57 am

    • Please feel free to post your e-mail address here. I hope that Ruth sees your comment and sends the article to you as well. In case she doesn’t let me know then I will forward it when I get it. Have a good New Year, Patricia.


      January 3, 2012 at 10:18 am

  7. Ruth, Is it possible for you to send the Meridith Sabini article you mentioned above to me at Thank you, Patricia


    January 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

    • Hi Patricia, I have talked with Ruth and the articles will come (others as well). I will send them to you if Ruth didn’t note this request.


      January 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm

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