Shadow and creativity

There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the “thorn in the flesh” is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent. (C.G Jung, Collected Works, Volume 12, para 208).

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung thought that our psyche was comprised of different elements. Some of these elements (such as the persona and ego) are outwards facing, representing how we appear and interact with the world. Others (such as the anima/animus and shadow) are inwards facing, giving shape our internal world. For Jung and others, one of the challenges of human psychology is that we are often out of touch with these inwards facing elements of our psyche, existing as they do in our unconscious.

Jung had a particular interest in the shadow element of the human psyche, seeing it as the component that contains the parts of ourselves, and our relationships, that we want to disown. For reasons of social pressures and our own personal life experiences, we tend to not only reject difficult feelings and attitudes like being judgmental or hating, but also can deny ourselves access to good qualities such as creative impulses and the ability to be assertive.

The problem with being out of touch with our shadow is that it creates a kind of impoverishment in our psyche, depriving us of energy, weakening and atrophying the range of relationships and connections we have within ourselves and with other people. Disavowing our shadow side is a bit like trying to create paintings with a very limited palette of colours–the resulting paintings lack depth and diversity.

Being out of touch with the full range of human feelings not only limits how we experience ourselves, but also what we are able to encounter and experience in our relationships with others. An example could be someone who views being angry as unacceptable. With the ability to express anger hidden away in their shadow, such a person will tend to go through life not being able to direct their anger outwards, even in situations that warrant it. It is also likely that someone who finds it impossible to express their anger will find it very hard to process and respond to another person’s anger in a constructive way.

Importantly, Jung linked the shadow with our creative potential. His own personal experiences, and his work as an analyst, showed him that getting in touch with and beginning to accept what is in our shadow releases our creative capacities–both in how we experience ourselves and others. Learning what it is that we have consigned to our shadow thereby frees us respond much more fully and creativity to life events and other people.

Further reading

Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Vol. 268). Vintage.