In recent newsletters I discussed the concept of the
and the benefits of
. This month I'd like to explore with you "collective shadow."
Shadow, according to Carl Jung, is the tendency for the ego (i.e., the conscious personality) to deny or repress traits which the individual finds intolerable in him or herself. These could be negative qualities such as dishonesty, rage, narcissism, etc. Or they could be positive ones, such as assertiveness, independence, boldness, etc. The particular types of traits that are disavowed are largely a product of in early childhood conditioning by family, friends, teachers and others,
Jung developed the idea of archetypal or collective shadow in trying to understand the rise of virulent nationalism in Europe during World War I and later the emergence of fascism in Germany. He wondered, how is it possible for a civilized, rational and highly cultured nation to succumb to such barbarism, brutality and bigotry as unleashed by the Nazis?
Jung reasoned that, just as the unrecognized, repressed shadow elements of an individual can burst forth in
and destructive ways, so too can a society suddenly express long-denied
Collective shadow is at work in any socioeconomic group, society or nation whenever its members blindly believe in their moral righteousness, superiority or entitlement. Further, there is a tendency for them to project onto other groups the beliefs, ideas, emotions and behaviors that they are taught to condemn in themselves. The result is tribal ("us" versus "them") divisiveness and distrust.
Today we can see collective shadow projections in many forms of prejudice and discrimination: racism, sexism, homophobia, nativism, religious intolerance, etc. Not to mention the ongoing political polarization in which one side of the ideological divide is practically demonized by the other.
The shadow itself does not cause harm. Rather it is the unwillingness to see and acknowledge it that leads to its being acted out destructively. We see the shadow manifest in our society as fear, greed, corruption, narcissism, power over, sexual abuse, selfishness and indifference to suffering. Consider how celebrities and politicians often embody our collective shadow traits, both positive and negative. And notice how easy it is for famous people to "fall from grace" in the eyes of the public. (For example, Bill Cosby, who transformed from the "good father" to "sexual monster" almost overnight.)
Jung advised: "The psychology of the individual is reflected in the psychology of the nation. What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual continues to do it, the nation will do likewise. Only a change in the attitude of the individual can initiate a change in the psychology of the nation."
So the collective healing begins with each one of us, in your openness to examine unconscious shadow material. A good place to start is to look at your prejudices, the ways you project onto groups through stigmatizing, stereotyping and blaming. What groups provoke the strongest feelings in you? What attitude do you hold when referring to "them"? What traits do you most judge or condemn? Maybe it's dishonesty, hypocrisy, addiction, promiscuity, violence, laziness or abnormality? These are your projections and its necessary to take ownership of them.
To become conscious of our personal shadow -- especially as it pertains to groups with which we identify -- will contribute to the overall consciousness of the collective. And that transparency couldn't come at better time, as the nation and the world face the threats of global pandemic and economic and environmental collapse.