“Monster” versus “Shadow”
This is a commentary on the session with “Andrew” documented in Transforming the “Monster” Within.
The shadow cannot be eliminated. It is the ever-present dark brother or sister.(1)
“Shadow” is a term from Jungian psychology, and it seems appropriate to call Andrew’s Monster his Shadow part. However, had we taken a Jungian approach in this session, the conclusion would have been very different, as we shall see.
Defining the “Shadow”
The first problem is to define what is meant by “Shadow,” and here we run into the difficulty of conflicting descriptions.
Jung introduces the idea of the “Shadow” by saying: “Light is followed by shadow, the other side of the Creator.”(2) The implication of this statement is clear: wherever there is light there must be shadow; which means the “Shadow” is always there.
Psychiatrist Edward C. Whitmont, a founding member of the C.G. Jung Institute of New York, expands on this view. “[The] shadow is a general human archetypal fact,” he claims. It “is a constituent of ego development. It is a product of the split which comes about through establishing a center of awareness…. It approximately coincides with what has been regarded as the unconscious…namely, elements repressed from consciousness.”(3)
Here Whitmont echoes Jung, who states: “The shadow coincides with the ‘personal’ unconscious (which corresponds to Freud’s conception of the unconscious).”(4)
The implications of this view are, I believe, best stated by Whitmont in the quote above: “The shadow cannot be eliminated.” The implications for therapy of this view are that upon establishing communication with the “Shadow,” the most that is possible is to accommodate it, respect it, understand it as best one can; but ultimately to just accept that that part of you is inevitably and eternally there.
It is clear that Andrew viewed his “Monster” in this way: he described him as being “very old . . . something primeval. It predates human existence. . . . He’s . . . an archetype. . . . Amoral. Ageless.” All, I suggest, valid descriptions of a “Shadow” part.
The “Shadow” and Evil
The identification of the “Shadow” with evil is, in this view, near absolute; the implication being that there is a part of every human being that is evil by its nature, and no matter what one does this part of you always was and always will be evil.
This begs a number of questions, the first being “What is ‘the evil?’” “Evil” is determined by a moral code; a moral code is a matter of choice. To equate the “Shadow” with “evil” is to say that there is an unchanging part of the human psyche whose content and nature is determined by something [a moral code] chosen by one’s consciousness. Further, then, when a person chooses a different moral code, his “Shadow” becomes something else. (And what, then, is the “Shadow” of a Nazi?)
However, by equating the “Shadow” with the “personal” unconscious, Jung compounds the contradictions.
First, why have two separate terms for the same thing? But more importantly: if the “Shadow” is evil, and the “Shadow” is the unconscious, then the unconscious is also evil.(5)
The confusion is, unfortunately, compounded by totally divergent but nevertheless “Jungian” descriptions.
For example, Marie-Louise von Franz, who worked directly with Carl Jung for 31 years, writes: “The shadow is not the whole of the unconscious personality. It represents unknown or little-known attributes and qualities of the ego . . . aspects that mostly belong to the personal sphere and that could just as well be conscious.”(6)
Here, it appears that von is Franz contradicting both primary postulates about the “Shadow.” First she says the “Shadow” is not “the whole of the unconscious personality.” Second, she says the “Shadow” represents “the unknown or little-known attributes and qualities of the ego . . . that could just as well be conscious.” The implication for therapy of this view is that all that needs to be done is make these “unknown or little-known attributes” conscious and the “Shadow” will disappear.
However, both these views of the “Shadow” originate with Jung: “The shadow . . . represents first and foremost the personal unconscious, and its content can therefore be made conscious without too much difficulty. . . . It is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil [when he meets the shadow as an archetype].”(7)
So there are two, contradictory, views of the “Shadow,“ both originating with Jung: one that “the shadow cannot be eliminated,” and one that it can.
Unfortunately, “just” making unconscious attributes conscious is rarely sufficient to resolve a psychic problem: simply bringing Andrew’s “Monster” into consciousness would have caused little resolution or change. Indeed, merely becoming conscious of his “Monster Within” would probably have been damaging to his psychological well-being. Resolution of such “Shadow” problems requires far more than mere consciousness.
A “Biocentric” approach
“Biocentric,” says psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Branden, “means: life-centered. So a biocentric psychology is one that approaches the study of human beings from a biological or a life-centered perspective.”(8)
From this perspective, behavior is nor evaluated in terms of “good” or “evil,” but in terms of whether it has survival value to the organism. Furthermore, it is assumed that all human behavior has purpose, and that the underlying motive of that purpose either is — or, at one time, was — directed towards the survival of the organism; towards life, not death.
An obvious implication of this approach is to reject the idea that any part of a human being is born with the Christian or Jungian version of “original sin:” such a species, assuming it could ever exist, would have become extinct eons ago.
When I met Andrew’s “Monster,” the question in the back of my mind was: how and when did “The Monster” have survival value for Andrew? I also took the view that, regardless of how terrifying this part of him might appear to me (or to Andrew), its underlying purpose and rationale was to protect him from something: its basic motivation was benevolent. The fact that, as an adult, the “Monster’s” behavior could be dangerous to Andrew’s well-being did not alter my assumption that when “The Monster” came into being (9) it did so to further his survival.
Aims in therapy
These two different perspectives on what being human means produce two very different approaches in therapy.
If Andrew’s “Monster” was, indeed, his “Shadow,” and the “Shadow” is inherently evil and unchangeable, then one would have to accept Andrew’s view of his “Monster” as “amoral, ageless, primeval, an archetype.” The best outcome to be hoped for is to “cut a deal” to reach a compromise so Andrew could live with his “Shadow” in some kind of “peace” . . . perhaps like that between North and South Korea. Psychological stability might be a vain hope.
If, at least originally, the purpose of “The Monster” was not life-threatening but life-giving, then the aim of therapy is to reaccess that benevolence, and transform its methods or behaviors into those appropriate to an adult. (The assumption here is that this part came into being with the knowledge, judgment and morality of a child, and while it grew in power it remained child-like in nature.)
In the event, it turned out that Andrew’s “Monster” came into being to protect him from pain. When that pain was accessed and released through anger, the powerful life-giving qualities that were “locked up” in his “Monster” were released, and can now be directed in support, rather than frustration of his life.
1 Edward C. Whitmont, “The Evolution of the Shadow,” in Meeting the Shadow, ed. Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1991) p18.
2 C.G. Jung, “The Problem of Evil Today,” in Meeting the Shadow (op. cit.) p171.
3 Whitmont, op.cit., p15.
4 C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, quoted in “The Body as Shadow” by John P. Conger in Meeting the Shadow (op.cit.), p86.
5 In contrast, consider Milton Erickson’s admonition to “trust the unconscious.” His “general approach,” writes Stephen Gilligan, “is captured by a comment Erickson would frequently make to a subject:
“Your conscious mind is very intelligent . . . but your unconscious mind is a lot smarter . . . and so I’m not asking you to learn any new skills . . . I’m only asking you to be willing to utilize the skills you already have [i.e., in your unconscious], but do not yet fully know about.” [Stephen G. Gilligan, Therapeutic Trances (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1987), p72 (my emphasis).]
These views of the nature of the unconscious are mutually exclusive: only one can be correct.
6 Marie-Louise von Franz, “The Realization of the Shadow in Dreams,” in Meeting the Shadow (op. cit.) p34.
7 C.G. Jung, “Aion: Phenomenology of the Self,” in The Portable Jung, ed. Joseph Campbell (New York: Penguin Books, 1976) pp147-148 (my emphasis).
8 Nathaniel Branden, The Disowned Self (New York: Bantam Books, 1973) p143.
9 Whether Andrew’s “Monster” actually “came into being” as a distinct entity at some point in his childhood; or whether the process of sub-personalities causes us to bring aspects of our subconscious into consciousness in a manner which is most accessible to us as a personality is another question that deserves more detailed consideration.