The Shadow is the name given to those aspects of the unconscious personality which are unlived and undeveloped. The ego complex has denied the dynamics and attributes of the shadow which are therefor repressed and held in the unconscious. The shadow contains the opposite qualities from those which the ego has chosen, for whatever reason, to identify with and express.
Early in the inner journey, which is at root a spiritual quest, the shadow makes itself felt as the opposites collide and seek expression. This is sometimes experienced as a fragmentation and/or inner tension as limiting personality structures are “invaded” by their opposite with some dissolution of the recognized personality. Ultimately we are looking toward a union of opposites for truth itself includes and combines the opposites. We become more whole through integration of the shadow.
Clearly there are some opposites that lend themselves to psychological growth and expansion of the personality and others that can be seen as essential to the spiritual path. All are of value however, one is not higher than another. In combining the opposites we are accepting paradox.
I like very much what Darwin Shaw writes regarding combining certain opposites on the spiritual quest as “working toward integration of our forces and also, paradoxically, striving to give up everything.” He continues: “Combining the opposites is more an attitude than an action: for example, humility and boldness; self effacement while maintaining self-esteem; total detachment and yet love for everything; infinite patience and infinite longing. The ultimate opposite is our being everything and yet nothing.” ( Effort and Grace by Darwin Shaw)
Classically the shadow shows itself at midlife because midlife brings a reversal of the ideals and values cherished in young adulthood. This is the time that deeper questions arise and the values of youth seem illusory and insufficient. In dreams the shadow often appears as figures of the same sex as the dreamer, allowing us to observe and interact with our opposite. For instance a very shy woman might dream of a woman who is bold and extroverted, perhaps the life of the party in the dream. This is her shadow, holding qualities to be added to the recognized values of her introversion.
Archetypal attributes that are opposite can also show up in dreams. For instance this dream of a woman whose spiritual life had developed a one sided attitude of retreat from the world; perhaps initially of value but at the cost of repressing other valuable qualities which it was time for her to recover. The dream: In the loft of a barn there is a long table. At one end sits a queen in a golden cloak, at the other end sits a hermit in brown Franciscan robes. The queen is angry and when they rise to meet the queen throws the hermit out the double doors of the hayloft to the ground below. The queen, a valuable feminine archetype, has claimed her place...how interesting that these archetypes meet in the hayloft of a barn, the home of the instincts!
Seemingly negative shadow aspects can transform and change through acceptance and attention. A very capable woman, an MSW, strongly determined to fight and heal her cancer drew all the shadow figures from her dreams during a period of intensive therapy.
In one dream a very mean nun appeared who strictly enforced her severe rules on a child prohibiting free and creative play.
In a dream soon after, a kind nun invited all the neighborhood children into her home to play freely with her abundance of toys. She is named Sister Rita.
Transformation and differentiation of the shadow are gifts of the inner work.
We can also discover aspects of our shadow through exploring our feelings toward other people. Our negative shadow is projected and held by those we do not like. Our positive shadow is carried by those we admire. Both are easily available for examination.