Casting a Shadow

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Take a look in the mirror: do you like what you see?



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Projection: seeing the Self in the Other.

Like all things projection has its positive and negative aspects. To see the self in others is to catch a glimpse of the bonds that connect us all. Our projections flow from us like a web, connecting us to all things. I am they, and they are I. Our differences mask our unity. Unity is the truth.

To see something in another is also a way to deny it within the self. It belongs to them, not me. I am not they, and they are not I. Difference is the truth.



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All gaps in our actual knowledge are still filled out with projections. We are still so sure we know what other people think or what their true character is. We are convinced that certain people have all the bad qualities we do not know in ourselves or that they practice all those vices which could, of course, never be our own.

We must still be exceedingly careful not to project our own shadows too shamelessly; we are still swamped with projected illusions. If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all these projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a considerable shadow [...]

Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world ... How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and the darkness he unconsciously carries with him into all his dealings?

[C.G. Jung]
The Essential Jung, p.242, 243


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During the process of treatment [psycho-analysis] the dialectical discussion leads logically to a meeting between the patient and his shadow, that dark half of the psyche which we invariably get rid of by means of projection: either by burdening our neighbours - in a wider or narrower sense - with all the faults we obviously have ourselves, or by casting our sins upon a divine mediator [through repentance].

[C.G. Jung]
The Essential Jung, p.279


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... if one can conceive of a fully integrated person, then that person takes full responsibility for all feelings and ideas that belong to being alive. By contrast, it is a failure of integration when we need to find the things we disapprove of outside ourselves and do so at a price - this price being the loss of the destructiveness which really belongs to ourselves.

I am talking, therefore, about the development which has to take place in every individual of the capacity to take responsibility for the whole of that individual's feelings and ideas, the word 'health' being closely linked with the degree of integration which makes it possible for this to happen.

One thing about a healthy person is that he or she does not have to use in a big way the technique of projection in order to cope with his or her own destructive impulses and thoughts.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays By A Psychoanalyst ('Aggression, Guilt and Reparation'), p.82

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The person you hate the most and you're most angry at, understand every reason why you're angry at them. Understand every reason why they might be doing that.

[Andrew W.K.]


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[...] our psyche in daily life tries to give us a hint of where our shadow lies by picking out people to hate in an irrational way.

Suppose there is a woman in the town who seems to her too loose and sexually active, and she finds herself thinking of this other woman a lot. In that case, the psyche is suggesting that part of her shadow, at least, lies in the sexual area.

She has to notice precisely who she hates.

[Robert Bly]
A Little Book on the Human Shadow, p.47


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The personal shadow works destructively against ego-ideals; the collective shadow tries to demolish collective ideals. Both these shadows also have a very valuable function.

Both ego and collective ideals must be repeatedly subjected to attack, since they are false and one-sided. Were they not continually being eaten into from the depths of the human soul, there would be neither individual nor collective development.

[Adolf Guggenb├╝hl-Craig]
Power In The Helping Professions, p.113

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Schopenhauer's conception of moral awareness is consistent with his project of seeking more tranquil, transcendent states of mind. Within the moral realm specifically, this quest for transcendence leads him to maintain that once we recognize each human as being merely an instance and aspect of the single act of Will that is humanity itself, we will appreciate that the difference between the tormentor and the tormented is illusory, and that in fact, the very same eye of humanity looks out from each and every person.

For Schopenhauer, according to the true nature of things, each person has all the sufferings of the world as his or her own, for the same inner human nature ultimately bears all of the pain and all of the guilt.

Thus, with the consciousness of humanity in mind, a moral consciousness would realize that it has upon and within itself, the sins of the whole world

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 'Arthur Schopenhauer'


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Tormentor and tormented are one. The former is mistaken in thinking he does not share the torment, the latter in thinking he does not share the guilt. If the eyes of both were opened, the inflicter of the suffering would recognize that he lives in everything that suffers pain in the whole wide world, and, if endowed with the faculty of reason, ponders in vain over why it was called into existence for such great suffering, whose cause and guilt it does not perceive.

On the other hand, the tormented person would see that all the wickedness that is or ever was perpetrated in the world proceeds from that will which constitutes also his own inner being, and appears also in him.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.354


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[...] The offense is felt to be against the order and natural structure of the universe rather than against the actual person offended. The offender, even in such serious matters as incest (for which he may be extruded from the society) is not blamed for anything worse than stupidity and clumsiness.

Rather, he is "an unfortunate person" (anak latjoer), and misfortune may come to any of us "when it is our turn."

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.119


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Projection is the act of attributing qualities to others that we deny within ourselves.

It is expressed in the way we label others and then build diagnostic categories and whole professions around the labeling.

The shift away from projection and labeling provides the basis for defining what we mean by authentic citizenship - which is to hold ourselves accountable for the well-being of the larger community and to choose to own and exercise the power rather than defer or delegate it to others.

One payoff for believing that problems and suffering in our cities are the inevitable products of modern life and culture is that it lets us off the hook. The payoff happens the moment we believe that problems reside in others and that they are the ones who need to change.

It is a welcome escape from our freedom. We project onto leaders the qualities or disappointments that we find too much to carry ourselves. We project onto the stranger, the wounded, the enemy those aspects of ourselves that are too much to own.

Projection denies the fact that my view of the "other" is my creation, and this is especially true with how we view our communities and the people in them. Most simply, how I view the other is an extension or template of how I view myself. This insight is the essence of being accountable.  

To be accountable is to act as an owner and creator of what exists in the world, including the light and dark corners of my existence.

It is the willingness to focus on what we can do in the face of whatever the world presents to us. Accountability does not project or deny; accountability is the willingness to see the whole picture that resides within, even what is not so pretty.

It is not that the people we project onto do not have some of the qualities we see; it is that the meaning we give to what we see - in this case, the label and categorization - is just projection.

If we saw others as another aspect of ourselves, we would welcome them into our midst.

It becomes the justification for the fear and fault conversation that in turn justifies the context of retribution. Which in turn drives all the programs, expertise, and policy that we thought were going to make a difference. When the projection is reclaimed and the labels abandoned, the justification disappears and space is created for a welcoming, gift oriented restoration.

Projection sustains itself in the absence of relatedness, in places where we have no sense of belonging. Communal transformation, taking back our collective projections, occurs when people get connected to those who were previously strangers, and when we invite people into conversations that ask them to act as creators or owners of community.

This allows us to focus on our connectedness rather than on our differences. We no longer need to take our identity from being right about "them" or from continuing to see "them" as individuals with needs or as people somehow less than us. It puts an end to our need to declare victory. The differences, instead of being problems to solve, become a source of vitality, a gift.

In the language of communal transformation, this is what it means to be accountable. At these moments, we become owners, with the free will capable of creating the world we want to inhabit.

We become citizens.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.55, 57-61

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But projection is a wonderful thing too. Marie Louise von Franz remarked somewhere, "Why do we always assume projection is bad? 'You are projecting' becomes among Jungians an accusation. Sometimes projection is helpful and the right thing."

[She] reminds us that if we didn't project, we might never connect with the world at all.

[Robert Bly]
A Little Book on the Human Shadow, p. 23


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Psychologically speaking, so long as conscious and unconscious are enemies, the ego experiences itself in constant danger of death.

Once they are in harmony the ego experiences itself open and supported by the maternal matrix of love.

[Marion Woodman]
Addiction to Perfection, p. 42


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Life is “a never-ending sequence of polarities. When an individual [explicitly] recognizes one aspect of her self, the presence of the antithesis, or polar quality, is implicit.”

In other words, everyone carries within him or herself the latent and potential opposite of his or her external character.

[Herb Stevenson]
'Paradox: A Gestalt Theory of Change'


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