Inherent Worth and Shadow Side2017-01-15T17:52:55+00:00

Inherent Worth and Shadow Side

A Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship sermon

Rev. Amy Russell (MVUUF Minister 2007-2013) – May 17, 2009

Have you ever felt that you didn’t recognize yourself when certain dark aspects of your personality reared their ugly heads? A time when you became particularly aggressive, hostile, or controlling? And then in seeing yourself this way, were you ashamed? I think all of us have had experiences like this. All of a sudden something in our lives triggers our shadow side. A side of us that we had denied or were totally unaware of that jumps out of hiding to show us our other personality traits which may have lain dormant most of our lives.

I have had this experience a few times in my life when either I have felt attacked or I thought my children were being attacked. At these times my claws and my fur show. A hideous face and onerous voice has emerged from my shadow side and I am later ashamed that I had it in me. Can I be like that? How can I have been so angry and so unreasonable?

Carl Jung describes unconscious archetypes that describe deep patterns of behavior and feeling that sometimes emerge into consciousness or underlie some of our behavior which we don’t understand. He describes one of these archetypes as “the shadow side”. This shadow aspect is an unconscious part of ourselves containing repressed aspects that we may see as weaknesses and shortcomings. The patterns of behavior that may rise to the conscious level might be considered instinctual because they seem to be very related to basic animal needs like safety and comfort. This aspect of ourselves when conscious sometimes could be seen as irrational and reactive.

Jung described our deeply hidden other side as a part of us that we repress because it is not an acceptable part of our character to others and to ourselves. He said, “Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. We meet our dark side, accept it for what it is, and we learn to use its powerful energies in productive ways.”

Many fairy tales and myths that describe horrible looking witches and monsters such as the story about Vasalisa that we read today, embody our dark side in these fantastical and fearful creatures. Baba Yaga with her horrible contorted features who lives in the strange hovel with chicken legs describes a creature that no one would want to own as a part of oneself. Clarissa Pinkola Estes suggests that the elements of darkness that are described in these stories are really descriptions of the unconscious hidden parts of ourselves that we don’t want to own. The chicken leg hovel in the Baba Yaga story, Estes says, represents a part of the wild animal psyche that Vasalisa needs in her life to learn to protect herself. When recognized, the old witch embodied within us can become a crone with power- a woman who can make magic for her own life.

The mean jealous stepmother and stepsisters who enslave Vasalisa (an ancient version of Cinderella) cause Vasalisa to eventually have to face the wild woman within her to become free from her family’s oppression. When we can own the powerful, sometimes angry and aggressive voices inside us, we can perhaps free ourselves from our own ways of being enslaved.

Who hasn’t had dark, angry thoughts that we ignored and suppressed because it wasn’t the “polite” thing to express them? Jung tells us that these conscious thoughts hide a sea of unconscious thoughts that are a “collective unconscious” of all of humanity which has formed the cultural patterns of history. He says that humankind shares the universal unconscious in which we are all rooted. Jung believes that the interdependent web includes all of our minds, conscious and unconscious, as the soil in which we are all rooted. He describes the cultural and religious material of history as coming directly from these universal patterns. Within this collective material, we can learn much about how our patterns of behavior are derived.

Joseph Campbell also explores the myths that ancient religions share as a pattern of universal thought. Campbell studied Jung and Freud and bases his theories on myths and dreams from some of their basic assumptions. Campbell says that our dreams are the personal experience we have from the dark side that lies in our unconscious. And myths are the “public dreams” of society.

” The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.” Campbell says that if in our dreams and our unconscious we have patterns that don’t coincide with the society we live in, we can often feel out of step with others, even ostracized. But he says that many heroes live out of step with others in order to follow their own path. And they may uncover new myths, new dreams that will benefit society. This dark shadow that often is only uncovered in our dreams, can contain rich material that feeds our souls. Our dark side is often the soil for our creativity. And myths that have been re-created over and over in human history often reflect these basic elements of our rich souls.

Creation stories from many ancient religions and cultures reflect similar kinds of motifs- the creation of light and dark, the destruction of things from which new things grow, the definition of duality through light and dark, male and female, evil and good. The creation of gods through which the universes are created and destroyed. All these stories come from our deep collective unconscious in which we create and destroy our own lives through decisions which are influenced by these thoughts, though we are unaware.

Many psychologists who honor the work of Carl Jung hold up the idea that we all have deep within us a shadow side which is the opposite of the self we see. When we see glimpses of this shadow side, we often deny it. Someone might reveal to us that we have a tendency to some pattern of behavior that we see as unacceptable, and we get angry, we refuse it. It seems somehow the opposite of who we see ourselves as being.

Have you ever had that experience? When you may be in the middle of a conflict with someone who knows you well, your spouse or family member and they shout out something like “You’re a control freak!”, or that you’re closed-minded, or prejudiced. And you are horrified by what they are suggesting? They have named that thing that you would hate to be. And while this characteristic may only be a little seen glimpse of your shadow side, they have seen it while you cannot. These are the truths that we cannot face about ourselves.

But psychologists challenge us to look at that dark part of ourselves because it will lead us to a deeper understanding of our completeness. By denying these traits because we saw them as unacceptable to ourselves and others, we lose the chance to find out how that trait might contain goodness, that might give us more power or confidence over our lives. Some qualities that seem negative at the outset, may have hidden sparks of our own unique power.

Joseph Campbell also explores the myths that ancient religions share as a pattern of universal thought. Campbell studied Jung and Freud and bases his theories on myths and dreams from some of their basic assumptions. Campbell says that our dreams are the personal experience we have from the dark side that lies in our unconscious. And myths are the “public dreams” of society.

” The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.” Campbell says that if in our dreams and our unconscious we have patterns that don’t coincide with the society we live in, we can often feel out of step with others, even ostracized. But he says that many heroes live out of step with others in order to follow their own path. And they may uncover new myths, new dreams that will benefit society. This dark shadow that often is only uncovered in our dreams, can contain rich material that feeds our souls. Our dark side is often the soil for our creativity. And myths that have been re-created over and over in human history often reflect these basic elements of our rich souls.

Creation stories from many ancient religions and cultures reflect similar kinds of motifs- the creation of light and dark, the destruction of things from which new things grow, the definition of duality through light and dark, male and female, evil and good. The creation of gods through which the universes are created and destroyed. All these stories come from our deep collective unconscious in which we create and destroy our own lives through decisions which are influenced by these thoughts, though we are unaware.

Many psychologists who honor the work of Carl Jung hold up the idea that we all have deep within us a shadow side which is the opposite of the self we see. When we see glimpses of this shadow side, we often deny it. Someone might reveal to us that we have a tendency to some pattern of behavior that we see as unacceptable, and we get angry, we refuse it. It seems somehow the opposite of who we see ourselves as being.

Have you ever had that experience? When you may be in the middle of a conflict with someone who knows you well, your spouse or family member and they shout out something like “You’re a control freak!”, or that you’re closed-minded, or prejudiced. And you are horrified by what they are suggesting? They have named that thing that you would hate to be. And while this characteristic may only be a little seen glimpse of your shadow side, they have seen it while you cannot. These are the truths that we cannot face about ourselves.

But psychologists challenge us to look at that dark part of ourselves because it will lead us to a deeper understanding of our completeness. By denying these traits because we saw them as unacceptable to ourselves and others, we lose the chance to find out how that trait might contain goodness, that might give us more power or confidence over our lives. Some qualities that seem negative at the outset, may have hidden sparks of our own unique power.

Connie Zwieg (Romancing the Shadow) tells of the story of Carol, one of her clients, who came to her struggling with depression at mid-life. She had grown up in a rural setting and came from a farming family. The culture of the family expected people to put on the happy face all the time. In her family, you were not expected to express sadness. So, when Carol felt sad she repressed it. She learned that her feelings of sadness were not acceptable and they became hidden in her dark unconscious . She developed a personality of superficial brightness, always smiling and making small talk. When she married, she believed that it was her job to make her husband and children happy. Later at mid-life, she fell into a deep depression. Entering therapy, Carol uncovered feelings of anger, grief, and loss that she had hidden away since they were not acceptable in her culture or to her own self-image. When she started to learn to express these feelings, even anger, she discovered she felt free, she felt like she could become a richer, deeper human being.

Some people are taught that they must be strong and in charge. The families they grew up in often expect people to be unemotional, in charge, and not to consider others’ feelings. People who were raised this way will often find that this is an uncomfortable tightrope to walk in life. Hiding their vulnerability in their shadow side, some people will see emotion as a weakness. When they later find that others will shy away from them and they cannot find connection in their personal relationships, sometimes they will uncover this dark, unacceptable part of themselves and discover the satisfaction of sharing one’s own vulnerability in a trusting relationship.

When we first uncover parts of ourselves which we think are unacceptable, hateful, or even sinful, we may try to keep them hidden. This then becomes part of our shame. Shame is the way that our conscious selves try to keep these unconscious aspects hidden. We carry shame around, hanging our heads whenever we see evidence of these not so welcome traits of our personalities. Much of our inability to love ourselves comes from the shame we have of our shadow side- which is really just the yang to the ying of our conscious personality.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of each human being. And that includes ourselves. We must see ourselves as worthy. But that may be the hardest person for us to accept. Especially when we see glimpses of our own underbelly and it doesn’t look pretty. We try to ignore our anger when someone tells us what to do. When we want to put forth our own power, we pull ourselves back and tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be arrogant. When we feel sad, we hide it because we don’t want others to see us as vulnerable. Many also hide their own sexuality because they were told it was sinful.

All of these personality traits are a deep and valuable part of who we are. When we accept the inherent worth of them, we accept our complete selves. We become whole.

In some forms of Hinduism, three gods are glorified: Brahma, the creator, Vishna, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. Brahma is the direct opposite of Shiva, but seen as just as important. Three very different aspects of a god. But they are all seen as divine. Divine wholeness. Divine oneness.