Summary of Meeting the Shadow by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:October 11, 2023

Part 9: Shadow-Work: Bringing Light to the Darkness Through Therapy, Story, and Dreams


Owning the shadow involves confronting it and assimilating its contents into an enlarged self-concept.

The shadow work can begin when we feel constricted in our lives, and when the appeal of our repressed desires is getting louder.

Individuation—the process of a person becoming whole and unique — aims at embracing the light and dark simultaneously to create a constructive relationship between the ego and the self.

Shadow work is built on confessions. You must struggle with your evil and integrate it.

Chapter 50: The Cure of the Shadow by James Hillman

Integrating the shadow is both a moral and love process.

It is moral because it entails:

  • Recognizing what we have repressed
  • How we perform our repressions
  • How we rationalize and deceive ourselves
  • What goals we have and what we have hurt in the name of these goals

Love because it entails:

  • Loving the broken, ruined, disgusting, and perverse parts of ourselves
  • Love for our own weakness and sickness

If you look at it from a “me” perspective, you will be trying to cure the ego. But if you look at it from “these parts” perspective, then the ego will try to integrate these parts into the self.

Loving oneself is no easy matter just because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is inferior and socially so unacceptable.

Integrating your shadow is a paradox: you recognize it as being intolerable, but you still love it.

The first thing you need to do is to be able to carry your shadow with you.

Chapter 51: Tale of a Descent Into Hell by Sheldon B. Kopp

One of Dante’s Divine Comedy interpretations is that the journey to hell and back is an inner journey.

As Dante was looking for a way out of Error, he was blocked by three beasts: malice and fraud, violence and ambition, and incontinence.

Reason appears and leads him out of there, through hell. A panel reads at the entrance: abandon all hope you who enter here.

No patient in psychotherapy can recover his own beauty and innocence without first facing the ugliness and evil in himself.

When a patient complains he wants to be good, but that he can’t help being bad, the job of the therapist is to make him realize that he’s lying. He wants to be bad and uses the “but I want to be good” as an excuse for being bad.

The patient needs to realize his own evil so he can control it rather than being controlled by it.

He’s a bastard who wants to hurt other people while still thinking of himself as a nice guy.

Once he can see how angry he is, he can solve his problem…and actually become nice.

Nothing about ourselves can be changed until it is first accepted.

Jung says you don’t grow out of your neurosis: you learn to bear it.

If we flee from the evil in ourselves, we do it at our hazard. All evil is potential vitality in need of transformation. To live without the creative potential of our own destructiveness is to be a cardboard angel.

Chapter 52: The Belly of the Whale by Joseph Campbell

The idea of transformation is symbolized by being swallowed by a beast (a whale, for example).

You go into the darkest part possible before you can find the light. The idea is self-annihilation – but it’s an inward trip, not an outward one.

In real life, this trip happens in temples. These temples are guarded by big scary statues to scare away those who are not capable of diving deep within themselves.

The passage into a temple is the same as the one into the belly of the beast: a life-renewing act.

No creature, can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist.

Ananda Coomaraswamy

Chapter 53: The Usefulness of the Useless by Gary Toub

2000 years ago, the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu wrote about the virtue of ugly and useless people and things. His idea is that ugly and useless things are left to continue their normal life, while useful things are constantly used for production, help, etc.

This idea is found across other myths. In alchemy, the prima materia was poison, urine, and excrement (the idea was to transform these into gold). In fairy tales, the useless characters eventually turn out to be the hero.

The Taoists like the useless because of two principles: the relativity of value and the principle of polarity (yin and yang). Two opposites are complementary, and can never be separated.

-> if being useful is beneficial, then so is being useless.

If we are to be whole and follow the way of nature, we must pursue the difficult process of embracing the opposites.

Jung thought that overdoing only one aspect of the psyche was dangerous (only working, only socializing, only being serious, only being lazy, etc) and led to neurosis. Jung advised confronting the opposite within oneself.

One of the major ways to integrate our inner opposites is by consciously confronting the shadow—the “dark” part of the personality that contains the undesirable qualities and attributes we refuse to “own.” Facing and owning these attributes is a difficult and painful process, for although the shadow may contain positive elements of the personality, it primarily consists of our inferiorities—primitive, unadapted, and awkward aspects of our nature that we have rejected due to moral, aesthetic, and socio-cultural considerations.

Jung also thought that illness wasn’t necessarily bad, and urged to look for the good, for the message in it.

Eg: depression is a signal from the unconscious to take the road to wholeness.

-> Chuang Tzu explains that to develop our full capabilities, we must become useless to the world.

Otherwise, people will use us and we will be abused and stripped off. Jung also said that individuation came when we developed our unique personalities, which living in communities decreased (Aure’s Note: mimetism).

Now, the more unique we are, the less we can live in society (norms are hard for artists, geniuses, etc).

To achieve wholeness, we must free ourselves from the norms without leaving society completely.

In other words, we should aim at becoming ourselves and bring what we are into the world.

Chapter 54: Working With Women’s Dreams by Karen Signell

Dreams can tell you what’s going on in your shadow so you can be aware of it and act accordingly. When you do, a lot of energy gets released.

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How repressed you are influence how tired you are.

Our upbringing in our family shapes the expectations we have of ourselves and other people.

Sometimes the shadow is so deep in the unconscious that the door should not be opened until one is ready to do so.

Chapter 55: Emergence of the Shadow in Midlife by Janice Brewi and Anne Brennan

The Shadow usually erupts in mid-life as the person has focused on his main personality and didn’t take care of its shadow. Suddenly, everything inside the shadow comes out and needs to be realized.

You have now to integrate these parts of yourself.

This is never done directly. It happens through an intermediary. The opposites unite in a third, a child of both, a symbol of transcendence. The lion and the lamb come together in the Kingdom; black and white come together in grey.

In the first half of life, the shadow grew apart. The second half of life is for the shadow to integrate.

Chapter 56: For the Man at Midlife by Daniel J. Levinson

As a man is increasingly aware of death at mid-life, he developed a creative need to leave something behind.

But to create anything, something else has to be destroyed.

It is necessary that a man recognize and take responsibility for his own destructive capabilities. Even without hostile intentions, he will at times act in ways that have damaging consequences for others.

It’s difficult to accept our capacity for the destruction of both ourselves and others, but it is necessary.

This learning cannot be done by reading a few books or taking a few courses. It is a lifelong journey.

Chapter 57: How to Deal With Evil by Liliane Frey-Rohn

Man’s highest virtues are called upon when he is confronted with evil.

Now, how do you not get destroyed by evil?

You can either educate yourself about it and suppress your own evil.

Or you can integrate it.

Your task to integrate your shadow starts with recognizing both your own evil and good. It’s often to let go of the wish to be good and allow your own evil a certain right to live. Being conscious of your own evil does not make evil stronger, but weaker as you may then control it.

Being aware of the conflict between your two natures is not enough.

You can either:

  • Choose one nature over the other
  • Don’t meddle in the conflict
  • Seek a solution that satisfies both sides.

The solution to the third option is transcendence, that is, resolving the conflict in a higher dimension where it no longer exists.

If a person is successful in detaching himself from identification with specific opposites, he can often see, to his own astonishment, how nature intervenes to help him. Everything depends upon the individual’s attitude.

The fewer principles and identification with good and evil you practice, the better it is. You then reach “beyond good and evil”.

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