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What aspects of other people's behaviours or personality irritate you?

In clinic, I sometimes see patterns with some of my clients. The content will invariably be different; however, the patterns are the same. They are seeking perfection; this perfection can take various forms. Some are concerned that they are not ready to face the world, as their looks or physique are not matching their ideal. Others want absolute mastery of their profession. I find some are serial learners or recovering academics. For others it’s status, or financial attainment. For others, it’s the search for the perfect partner. The list goes on.

If we play a thought experiment, and I ask them if they could be any animal, what would they like to be. Although the animals are different, ranging from eagles, leopards, and other big cats, sitting underneath this is the fundamental desire to liberation. Hold that thought.

How does this relate to the shadow side? What is the shadow side? Carl Jung said: ‘The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.’

So, what happens, is that there is an unattainable grasping towards a different self and a concealing of certain parts of us that we do not want to expose to others. It’s very tiring business.

If we ask questions like:

What parts of you would you prefer not to think about?

Do certain people or their behaviour create a negative reaction in you?

Do you sometimes, find yourself acting in ways that are out of character, for you?

Do sometimes have inexplicable, emotional responses, such as rage, fear or envy?

Our shadow sides, usually germinate from past experiences, trauma, or social conditioning on what is acceptable in a world of ‘shoulds and woulds.’ These shadow parts of us, we may dis-own, suppress, or disassociate from, but they linger. Jung intimated that the shadow side is the unknown dark side of our personality. That is why we can be critical to these parts of ourselves and react when we experience them with other people. Conversely, we also have a light side. The light side is an attractive aspect or part of us that is concealed that we recognise in the other.

In some ways by trying to conceal aspects of ourselves, is discombobulating, draining, and unhealthy. From an existentialist’s perspective, we are living in bad faith, and we may turn to a range of defences to counter these. For example, we may decide to revert to distractions, such as entertainment, alcohol, or substances, or pursue perfection with greater determination, such as submerging into our work, achievements, or goals.

This cyclical pattern is endless, unless we are prepared to stop, carefully consider, and accept our shadow side. This may require working with a therapist to do restorative work around unhealed emotional wounds.

For when we can arrive at a place where we can fully accept ourselves, including the wonderful aspects, and the shadow sides, that may have emanated from internal guilt or external shame, only then we become deeply self-integrated, and possibly fully human.

Becoming more fully human, means we can transcend to greater liberation (remember the animals thought experiment), having the freedom to let go, accept own our individual and possibly collective existence, live more deeply, and experience a little bit more wonder.

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