The Shadow Dance— Understanding Repetitive Patterns in Relationships
“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”
— DR. CARL GUSTAV JUNG
What is it that constitutes a good relationship? Is it getting along harmoniously, being loving, truthful, honest, supportive? These are certainly virtues and ideals that we all strive for. And yet despite our most valiant efforts, we continually come across problems and situations that puzzle us about our relationships.
A very interesting thing about life is that it all starts repeating at a certain point and those of us who are willing to live a reflective life, have to ask ourselves some very important questions. What is this about? Why did I attract him or her? And why is this repeating in my life?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that who we fell in love with at 20 can be eerily the same person at 30, and even 40. We also know that the same kind of person keeps showing up as our boss, as a coworker and even as a friend, even if we decide to leave and distance ourselves from their presence.
We can continue to do that for a long time. We can leave one relationship and find another, and we can certainly leave a job, or a friendship, or even a sibling who we have decided is causing us pain. We can continue to blame others for our negative experiences, or we can muster up the courage to take a long, hard look at our own Shadow.
The Shadow, is a psychological term introduced by the late Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Carl G. Jung. It is everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. These are dark rejected aspects of our being as well as light, so there is positive undeveloped potential in the Shadow that we don’t know about because anything that is unconscious, we don’t know about.
The Shadow is an archetype. And what an archetype simply means is that it is typical in consciousness for everyone. Everyone has a Shadow. This is not something that one or two people have. We all have a Shadow and a confrontation with the Shadow is essential for self awareness. We cannot learn about ourselves if we do not learn about our Shadow so therefore we are going to attract it through the mirrors of other people.
Taking Responsibility for Our Lives
The first thing we have to do in order to begin to see our Shadow sides, is to take 100% responsibility for our lives. This is a very difficult thing to do and no one does this overnight so we have to be patient with ourselves.
Being in the human experience, we have all had many painful, difficult experiences where it clearly looks like it is the other persons fault, or bad luck in life or whatever else we want to call it. So taking total responsibility for what appears to come to us is no easy task but it is well worth the effort because when we take responsibility for what happens to us, we can then learn and grow from our experiences and make new choices for ourselves.
Changing our attitude from blame to responsibility will change what happens next in our world. Our destiny is of our own making and what goes on inside of us will be reflected outside of us all the time.
I am very fond of this ancient axiom given to us by the alchemists of long ago:
“As above, so below, as within, so without, so that the miracle of the one can be established.”
What it is saying is that what is within us, will also be outside of us. Inner states of consciousness will be reflected in outer situations time and time again. If we are willing to look at the significance of these repeating patterns, we will see the synchronicity of events and situations and ultimately once integrated the miracle of the one is established as we become one with ourselves.
So What Does This Look Like in Real Life?
We have all had experiences with other people that really irritate us. Whenever we feel ourselves over-reacting emotionally to a quality or characteristic in someone else that pushes all of our buttons (and there will be a repulsive element to it), we can be sure that we are seeing a part of our own Shadow.
We will not be able to stand this other person or be around them at all. The reaction is usually extreme distaste as these characteristics or qualities that we despise or hate in others are our own and they are usually operating outside of our awareness. They are in our unconscious and usually they will be the exact opposite of what we believe to be true about ourselves.
Now a person carrying a light part of our Shadow we will be very drawn to, and may even fall in love with, and this is the ‘Gold’ part of our Shadow. So we can also project some of our very positive qualities when we meet someone we truly admire, but most of us have more trouble with the negative experiences as we encounter our Shadow. This is the psyche’s way of bringing itself into the light meaning the light of consciousness.
Projection and Denial
Projection is an unconscious psychological mechanism. We all project onto other people parts of ourselves that we disown, that we deny. We will usually not identify with the projected quality or characteristic at all. It’s them. It’s not us.
We will feel highly uncomfortable when we are around someone that is carrying a part of our Shadow. As I said before, and it bears repeating, there will often be a repulsive element to it. We will be repulsed by that person and whatever they stand for. It will feel like whoever they are is totally against our principles, moral values and ideals and we will be highly critical of their actions or way of being in the world.
So notice. Notice who comes into your life that irritates you or pushes your buttons. It’s usually something that is so unconscious within yourself, that it’s impossible to see that it’s about yourself. If it indeed is a part of your own Shadow, in time you are going to see how it’s going to start repeating in patterns.
Whatever we deem too negative to express, whatever goes against our highest ideals will be conveniently projected out into the world. Our energy is like a magnet and the unconscious is profound. It will draw to itself, itself over and over again. And generally the person receiving the projection is what analysts call ‘a good hook’ for the projection. They will be acting out that quality or characteristic themselves and usually they will be doing it to an extreme so it is easy to see that it is them doing it. But as the 12-steppers say, “if you spot it, you got it.”
Polarizing with Others
Jung believed that whatever we are highly identified with in our character, the opposite extreme will be in our unconscious. He called this the law of opposites. So unconsciously we will attract the parts of us that we actually badly need.
So notice extremes between yourself and other people, where you are polarized — one person is doing one extreme and you’re doing the other extreme. Notice how often this happens. If it happens often enough, then it is definitely something you are totally out of balance with.
Chances are that we are lopsided in our character and we need to learn how to do precisely what they are doing if we want to grow. Not to the extreme that they are doing it, but halfway. This is the answer to many of our relationship problems.
Doing Shadow work requires that both partners have to be willing to come to the middle of the polarization. It requires honest and authentic communication. Two people who trust each other enough to be vulnerable, and have a commitment to their relationship, can help each other see each others Shadow and bring about in each other a more cohesive state of integrity with the Self.
There are no accidents. Both people are attracted or repelled whatever the case may be by an unconscious collusion. There is an order in the Universe whether we can see it or not. According to Jung, the psyche is always striving for wholeness and if we can take our cues from nature we will see that wholeness is balance. As Marian Woodman, a Jungian analyst, so aptly put it: we have day time and night time. Which one of us would want no night time?
A Blind Spot
We all have ‘blind spots’ in our character as Dr. Liz Greene, PH.d., author of Relating: Living With Others on a Small Planet, points out. She says these inherent “blind spots” in the psyche that we know absolutely nothing about are precisely what creates havoc in our relationships.
It can be really interesting when a friend points out to us something about our character, and we will say to them, “I’m not like that.” We will resent them. We will be angry with them and we won’t want to have anything to do with them anymore because we will feel misunderstood.
So whenever you catch yourself saying “I’m not like that,” if it gave you an emotional charge when they said it, — you probably are like that, you just don’t know it. A really good way to bring your Shadow qualities into awareness is to ask a couple of really close friends to describe you on paper. They see our Shadow side way before we do. Our real friends love all of us, the light and the dark, and accept our humanity the way we accept theirs. And isn’t acceptance what we are all looking for?
Too Good to be True
We’ve all met people who seem too sticky and gooey. They are “too nice” and sickeningly sweet. We sense that they are somehow being fake when we are around them and we feel we never really know them. They are, as the saying goes, “too good to be true.” These people are barricaded behind their mask or persona. They will deliberately avoid any kind of negative reaction or emotion. They refuse to be real and suffer the acceptance of their own dark side and this can be a dangerous thing. We are better off knowing about our dark side because as Jung put it “Whatever one does not live, lives against one.”
Slips of the Tongue
How many times have you said something and then said, “I didn’t mean it that way.” Well we did mean it that way and our Shadow decided to have it’s say. The Shadow side of us relates to life much more authentically and it will come out whether we like it or not.
Repressing or denying our Shadow can lead us into experiences where we are overwhelmed by it and it can take us over. Then we can end up with egg on our face, acting in the very way we have denied or condemned in others and saying to ourselves, “Why did I act like that? I am not like that.” Well when we say it like that — “I’m not like that,” — we are like that, we just don’t know it.
There are many hidden and undeveloped parts in all of us and in attempting to keep our self-image intact, we will completely deny their existence. We do this because we want to be accepted by our society, by our families and our peers. Our baser qualities — our hypocritical behavior, our excessive greed, our ruthlessness, our ability to be manipulative — go straight into the unconscious. But that doesn’t mean they are not active in our life, they just live in the unconscious (unsupervised), and periodically they burst forth into our awareness and propel us into situations that we would much rather avoid.
Choices Versus Denial
So the more we know about ourselves, the more choices we have. We can then choose not to behave in a certain way. When we don’t know about something, then it will take on a compulsive, autonomous element to it.
These are the embarrassing moments that all of us in the metaphysical or Christian movement can attest to when we say or do something which is the opposite of what we intended to do or say. We embarrass ourselves and can feel really bad about ourselves because we are not living up to our ideals. Ideals are important and certainly have their place in our world, but not at our expense. Not when it’s not the truth about how we really feel or who we really are.
So learning about our Shadows can bring us the real peace Jesus talks about when he says “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is
embodied in the individual’s conscious life,
the blacker and denser it is.
At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag,
thwarting our most well-meant intentions."
— Dr. Carl G. Jung
We have to be willing to see the part we play in attracting certain relationship issues into our lives. We can’t change anything we don’t know about. And we certainly can’t change other people so we must be aware of our total Self, the dark and the light, and then at the same time make choices about our own behavior.
A Life-long Process
No one does this overnight. Shadow work is a life-long retrieval process and it takes years of patient inner dialogue with oneself to understand and even admit to ourselves that Shadow work is even realistic and necessary. It’s not easy to do and takes time and energy. Not always, but most often it begins at midlife when we become determined to see the truth about ourselves after a series of painful relationships. As the Greeks inscribed at the temple of Delphi “Know thyself” and “Nothing in excess.” Two very wise statements.
It is impossible to truly learn about our whole Self and grow into more conscious human beings without this kind of internal self-honesty and as Robert Johnson says in the book Owning Your Own Shadow, it takes a great deal of courage.
Rebeca E. Eigen is a graphic designer, public speaker and Astrologer specializing in the 7th house (marriage) and aspects to Venus and Mars. She uses astrology, psychology and personal stories to illustrate how we create patterns in our relationships. Her workshops make this difficult concept easy to use in our everyday lives. She is also available to do individual counseling sessions based on your birth data (time, place and date).firstname.lastname@example.org.