Shadow Dreams: Everyone Has a Dark Side | Carl Jung

Shadow Dreams | Carl Jungshadow dreams

Shadow in a dream can represent something unknown. Shadow is an unseen or partially seen 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. This use of the symbolism of shadow in dreams will usually show the dreamer covered in shadow, or something large blocking a source of light.

Jung’s Definition of Shadow of the Ego

shadow viewed in model of the psyche

Shadow is a term given by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to the dark side of the ego, in which case it is capitalized. The diagram above gives an idea of Shadow’s relationship to ego. Look in the upper right. The ego straddles the line between the conscious and unconscious sides of the mind. The more aware and conscious the ego is, the more the line marking the boundary of the conscious mind moves into shadow territory. Think of it like phases of the moon. A person who is highly conscious is like a full moon, no shadow cast onto it. A person with low self-awareness is like a new moon, covered in shadow. Collectively, we live in an age where the average awareness level is just a sliver, a crescent moon. For most people in Western-dominated culture, their ego is mostly in the dark and they are driven by unconscious motives and desires.

The ego is the CEO of the psyche, and the psyche is made of structures that interact together. It’s a collective. 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.” Imagine 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 them against each other, creating a void he fills to become supreme ruler. Dictator. And like in Star Wars, when shadow rules the psyche, the entire galaxy (person) lives in turmoil and pain. George Lucas is a clever storyteller! In Star Wars, he actually created the myth that captures the dynamics of the times in which we live.

The bigger the ego, the bigger its Shadow. Remember that. A strong ego is necessary to strive for what you want in this world, but the strong ego that only serves itself is Shadow personified. It’s dangerous to itself, to others, and to humanity.

Behaviors and Attitudes of Shadow

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 behind the scenes. Shadow is known as the Trickster because it’s slippery and misleading. It gets you to work against yourself.shadow the inner enemy

For example, you forget about an important appointment but didn’t really want to go, anyway. Or, you inexplicably fall sick before a test for which you’re unprepared. Or, you get into a car accident on a day when you really don’t want to go to work. Shadow makes you act unconsciously from your true feelings. Haha, 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.

Shadow 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. Shadow is the mechanism for evil to infiltrate the psyche.

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, slavery, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the US invasion of Iraq. 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, your soul. Shadow is not bad by nature. In fact, it’s necessary. Nature created it as part of the self-regulating psyche. 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 is the protector of your soul, the guardian at the gate, that prevents the ego from fully accessing the beauty and purity within themselves before they are ready.

Shadow is your worst enemy until you come to terms with it and make it respect you. Then it’s your best ally. It watches your back and perceptively picks up on the motives and secrets of other people. The connection Shadow has to the collective Shadow can be extremely valuable. It’ll save your ass!

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. As you get to know your Shadow it’ll take on more distinction. In fact, it will be a distinct character in your dreams, that returns time and again to test and prod warn you. 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 carl jungShadow’s depiction as a particular race or ethnicity is based on stereotypes, fears, and perceptions, 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 to represent your Shadow.

Shadow is the dream character that helps you work against your interests. It convinces you 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.

shadow personality


I'm the author of "Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams," and "The Dream Interpretation Dictionary: Symbols, Sign and Meanings." At I'm known as RadOwl. I began studying dreams in the early 1990s and delved into all major schools of thought, especially the writings of Carl Jung.

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