Dr. Wendy Walsh: Recently I overheard a mother at school gossiping about another mother, who wasn't pulling her weight with her volunteer activities. She was critical about the woman, whom she said rarely participates on any Booster Club teams.
I found this bit of eavesdropping very amusing -- mainly because, although the gossip herself was a visible presence at all PTA meetings back when I was Booster Club president, I'd had a heck of a time getting her to show up at anything that involved actual work. I found it fascinating that the very trait she was criticizing another woman for having was actually alive and well in her own bones.
For psychologists, this phenomenon isn't so strange at all. Carl Jung
was the first to point it out (though Shakespeare probably noticed it long before). Jung was one of Freud's disciples who broke off to form his own theory of personality. He believed that we all hold a piece of our personality -- "the Shadow" -- away from our conscious awareness because it is shameful, ugly and intolerable to us. Even though this Shadow is buried away in our psyche, however, we still look for it everywhere in our environment. We find people who appear to carry pieces of our Shadow, and we point fingers at them: "Look at how awful they are! I hate people like that!" Jungians believe that this judgmental behavior is a weak attempt to get rid of our own shameful Shadow by directing it onto someone else. Christians use the metaphor of the woman caught committing adultery to drive home the same point. (Remember this passage? "He who has not sinned may cast the first stone." That's perfect Jungian thought.)
The point of this blog is twofold. First, it's a reminder to take negative messages with a grain of salt and consider what they say about the people who deliver them. But more importantly, it is a reminder to listen to the negative words that come out of our own mouths. Doing that will tell us much about ourselves.
If left unattended, our Shadows can direct our behavior. Part of the purpose of Jungian psychology is to bring light to the Shadow, so that as we become whole, we learn to accept and control every aspect of our personality. A Shadow left unattended can create some pretty damaging behavior.
What does your Shadow look like?