Shadow Dreams: Everyone Has a Dark Side | Carl Jung
Shadow Dreams | Carl Jung
Shadow in a dream can represent something unknown. Shadow is an unseen area, and “to see” in a dream can symbolize awareness. At its simplest, a shadow is a dark area, and “dark” in a dream can mean bad or wrong. It can symbolize the dark side of people and situations, dark thoughts and feelings. But dark can simply mean unknown or mysterious.
Shadow can symbolize fear, especially when you react with fear to seeing a shadow. The shadow may represent an intangible fear, such as fear of the dark. It can symbolize danger, especially when you run from it.
A shadow is cast by an object blocking light, so it can symbolize living in the shadow of another person, for example, a parent, sibling, or authority figure.
Shadow is a name given to the dark side of the ego, in which case it is capitalized. The ego is the CEO of the psyche, and the psyche is made of structures that interact together. But imagine that some or all of the employees (structures of the psyche) decide to follow a different leader, seduced over to the “dark side.” That they rebel in secret against the ego, and are led by one particularly powerful character. The Star Wars mythology perfectly captures this idea because the Dark Lord, Emperor Palpatine, is in the midst of the good guys the whole time, secretly scheming and dividing people against each other, creating a void he fills to become supreme ruler.
When you do something out of character, especially something that works against the agenda of your ego, you can bet that Shadow is at work. Shadow is known as the Trickster because it’s slippery and misleading. It gets you to work against yourself.
For example, you forget about an important appointment but didn’t really want to go, anyway. You inexplicably fall sick on the day of a test for which you’re unprepared. You get into a car accident on a day when you really don’t want to go to work. Notice in these cases that Shadow makes you act from your true feelings. Ha ha, joke’s on you.
Shadow is why people sabotage their carefully constructed lives, go against their best intentions, or do the wrong thing despite knowing better. Shadow is a rebel, and it steps in when you don’t have the guts to do something yourself. It brings to light everything you don’t want to know about yourself.
Obviously, Shadow can be personally dangerous, especially when it’s totally out of control and influences people and events against you. But the danger is compounded because your personal Shadow connects with the collective Shadow, what we call evil. It’s all too easy to project your Shadow onto other people and hate them for it. And when that happens on a mass scale it leads to horrible tragedies and abuses, such as the Holocaust and slavery. Know your own Shadow and own it, or it will own you.
Shadow Is Not All Bad
However, Shadow is the gateway to the unconscious mind and a tremendous source of creativity. It prepares you for a deeper relationship with your unconscious—a relationship that potentially leads to an inner marriage with your anima or animus. You can think of Shadow as the person who stands up when the minister asks whether anyone objects to this marriage, and says, “Yeah, I do. That fool ain’t ready.”
Shadow usually manifests in dreams as a dark or shifty character, usually a human character with dark skin and dressed in dark clothing, though it can take the form of an animal, monster, or invisible presence. Its face can be blurred or distinct—a blurred face is a hallmark of Shadow because it’s a great way of depicting something that’s missing in your self-awareness, and as you get to know your Shadow it’ll take on more distinction. However, Shadow can take the form of any racial or ethnic group or subgroup: Hispanic, Asian, Italian, Gypsy, Latino, Polish, Russian—any group viewed as threatening or discriminated against.
Shadow’s depiction as a particular race or ethnicity is based on stereotypes, fears, and perception, not on objective reality. Racial and ethnic stereotypes are deeply embedded in most cultures and closely connected with Shadow. It doesn’t matter how enlightened you are, your dreaming mind can draw on these associations to create symbolism.
Shadow is the dream character that helps you work against your interests. It convinces you that something’s OK when it’s really not. It seduces you into doing the wrong thing. It’s the snake in the Garden of Eden that tells you to go ahead and eat the apple. It’s the image in the mirror that points back at you when you wrongly try to blame someone else, and the part of yourself lurking behind the façade, just waiting to burst your bubble.
People who most strongly deny the existence of their Shadow side are often the most strongly in its grip. Think of the evangelist who rails against unmarried sex, then is caught with a prostitute. Or the politician who rails against gays and drugs, then is caught snorting coke off the naked body of a gay lover. They’re victims of their own lack of self-awareness.
As Carl Jung said:
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.