Summary of Meeting the Shadow by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams

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  • Post last modified:October 11, 2023
Meeting the shadow book cover

Short Summary: 2 min

Summary: 1h

Book reading time: 8h09

Score: 9/10

Book published in: 1991

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  • The shadow is a part of the subconscious that contains the repressed behaviors, habits, traits of character, desires, and potentialities. We’re not aware of the shadow’s content.
  • The shadow is formed during our childhood when we’re told not to enact certain behaviors and feelings said to be shameful, dangerous, or forbidden, which we subsequently repress.
  • The rest of our life should be focused on integrating the shadow once we reach 20 years old.
  • We can recognize what’s inside our shadows in that these things annoy us when other people do them.
  • The shadow expresses itself through projection. We project (imagine) onto people the things we repress ourselves from doing.
  • You integrate your shadow when you make it conscious. You do so by paying attention to what angers you in other people, by doing dream analysis, therapy, or writing exercises.
  • The shadow is an archetypal Jungian concept.

Table of Contents

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What Meeting the Shadow Talks About

Meeting the Shadow is a book written by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. It’s a collection of essays taken from other pieces of literature and assembled into one book to describe, explain, and show what the shadow (as defined by Jung) is, how to spot it, how to integrate it, and how to own it.

This book was both long and hard to read. But it’s good, really, really good, as it approaches the shadow from a lot of different viewpoints which enables its understanding.

You do need some prerequisites to understand it, so I have made the following illustration for you to look at. It is the mind according to Jung and Freud.

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The mind according to Jung.

The only things that aren’t there are the persona and the animus/anima. The persona is the fake personality we put on in society (your “work self”, your “school self”, etc).

Here’s the definition of the animus/anima from ChatGPT, edited by yours truly.

The anima and animus represent the unconscious, inner feminine, and masculine aspects within each person. These archetypes are part of the collective unconscious and are derived from our experiences with the opposite sex, cultural influences, and personal experiences.

The anima represents the inner feminine within every man. It comprises qualities and attributes such as sensitivity, intuition, and nurturing. The anima influences a man’s relationships with women. That is, a well-integrated anima leads to emotional maturity and a greater understanding of the self. A poorly integrated anima can result in emotional instability or difficulty relating to women.

The animus is the same thing but for women. It represents the inner masculine aspect within women, such as assertiveness, rationality, and ambition. The animus influences women’s relationships with men and their ability to assert themselves. A well-integrated animus contributes to women’s sense of empowerment and self-confidence while a poorly integrated animus leads to aggression, domineering behavior, or an overly critical attitude.

Women should strive to integrate their animus and men, to integrate their anima.

I give this book a 9 because there were some parts we could have easily done without.

Get the book here!

Short Summary of Meeting the Shadow

The shadow is the part of the unconscious that contains everything we repress in ourselves. When we’re born, we’re born whole.

As the years pass, we learn that there is a wealth of behaviors and thoughts that are not allowed in society.

We repress these into the shadow.

The peculiarity is that we are not aware of it. Once we do become aware of some of the shadow’s parts, we integrate them into ourselves.

Integrating the shadow is important if we want to become whole. Also, not everything in the shadow is negative (we assume that it’s negative because most of our repressed desires are negative, like killing, stealing, etc).

The bigger our shadow, the smaller our conscious self, and the less energy we have. Integrating our shadow (which contains also our darkest and most evil desires and impulsions) frees creative energy and enables us to plainly enjoy all of our potentials.

The shadow manifests itself through projection and “involuntary behaviors”. Projecting is accusing people of doing (or having the intention of doing) that which you repress. Eg: if you can’t stand dishonest people, you’re likely repressing your own potential for dishonesty.

Involuntary behaviors are often repressed desires that our shadows express outside of our consciousness. Eg: you have a desire for hurting people which you repress, so you unconsciously and indirectly hurt them then come to complain they don’t like you while it is in fact you who haven’t integrated your desire to hurt them.

Integrating your shadow starts with you realizing and accepting your dual nature of good and evil, of builder and destroyer. Integration comes down to going beyond this duality and maintaining them both within yourself as the tension they create enables you to do great things.

You can do so by:

  • Paying attention to the things in others you emotionally react out of proportion to – these are things you are likely repressing in yourself.
  • Paying attention to your dreams and carry dream analysis.
  • Asking people for a complete description of who you are and comparing that description with how you see yourself (the things they see and you don’t see are likely repressed).
  • Writing exercises.
  • Therapy.
  • Paying attention to your own repressed thoughts and desires.

It’s important to begin the integration process as soon as possible as a repressed shadow will “explode” at mid-life if left unintegrated. That’s the mid-life crisis.

While individuals have shadows, families, villages, countries, and cultures have shadows too. When a country is arming itself to prepare for defense in case another country attacks it, they are projecting their own desire for attack onto the other country (Eg: Iraq).

A country can get to know its shadow thanks to comedy, which is one of the most gentle ways to shed consciousness on our unconscious desires and impulsions.

Summary of Meeting the Shadow Written by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams


The author explains she went through a life crisis in her forties. She “suddenly” became the exact opposite of who she was. Her shadow had revealed itself.

Introduction: The Shadow Side of Everyday Life

We all contain a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde inside us. Under our nice persona lies another one that contains negative emotions like rage, jealousy, shame, lying, resentment, lust, greed, suicidal and murderous tendencies.

This is the personal shadow. It develops naturally in every young child.

When we learn about sympathy and generosity, we seek to embody these qualities (the ego) while burying down meanness and greed (the opposite, the shadow).

Jung believed that the ego and the shadow could not be dissociated from one another.

Our environment teaches us what is permitted and what isn’t, hence shaping the shadow.

All the feelings and capacities that are rejected by the ego and exiled into the shadow contribute to the hidden power of the dark side of human nature.

However, the shadow does not only contain negative traits. It also contains our emotional attachments, neurotic symptoms, and undeveloped talents.

We can’t look directly into the shadow as the unconscious cannot be conscious.

We can only see it through projection: when we hate or love something in other people up to being overtaken, we may be in contact with a part of our shadow. We see this quality in other people to avoid seeing it in ourselves.

If the person onto which we project the quality enjoys that quality, a connection is established.

image 2
When you spot something from your own shadow in somebody else, and you project that thing onto that other person who enjoys it, a connection happens.

The shadow (…) represents those characteristics that the conscious personality does not wish to acknowledge and therefore neglects, forgets, and buries, only to discover them in uncomfortable confrontations with others.

The shadow appears in a lot of different ways:

  • Our exaggerated feelings about others: “OMG did you see what she was wearing?”
  • In negative feedback we give others.
  • In the effect we have on other people: “We all feel you’re not very nice” -> likely true.
  • In our impulsive acts: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that”.
  • In situations where we feel humiliated.
  • In our anger about people’s fault
  • In our humor which expresses our inferior, hidden, or feared emotions.

People who lack a sense of humor have a highly repressed shadow.

In the latter, we find ourselves brand new hobbies and hidden talents.

Our shadow often comes up during strong emotions (anger, shame, etc) or in mid-life. In the former case, it quickly disappears as this is traumatizing for the ego -> people are often in denial about their shadow desires.

In the modern world, we observe the human shadow every day in the media since they report on the worst behaviors – this is the collective shadow. It includes all of the dark and unacknowledged parts of a group’s identity, such as its prejudices, fears, and destructive impulses.

While most people live their lives honestly, some do not. When they become the point of focus of negative projections, the collective shadow transforms into a scapegoat mechanism (causing genocides).

The shadow has been represented across cultures as monsters, dragons, sharks, etc.

Revealing the dark side of human nature has been, then, one of the primary purposes of art and literature.

We give form to the shadow through art (or media such as movies) to attempt some sort of control over it, which explains why we’re glued to stories of wars and destruction -> why scary or violent movies are so popular.

The two other types of shadows are the family and the biological. The family shadow is the sum of the repressed unconscious of members of a family. And the biological shadow is the violent defensive instincts the primate in us still has.

In the past, human beings acknowledged the shadow. The Greeks, for example, celebrated it with the god Dionysus. Today, the shadow is embodied into Satan and banished. The idea of the shadow itself is repressed.

The maxim “nothing to excess” is famous in our society, but we can hardly apply it. To many people, their excessive cravings or needs are pushed into the shadow, or expressed as the shadow.

Eg: overeating because really hungry.

We see the growth of shadow excess in our society everywhere:

  1. Hunger for knowledge and domination of nature (alliance of tech and capitalism).
  2. A self-righteous compulsion to help and cure others.
  3. Maximization of business growth
  4. Materialistic hedonism (conspicuous consumption)
  5. Extreme fear of death

Owning the Shadow

The purpose of meeting the shadow is to develop a relationship with it to tap into our unconscious potential. When we do, we can:

  • Accept ourselves
  • Defuse negative emotions
  • Not feeling guilty for our negative actions and thoughts
  • Heal our relationships
  • Use our creative imagination

Part 1: What Is the Shadow

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.


Everything with substance casts a shadow. The ego stands to the shadow as light to shade.

The shadow is not all negative, it is only negative from the consciousness point of view (because it is unconscious). The shadow is whatever you put inside, whatever character you repress, which can also be moral values, for example.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.

Therapy for Jung was a process through which the shadow was tamed and integrated into the main personality to prevent it from wreaking havoc in one’s life. Dealing with the shadow remains an individual experience that can be tremendously transformative.

Jung spoke of different archetypes (an archetype is a pre-determined structure in the unconscious):

  • The self (the psychological center)
  • The anima/animus (the perfect representation of the opposite sex)
  • The shadow

Chapter 1: The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us by Robert Bly

We don’t invent things, we just remember.

Children have a “360° personality”. As they grow up, they realize their parents don’t like everything about their personality, and they have to put these things in their shadow (their bag).

By the time they turn 20 years old, the bag is filled with the things adults and society said were not ok.

Whatever we put into the bag regresses with time. If you put your sexuality there for 20 years and then open the bag again, you find something violent and primitive.

Every part of our personality we don’t love will become hostile to us.

These parts of ourselves we put into the bag may reappear some years later as we project them onto a symbol (Eg: a happy, young couple).

The bigger the bag, the less energy we have. Things like sexuality for men and masculinity for women take away lots of energy once put into the bag.

Communities and towns also have a bag.

Chapter 2: The Evolution of the Shadow by Edward C. Whitmont

The term shadow refers to that part of the personality which has been repressed for the sake of the ego ideal.

The shadow is unconscious and everything unconscious is projected, so we encounter the shadow in how we view other people.

It’s like a filter we don’t even know we have.

The shadow qualities can be observed by other people but we’re not aware we have them as they go against the ego’s interest.

The shadow is projected into two forms: individually (people we consider evil) and the Enemy (the personification of evil).

The shadow is a constituent of ego development. It is a product of the split which comes about through establishing a center of awareness.

Realizing that the negative qualities we project onto other people come from our shadows can be destabilizing. Realizing our own evil too.

The shadow is the door to our individuality and unconscious. As a result, we must get to know it and confront it to start a path toward individuality – we must integrate it.

The shadow does not only contain negative aspects.

If you don’t have self-esteem, that’s because you pushed it into your shadow – your shadow becomes hence positive.

When we refuse to face our shadow, we will project it onto our world even more. This isolates us, as we have no relation with the actual world but with our own shadow. People with this problem say stuff such as “if only I was understood”.

image 3
We project our shadow onto the world and doing so, no longer see the world, but only our shadow. We’re stuck in a relationship with no one but ourselves.

They then adapt their behavior to the way they believe the world is and people actually end up hating them.

Once we see a shadow quality, the ego usually denies it so we don’t feel the need to enact it again. This repression or denial of the shadow necessarily leads to health problems.

The alternative to repression is to embrace your shadow with discipline: acknowledge your darker instincts, and control them (Aure’s Note: what Peterson means when he says “transform yourself into a monster”.)

Chapter 3: What the Shadow Knows: an Interview With John A. Sanford by D. Patrick Miller

The early Christian tradition recognized the shadow. It recognized that one could do evil by wanting to do good and the other way around.

Knowing this (good and evil) made you suffer, but it also made you extremely powerful (the story of Eden).

This interpretation got lost with time and people began to only identify with “the good” without the shadow.

Then the Church banned the fantasies of doing evil in the Middle Ages, which pushed the shadow further down our subconscious.

People started to do horrible things while claiming they were doing them for the sake of “the good”. Striving to be pure goodness doesn’t work because it becomes a self-deception about goodness – you develop a persona, it’s not the real you.

Dr. Jekyll wanted to be Hyde, but he couldn’t for society’s sake.

The enemy isn’t the shadow, but the ego, since the ego put what it didn’t like into the shadow.

The shadow has a bad reputation because the ego projects what it considers evil onto it. But the shadow isn’t bad per se.

When the shadow is bad, the question is: what’s the line that splits it from evil? The Christians feared the existence of evil beyond the ego (Eg: Nazi Germany).

You can spot evil with the feeling function, the impression you have about something.

We’re constantly influenced by our consciousness, but the ego makes us unaware of that.

The nature of the shadow depends on the nature of the ego. In most cases, people unconsciously call on those that will help them integrate their shadow.

Eg: a loner boy will have a bunch of guys coming to torment him until he explodes in rage and gets into a fistfight -> this helps for shadow integration. The behavior of the loner calls on the mean boys.

Integrating a shadow is not to be taken lightly, it’s better to do it in therapy than in real life.

Chapter 4: The Shadow in History and Literature by Anthony Stevens

Stories about the fear of being possessed have always fascinated us (Dracula, etc). Faust is one of them. Faust overdeveloped his intellectual side of himself and locked away a lot of his Self-potential as a result. Instead of slowly integrating his shadow, he becomes possessed by it.

The stories of Faust, Jekyll, and Adam are the same: a man, bored, ignores the Supergo and decides to liberate the Shadow, encounters the Anima, gets to know her and lives. But they all go too far.

The anxiety this story creates stems more from a fear of letting the evil get out of control than being caught for enacting it. Eg: Frankenstein.

Freud thought all repression was sexualized and his work participated in the integration of that part of the Shadow. But sex is not all, and the parts that remain repressed are the lust for power and destruction.

We are in a unique moment in history; if we do not recognize these parts of ourselves, we may simply self-annihilate.

Chapter 5: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by John A. Sanford

Jekyll, once he transformed into Hyde, was surprised to see his power for destruction. He will describe Hyde as “pure evil”.

As he voluntarily acts like Hyde for a while and does evil things, Jekyll will turn evil too. As Jung said, “we become what we do” -> acting out your shadow isn’t necessarily a good thing to do.

At some point, Jekyll promises he will not be Hyde ever again. But his shadow has grown too strong.

Jekyll became Hyde because he didn’t want to suffer from the tension of the two within him. He didn’t want to integrate Hyde alongside his good side. So he succumbed to it.

Carrying the opposite is like a crucifixion. But in such a state, the grace of God (the Self) can operate and reconcile the two. Such is more of feminine nature as the rational logical male mind thinks two opposites can never reconcile while the feminine mind feels that it can.

There is no woman in Jekyll’s story -> when we succumb to the shadow, our feminine side succumbs too.

Chapter 6: The Realization of the Shadow in Dreams by Marie-Louise von Franz

When the individual sees the shadow, he denies those impulses in himself but he can see them in other people (laziness, cowardice, destruction, etc).

When you feel enormous rage when someone reproaches you about something, that thing is a part of your shadow. That is, the reproach someone is making to you is one you’re making to yourself – unconsciously.

The shadow appears in dreams as someone from the same gender as the dreamer.

It becomes hostile only when ignored or misunderstood.

Chapter 7: Finding the Shadow in Daily Life by William A. Miller

There are five ways to get to know the shadow:

  1. Asking others how they perceive us.
  2. Paying attention to our projections.
  3. Paying attention to our “slips” of tongue and behavior.
  4. Considering our humor and our identifications.
  5. Studying our dreams, daydreams, and fantasies.

Asking others how they perceive us

Bring someone whose self-delusion is clear and offer to tell them how you see them if they tell you how they see you.

Often, people don’t want to do that as they’d rather not know how people see them since it would clash with how they view themselves.

People that know us well are best suited to give us feedback, but these are the people we are attached to the most. It’d be easier to get feedback from a stranger – but they don’t know who we are.

In any way, whatever feedback you receive about a quality you’re surprised about is a part of your shadow, and you should investigate it further.

Examining Our Projections

When a shadow trait is activated, we tend to see it in other people but not in ourselves – we project it.

A projection can be both negative and positive (but it’s negative most of the time).

By examining which traits we don’t like in other people, we can uncover parts of our shadow.

The best way to do that is to list things you cannot stand in other people. That list will be a good idea of what your shadow looks like.

The more the reaction to something you don’t like is excessive and irrational, the higher the chance it’s a part of your shadow.

The same goes for our positive traits. We may see high sympathy in someone who isn’t in fact particularly sympathetic. That’s the Halo Effect.

Paying Attention to Our “Slips” of Tongue and Behavior

Eg: “omg sorry, this isn’t what I meant”. The shadow, to some extent, is something we’d like to be that we wouldn’t dare. Investigate when this happens.

Considering Our Humor and Identification

Humor is often a manifestation of shadow truth.

People who deny their shadow find very few things funny.

The reason why we laugh when people fall is that it allows our shadow sadism to express itself.

By looking at what you find funny, you can get to know your shadow better.

Studying Our Dreams, Daydreams, And Fantasies

The shadow in our dream is someone of the same sex we often don’t want to get to know too much.

Most of us avoid it in the dream, but we should instead confront it if we hope to understand it better.

Part 2: Shadow Making: Forming the Disowned Self in the Family


We all have a psychological heritage to deal with that takes the form of problems our parents have been unable to deal with.

The family is where we begin to develop an identity and character – aka ego development.

The ego develops by identifying what it should develop and what it should repress, thereby creating the shadow, its mirror.

While unseen, the shadow exists and may erupt (in extreme anger, for example) from time to time.

We can see children’s shadow formation by looking at them acting out and self-correct their behavior when need to (or not, when adults intervene).

Generally, children stop doing what we tell them is wrong. Now, when children feel they can’t do anything right, they will behave in an unacceptable way and will become a scapegoat for the shadow projections of others: the black sheep. The child then carries the family’s shadow.

Parents who don’t assume their shadow reject its burden on their children.

Chapter 8: Creating the False Self by Harville Hendrix

Parents use different ways to repress thoughts, feelings, and behaviors:

  1. Clear-cut directives: “big boys don’t cry”.
  2. Scolding, threatening, and spanking.
  3. (In)validation: choosing to see and reward certain things and not others.

These have a big impact on children. They react in different ways when doing forbidden things.

  1. Hiding: the child does and says what he wants when his parents are away.
  2. Self-policing: the child comes to conclude that some things should not be done or said, and create an imaginary parent that polices them (superego). The child self-represses -> loss of wholeness.
  3. False-self creation: to fill the void, the child creates a persona. Eg: if he doesn’t feel his parents love him, he creates a “tough guy” persona who “doesn’t need love”. Another child might react the opposite way: “poor me, come help me!” The purpose of the false self is to minimize the pain due to the loss of wholeness.

At some point, the child is wounded for embodying his false-self persona because it has negative traits.

The child is in a dilemma. He needs his protection but he also wants to be loved and accepted. So he disowns the parts of the false self that others don’t like, which become…the disowned self.

Let’s summarize.

  1. Lost self: the repressed parts due to the demands of society.
  2. False self: the persona created to fill the void of the lost self.
  3. Disowned self: the parts of the false self that are negative.
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The self.

Chapter 9: Rejection and Betrayal by Robert M. Stein

Let’s see what happens when children are hurt by betrayal and disillusionment.

This happens when the transition from wholeness to real-life relationships does not go well.

This happens when a mother forces herself to remain all-nourishing (positive) while her child is old enough to experience a “more real” mother (negative, the one that denies the child what he should be denied).

The child has the choice between remaining a child forever, or demanding whatever he wants (becomes spoiled).

He will neither be encouraged nor praised for making efforts.

Whenever the child gets close to someone, he will do something that will make him rejected.

Why? Because the child does not understand the difference between the soul and the shadow, he thinks they’re the same.

When someone gets to know your self, you believe that this person is getting to know your shadow.

You ask for the redemption of the guilt you feel due to your shadow elements which you mistake for your whole being.

To solve this problem, you need to understand the difference between your shadow and your whole being, and integrate your shadow.

Chapter 10: The Underside of the Mother-Daughter Relationship by Kim Chernin

The simultaneous need to give their daughter everything they have while feeling envious of them and resentful for the paid price is one of mothers’ paradoxes.

Envy of her child is a difficult emotion to feel and admit for a mother who constantly lives in the ambivalence of envying someone they also love.

Yet daughters feel that and it troubles them. They force themselves to be happy with the sacrifice their mothers made while being persuaded they did not make any sacrifices.

Chapter 11: Parenting and Your Child’s Shadow by John A. Sanford

To grow up well, children should identify with their egos, not their shadows. Moralistic preaching is often useless, when not damaging.

Bonding between a child and his parents is important as it enables the development of a moral life which is the capacity to relate to other people’s feelings.

When the bonding does not take place, the child cannot defend against the dark forces of his shadow.

This leads the ego to identify with the shadow, and the person becomes a criminal.

Of course, the total repression of the shadow is not good either, a balance should be stricken out.

Eg: “big boys don’t get angry”. This is not good to say, as anger is often a healthy emotion.

“It is understandable to get angry but you cannot hit people” is better.

It is also important that parents not punish children with rejection. (…) The worst is certainly the withholding of affection and approval in order to control their behaviour. When that happens children get the message that they are bad; moreover, they are responsible for mother’s or father’s ill-humor, and this leads to feelings of guilt and self- rejection.

Children victims of withdrawal of affection become people-pleaser which further splits the shadow.

To deal with the shadow of a child, parents need to be in touch with their own.

In the end, the education of a child should be balanced, neither too restrictive nor too permissive. The child needs to learn to contain his own instincts for destruction.

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