By: Ismail M Taher
It’s been a while since we posted new articles, but we’re back, and stronger than ever!
Most people get inevitably caught up in that vigorous battle. The battle we’re talking about here is not with life, circumstances or even other people. The battle we’re discussing is a purely internal one. This battle, which everyone faces one way or another, is a battle between you and your other you.
If you don’t yet get it, don’t worry, just bear with me for a moment.
Most of us have a clear and distinct understanding of our ‘self’. Most of us can easily paint a picture of who we are; our beliefs, mindsets, emotions and other elements that ultimately make us what we appear to be. However, there is way more than just what meets the eye.
What if our definition of ‘self’ is actually limited, or even inherently flawed? What if there’s more to our ‘self’ than we really want to see or accept?
In today’s blog post, I’ll be talking about the ‘other’ side of us, that no one appears to want to talk about.
“What if our definition of ‘self’ is actually limited, or even inherently flawed!?”
Everyone is familiar to some degree with this question ‘Who are you?”. Most of us can really have a simple and straightforward answer to this question. After all, you must really know who you are….or maybe not?
That’s the dilemma that has spun across various disciplines like psychology, sociology, philosophy and spirituality. What truly makes us who we think we are, or more importantly, do we really understand what makes us who we are?
Most people feel comfortable identifying themselves in terms of behavior, beliefs, faiths, or thought patterns. For example, if you asked someone who he is, he’ll probably begin to list you a number of his beliefs, mindsets, interests and passions and so on.
The catch here is, when we choose to identify our 'self' or create a picture for it that would be presented to our family, friends, peers or society, we often get a little biased.
If you feel lost, don’t worry, I’ll explain everything in a moment, after I share with you the very important notion of self-concept.
The American social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister defines ‘self-concept’ as follows:
"The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is".
So, in essence, our self is our dear-held beliefs about who we are; it’s the way we present ourselves to the world and interact with everyone else.
But a big question emerges here, are we truly and totally unbiased when we try to define ourselves?
Do we equally represent our merits and demerits, our weaknesses and strengths, our vulnerabilities and passions, or are we prone to carefully selecting only the socially desirable traits and use them to paint that society-friendly image of us, while deliberately ignoring our ‘not so pleasant’ sides?
The answer comes as a resounding NO.
The reason for that deliberate bias is that all of us, no matter how ‘good’ we perceive ourselves, have parts of us that are considered to be too ‘dark’ or ‘socially unacceptable’ for us to include in our definition of ourselves.
When we try to identify and define ourselves, we often cherry-pick the most desirable and socially-acceptable traits to present it out to the world, but the question is, what happens to our ‘less desirable’ parts? The parts of us that we deliberately try to repress and ignore, fearing it might ruin our life or worse, distort our very perception of ourselves.
Do they really disappear when you start intentionally pretending they don’t exist?
The answer lies in the hands of the renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Jung, essentially defined the ‘self’ in terms of two distinct yet ultimately interconnected parts named the ‘Archetypes’: The ‘Persona’ and the ‘Shadow’
I- The Persona
Per Jung, and on a very basic level, the Persona is the various masks we put on in order to face our societies. Essentially, the persona includes different behaviors, beliefs, opinions, and actions we’re carefully selecting to represent us in front of everybody else.
It’s the part of ourselves that is meticulously engineered by us to help us become more popular, loved or admired. It’s the part responsible for ‘pleasing’ the society in order to gain personal advancements or progress along our life as human beings.
So, in short, the persona is the ‘external’ part of our self, the part with which we interact with everybody else, and most importantly, it’s the part we think about when trying to identify our self or understand it.
II- The Shadow
Jung famously conceived the concept of the ‘Shadow-self’, which can be simply defined as: The unconscious parts of your personality that your ego does not recognize, or actually try to repress. In short, the shadow is the unconscious or dark aspects of our personalities.
As we discussed earlier, we as humans deliberately tend to exclude those ‘dark’ parts of our selves when we try to paint a picture of who we are. However, sometimes we may not even be actually aware that those parts exist.
Meeting your shadow…
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. It may be (in part) one's link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.”
So, the same question pops up again: Do those dark areas of our personalities actually disappear when we purposefully ignore and repress them?
The answer according to Jung is far more complicated than a simple Yes or No. Jung believed that both the persona and the shadow are essential to each others, and more importantly, to our spiritual growth and development.
He hypothesized that intentionally repressing the dark parts of our personality, might actually do more harm than good, and ultimately hinder our personal growth. His rationale is as follows:
“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
So, according to Jung, repressing the dark side of your personality, known as the shadow, isn’t actually going to make them disappear or be long forgotten. It’s quite the opposite, as repressing those dark sides will eventually force them to present themselves in various destructive ways, or as Jung described: “In an indirect fashion”
So, what can we actually do about it?
According to Jung, the best approach for truly achieving personal and spiritual growth as a human being is completely embracing your dark and shadow self, not repressing or ignoring it.
Spiritual author Connie Zweig says on that matter:
“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)
So basically, our dark side is not only things that we might perceive as ‘socially unacceptable’ like primal sexual desires, but it actually includes a host of a lot more.
Our shadow self, essentially houses all of the emotions, feelings, attitudes, behaviors and actions that we have been continually repressing either consciously or unconsciously.
Some of those feelings or emotions might have been repressed because the pain they have been associated with.
For example, someone might fake a persona of being ‘tough’ while simultaneously repressing their shadow feelings of weakness and vulnerability that stem from a childhood trauma. The result is, in front of the society, that person might truly appear tough and invincible, but inside of them lies a lot of pain and hurting.
By continuing to repress those feelings of inherent weakness, while blowing up the fake persona of strength and emotionlessness, that person is indirectly building up a lot of pain and suffering right inside of them.
Over time, those repressed emotions do not disappear, but they’ll choose to manifest themselves in other fashions, like anger issues, violence, addiction, and so many others.
So, what can I do to embrace my shadow self?
In order to truly achieve spiritual and personal peace and growth, you must be fully transparent with yourself. The first step is sitting down, analyzing and determining the repressed emotions that have been lost for long inside the black hole of your unconscious psyche.
For example, you might start off by asking yourself: Who am I? Who was I before society turned me into the one I am today? What hides behind that fake persona I’ve been nurturing and growing for a long time?
Who am I behind all of those masks?
According to the American psychologist James C. Kaufman, the shadow is actually the source of every kind of creativity, and also represents the ultimate ‘rebel’ against the chains of society. He says:
"In spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity, so that for some, it may be, "the dark side of his being, his sinister shadow... represents the true spirit of life as against the arid scholar".
So, embracing your dark sides will not only help you become a more peaceful, happier and developed person, but you might actually be able to turn that dark side into your favor.
By embracing and accepting all of your dark sides and facing your repressed emotions, you start gaining control over your shadow, instead of the other way around.
And by achieving control over your shadow, you can actually start directing it into your favor, as a source of creativity, as a better way to understand yourself, as a method to identify weakness and vulnerabilities and work on them, or even as a way to make peace with your past and move to the future with a peaceful mind.
I’m sure this has been a dark, intense read. Please take time to pause, think it through at your own pace, and come back to it later.
The key point or realization I want you, the readers, to be aware of after reading this blog post, is that no matter how far you run away from your darkness, you’ll never outrun it.
So, the best approach for your spiritual growth and development, as well as building and maintaining inner-peace is embracing and uniting the two sides of your personality, and using the two, as a whole one piece, to attain a happier, more peaceful life.
Before ending this article, I’m going to quote the legendary Martin Luther King here, and I’ll leave its interpretation to you, the readers *wink wink*
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that…”
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