Stress, anger, and our shadow

Where do we put all those parts of ourselves that we wish we didn’t have? When we feel angry, or jealous, or greedy, how do we manage those feelings? Carl Jung suggested the concept of the shadow as a way of understanding how we can reject parts of ourselves. Continuing to ignore these disowned aspects of our make-up can often be at the root of our anxiety, stress, or anger issues.


What is the shadow?

In Jungian psychology, the shadow holds those parts of ourselves that we would rather not exist. For example, perhaps as a child, you may have always flown into fits of rage when you were told that you had to share your toys. Your care-givers or teachers may have told you this is wrong, and quite rightly, as this behaviour would not be tolerated as an adult in civil society. You learned to repress that part of yourself and to push down that urge to scream and shout if someone took something of yours. You learned that other people thought it was better to share, and you decided on some level that you would not allow yourself to react like that again so that you would not be rejected by others. Your possessive aspect is now relegated into your shadow, and you may not feel the stirrings of this trait for many years.

The same could apply to feeling jealous, sad, selfish, weak, lonely, needy, or any other trait that we might be told is not pleasant or desirable to others. We create a self that is pleasing to others, that we think will serve us, that doesn’t include some of the more troubling elements. We can learn to repress these elements to the point where we may not even recognise them as a part of us, as they are thoroughly disowned. We do not know these parts of ourselves - they are so out of line with the sense of self we have created.

Me and my shadow

These 'darker', or 'other' aspects of ourselves can remain out of the light for some time, but there are several ways in which we can begin to run into our own shadow. Those aspects that we have come to not know about ourselves are still there but are now influencing our lives and our actions from the unconscious instead. It could be in the devout person who professes to have given their lives to the needy, who doesn’t recognise their own desperate need to be needed. Or perhaps the serial monogamist who insists that it is each partner in turn who makes the relationship untenable. Or even the teacher who is driven by a need to have superior knowledge - not by sharing it among others.

Bumping into ourselves

Of course, we cannot truly run away from ourselves, and so we continually bump into our shadows. Usually, any encounter with our shadow is accompanied by a burst of energy, so much so that it can feel as if it is external to ourselves. This might be explained by the amount of energy it has taken to repress these aspects over the years, remaining pent up and creating a pressure cooker of sorts. This unexpressed energy can lead to a build of stress, anger, or anxiety.

If you find yourself experiencing extreme stress or anxiety in reaction to someone or something that, probably sometime after the event, you can recognise as being way out of proportion, this could mean you have bumped into your shadow. Let’s return to our child who was always told they should share and never take things as their own. As an adult, maybe they now find themselves enraged when they witness a colleague in the thrust of fulfilling their ambitions. They scream inwardly 'I hate people who think they can just take whatever they want!', 'how dare they!', 'I would never promote myself like that!'. Somewhere in that thought is the question - why not? Why is it wrong to ask for what you deserve, even if it means it is only for you? Why does that feel selfish?

Meeting your shadow

Those unconscious shadow-drives that are creating our agendas and influencing our actions can begin to create anxiety and depression as we go through our lives increasingly at odds with our true selves. We are distant from our own needs, and cannot find true fulfilment when we only allow the parts of our selves that we believe are acceptable to others. We cannot improve our self-esteem when we cannot accept these natural and human elements of our psyche. We cannot let go of our anger we projected onto others if we don’t express our pent-up energy.

In the true light of adulthood, if we dare to look at what we hold in our shadow, we can often come to see that it is much less dark than we thought. One could find that being ambitious is not the same as being selfish, as long as it is balanced with your other compassionate attributes. The teacher can spend their energy writing a bestseller on their subject of expertise, and no longer need to use their pupils to help them feel superior. The devout person may find a way to enable the needy to help themselves, instead of needing to keep returning to them.

Meeting your shadow aspects can feel like an impossible challenge, but in doing so, you open up the opportunity to live a fully expressed life and improve your self-worth and relationships in untold ways.   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Looe PL13 & Bristol BS9
Written by Jodi Pilcher Gordon, BACP Accredited, Online Integrative Counsellor
Looe PL13 & Bristol BS9

Jodi Pilcher Gordon is a qualified counsellor who works with adult individuals in Bristol.

She specialises in helping clients with anxiety and depression to allow themselves to embrace a more authentic and fulfilling life.

To book an appointment, please get in contact:

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