I once observed that my biggest problem is my mouth — what I put in it and what comes out of it. If I could just bring that organ under control, I’d be in good shape. An old mentor used to remind me to listen to what I was saying. “You’re telling on yourself all the time”, he’d say. “If you will just hear what is coming out of your mouth you’ll learn a lot about yourself”. What I have learned is that what I do with my mouth is very often dictated by a “secondary” or other self.
“Why did I say that?” or “Why, in the world, did I eat that?” (“smoke that?”, “do that?”) These are questions I’ve often asked myself. In such moments I get a glimpse of this “Freudian slippery” side of me that I would rather not own. But after much introspection I have grown acquainted with this dark inner entity. And I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one possessed by such a one. That in fact we all own a similar sub-personality which could be called our dark twin.
I’ve learned that this shadowy part of us is very invested in revealing our discrepancies, denials, and cover-ups. In Jungian terminology it’s called our shadow. The shadow is our dark twin. It’s the part of us that we have spent a tremendous amount of energy trying to repress, even exterminate. We believe it to be not only unacceptable, but despicable. Carl Jung defined the shadow simply as that in us that we most don’t want to be.
And yet it is also often that orphaned part of us that holds the key to wholeness. We cannot learn to love and accept ourselves until we come to terms with this dark twin. Why is that? Because as long as we have condemned any part of us, we will struggle with a sense of inadequacy and/or defectiveness.
We’re each born with a three hundred and sixty degree radius of characteristics. There’s no innate distinction between positive and negative qualities. We simply contain both ends of the continuum (love/hate, control/helplessness, etc). Part of the socialization process is a parental attempt to divide off and then exterminate those attributes considered immoral or wrong. Therefore it is deemed good to share, whereas selfishness is bad and needs to be extricated. It’s wrong to be lazy but it’s right to work hard … and on and on. It’s the only way we know to raise our children to be respectful, self-reliant adults who are able to fit well in society.
But with every act there is a pay-off and a cost. The price for this socialization process is that we become split. The part that has been defined to us as who we are formulates our conscious personality whereas the other, that which has been determined as inferior, forms a sub-personality known as shadow.
The process of judgment, of indicting aspects of ourselves as bad or wrong, leads to condemnation of self and others. Once we’ve denounced something within us, we then banish it from conscious awareness. We relegate it into the dark unconscious where it lives in spite of any illusion to the contrary. This banishment is defined as denial. Denial is the suppression or repression of that in us that we cannot, or do not want, to face.
So we become two selves. The socially acceptable self and our unacceptable twin, who has been relegated to live in the dark basement of our being. It consists of all those qualities we want to disclaim. This dark one skulks behind, very much like our own physical shadow. It trails along, awaiting the opportunity to show itself. Like an abandoned, neglected child it starves for recognition. It sometimes is small and barely visible, if seen at all. At such times it causes little or no trouble. But then at other times, it leaps out in front, bigger than life, and devours everything in its path.
Carl Jung observed that a person who denies their shadow is indeed a dangerous agent. Having convinced themselves that they don’t have any inferior qualities, they then project their unacceptable qualities onto others. Called projection, it is the often practiced act of hating in someone else that which we don’t want to see in ourselves. It’s a lot easier to feel self righteous and condemning over the faults of another rather than see those same flaws in ourselves.
Whenever you find yourself having a huge negative reaction to someone, you’re being given the opportunity to encounter your own projected dark twin. It doesn’t mean that person is not as unfit, irresponsible, controlling, etc. as you think. It does mean that you wouldn’t be reacting with such vehemence if you weren’t recognizing, in them, something unclaimed of your own. Of course, those qualities you have judged as abhorrent in your antagonist may not be as obvious in you, simply because you have exerted such unconscious effort in repressing them! Such people who trigger us might be called our “good enemy”, because they present us with an opportunity to make conscious denied aspects of ourselves.
I’ll share a personal example. I have had a propensity for getting involved with wheedling, demanding people only to end up feeling sucked dry. Since I know how shadow works, it became evident that I needed to own what I’d disclaimed, and was therefore projecting. So I did some self-guided imagery. The part of me I found in the damp dark cellar of my interior was one I have come to call “Gollum”. I call her after a character from Tolkein’s trilogy Lord of the Rings. In the story, Gollum is a black slithering creature that has stolen the king’s precious ring and taken it into a cave. There it guards over its stolen possession with a miserable kind of jealousy. From this imagery I determined that Gollum represents the needy, possessive part of me that might want to claim another’s precious essence. Overtly, I have spent my life demonstrating just the opposite. I’ve been independent and self reliant. But my inner Gollum was demonstrating an unclaimed needy and demanding part of me … personal qualities I’d banished long ago as repulsive and unlovable. The challenge is to accept -not become- that disclaimed part. In my case, owning my Gollum might well mean that I stop attracting needy people into my life.
“Acting out” is another way the shadow shows itself in our lives. Abuse of alcohol or drugs for instance, is often a shadow’s performance. Addiction of any kind, is the result of that which has been denied. It is an accumulation of self-condemnation which has hardened into a lifestyle of obsessive-compulsive escape.
I’ve had clients ask me why I think they would even need to deal with such a repugnant part of themselves. after all, wouldn’t it be better to leave it in the closet where it belongs? The answer, once again, goes back to understanding that what we don’t claim, dominates us. Ancient wisdom tells us that what ever within is ignored or disowned rules over us! Until we bring our inner despised and feared renegade into the light of consciousness and assume responsibility for it, it will continue to dominate us. We must “embrace” the dark twin within if we would hope to gain freedom from it. I’m not talking about giving-in to or loving it, simply accepting that it is a part of us.
There are other ways, besides addiction or compulsivity in which we act out our shadow. A “slip of the tongue” is a way this repressed orphan has of making known where we really stand on a topic. Rageful outbursts may be the shadows way of “busting out” after a sustained period of stuffing feelings. If we are living in deception of any kind, this troublesome twin will set about to expose the lie.
Once a woman of “new age” mentality was bragging about having no fear. She came across as quite superior to those of us who hadn’t achieved such an “enlightened” state. Later that day, there was a commotion outside the pavilion. We all ran to see what the hullabaloo was about, only to find this same woman in a total screaming panic. She was desperately trying to disentangle from an overgrown, but very friendly pup. “He’s attacking me! Get him off, he’s going to kill me!”, she demanded, in obvious terror, as he licked and tail-wagged himself all over her. Apparently there was a denied “self” in her that was very afraid … at least of dogs.
So how can we begin to know who this inner dark twin is? Especially if we’re not even conscious of it. Because it’s true, few people are aware that they have another and darker side. The shadow making formula goes like this:
Self judgment and condemnation =denial.(J+C=D)
Wherever there is negative judgment or condemnation there will be denial. Denial rides hard and fast on the coat-tails of judgment. This is because it’s too painful to acknowledge what we consider to be inferior personal attributes, so we simply disavow them. This creates an inner rift. The denied material becomes an “opposite” or “polarized” self. Wha-la! Our shadow twin is born!
So it’s not a matter of “if” I have a shadow, rather it’s who is that illusive, slippery fella’ in me? And how do I bring it into the light?
The willingness to give up denial is a good start. The only way to embrace this unloved twin is through concession. Surrender to win. It’s one of those paradoxes of which life abounds. Willingness to let go of judging that self as some kind of evil internal outlaw is another requirement. If we’re going to heal the breach between our conscious and unconscious selves, we must stop condemning.
Recognizing those who trigger us is a good way to begin to recognize our dark twin. We might think about listing the troublesome characteristics of contenders and then own those as repressed and unlovable potentialities of our own. Very often our shadow twin will show itself in dreams as that unknown dark figure of same gender. Once we decide to acknowledge our dark twin, we begin to see it all around … in our compulsions, dreams, slips of the tongue, and in that person, who triggers such an ill-response in us. Being willing to embrace our own inner darkness brings authenticity. And because we are no longer running from that untoward part of ourselves, we are finally whole.