Understanding from a Jungian perspective, depth perspective, internal family systems perspective (all of which root to the indigenous shamanic perspective), the psyche is made up of many “parts”. Integrating these self-parts brings healing. Each system of thought may have its own specific map and set of methods but they all stem from the fundamental idea that the psyche is made up of many aspects and that the conscious self, or ego, is only a tiny portion of the entire psyche.
Ego is our aware self-part, the part of the psyche that is literally conscious of self on a basic level of knowing you are a person. The unconscious contains the aspects of the psyche we are not aware of and do not identify with as a result and yet the workings of the unconscious deeply effect our conscious lives.
Jung made a distinction between the personal and the collective shadow. Shadow is another word for the unconscious. A poetic and metaphorical word, as Jung was quite the poet in my opinion!
Shadow refers to what cannot be seen. Many people think the shadow is the negative or “bad” traits of the personality, such as the desire to harm, steal, self-destruct, cross boundaries, take selfishly, etc. Although such traits may exist in the shadow or as a shadow personality, the shadow is a neutral term. The shadow is simply what is hidden from the conscious self.
The personal shadow contains what the ego represses in order to be liked and valued, or in order to survive. Hence, the personal shadow contains personality traits the ego thinks will cause shame and also wounds and feelings the ego could not process consciously, stemming from childhood trauma, abuse, or anything too harsh.
The spectrum of what gets relegated to the personal shadow by ego is different for each person because we all have our temperaments and that factors into the mix just as much as the events that take place. Nature and nurture.
The collective shadow is not personal. It is the root of the personal. If our individual selves are the flower, the personal shadow is the seed and the collective shadow is the soil. To understand, think in terms of all of life living symbiotically and interconnected at all times. We are always attached to every living cell of the universe and we would not exist as individuals without the collective holding us here.
Ancestral patterns, wounds, and karma live in the collective shadow and so do the archetypes. The archetypes are the collective instinctual drives we all share in common. Jung took this a new level and defined these archetypes as have their own sentience. We do not create the archetypes. The archetypes are our human foundation.
This concept is hard to grasp and requires the right brain to do so, which is of equal value to the left brain. The ancient and indigenous cultures engaged their right brained skills and understood the archetypes as the many gods and goddesses that ruled each particular collective human function (agriculture, fertility, truth, sexuality, mothering, fathering, morality, etc).
It is important to understand that no matter how you connect to the archetypes, the relationship is cultivated by the imagination or right brain. The imagination does not mean what is being imagined is false (though it might when turned to fantasy). Imagination allows us to communicate with levels of sentience that are not detectable by the five senses. Just as real but cannot be seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled.
In tarot, archetypes are imagined as the 22 major arcana. Jung imagined his own list of major archetypes. Internal family systems imagines its own essential model of archetypes living in the psyche. Astrology imagines planetary archetypes to map out the psyche.
I am not here to convince you that archetypes are real, sentient, or needed to heal. If you think this is all bullocks, no worries mate. If you feel drawn to this information than this concept and understanding of the psyche may be very healing for you. I also find it to be fulfilling spiritually and creatively to connect with the archetypes and I do so daily though using tarot, astrology, painting, and journeying.
Healing using archetypes involves becoming aware of the archetypes. Becoming aware brings the archetypes into conscious life. Integration means to bring what is unconscious into conscious life through bringing conscious life to the unconscious. Say that ten times fast!
Much of who we are is collective and not individual. As westerners we tend to avoid the collective level of reality culturally speaking and also psychologically speaking. When you take your ego into the unconscious to integrate with the archetypes you transform into a more balanced, healthy, fulfilled, and happy person. Nature makes it so. By reconnecting with your natural roots, you will experience well-being.
For example, integrating with the Animus (the masculine archetype of the conscious feminine ego) will make a feminine identified ego take authority over her life, set healthy boundaries, make good decisions, partner with an equal who values her, differentiate herself from family, and contribute her ideas to the world as a unique person.
If her Animus is not integrated and lives unconscious and ineffectual in the collective shadow of her psyche, she may see men who do not value her as holding all of the power, she may lack boundaries and give too much of herself away, she may feel lost inside, she may be overly critical and judgmental of her partner, she may be filled with unconscious “shoulds” that she projects onto those she loves as if they are be-ll end-all truths.
In this woman’s personal shadow may live a lonely and desperate character who feels not good enough to be loved and valued by others. Let’s call this character the disempowered girl. This disempowered girl is a mirage living in the woman’s personal shadow, made up of repressed energy from childhood trauma.
The Animus is sentient and an essential foundation of this woman’s psyche. The disempowered girl is not sentient. The disempowered girl is a character made up of a narrative made up of repressed feelings that never integrated with the woman’s ego.
The disempowered girl emanates the negative vow, “I am bad” (understood through the lens of cognitive-behavioral work). The disempowered girl is the wounded inner child when understood through inner child work but the inner child is also the child archetype.
Jung used the term “complex” to describe when an archetype becomes the center sun that personal shadow characters orbit around. The sun being the archetype and the planets being repressed energy in the personal shadow make up a galaxy of dysfunction.
In in this example, the child archetype would be the sun and the disempowered girl would be the negative narrative orbiting around it. The child sun would want to integrate with the conscious ego through expressing curiosity, following wonder, experiencing innocence, play, and newness but it’s pulled the disempowered girl into its orbit.
The woman, in her waking ego life, feels shame all of the time and she is too scared to try anything new and express curiosity. She judges herself and others unaware that she is doing so. She sticks to a rigid routine to feel safe, all because of this complex.
But I don’t want to get too far into complexes. My point of this blog is to share the distinction between sentient archetypal aspects that make up the fundamental nature of the psyche and the self-parts in the personal shadow that are living as characters after being repressed by the ego long ago.
I have done a lot of work on myself and with clients on engaging with the self-parts in the personal shadow, treating these parts as valuable, giving them love, acknowledging their existence and letting them express so that they may be released. This work is effective. Using tarot is a potent way to unearth these parts, as are dreams and noticing what causes big reactivity in relationships.
When you suddenly become conscious of a self-part in the personal shadow and give the part love, acknowledgment, and freedom to express, the part will often dissolve. Dissolving means integrating because when the part is released from the shadow it has integrated with the conscious present ego self.
Sometimes the part dissolves all at once and other times the part dissolves slowly over years. I have parts that have taken twenty years to integrate and sometimes a switch in treatment is what brings healing.
Sometimes it is best to not treat the personal shadow part as a character that needs acknowledgment, love, and expression. It may be more effective to use the mindfulness practice of radical acceptance and not attach to the repressed energy as a character. This would look like allowing the expression of the repressed energy to exist with conscious radical acceptance while at the same time not engaging with the part as a character, essentially ignoring it, over and over.
So, if the disempowered girl living in the personal shadow of the woman expresses through her conscious ego as a perpetual feeling of shame, the practice is for her to allow the shame to present with radical acceptance, over and over, while she ignores the shame at the same time.
I like to use the example of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” where the main character overcame his severe delusions that showed up as a group of friends that did not really exist. He did this through a very mundane practice of mindful radical acceptance. By learning to accept the appearance of these friends while at the same time not engaging with them at all, he found integration. He healed.
Sometimes you will need to attach and lovingly engage with the self-part in the personal shadow. You will need to treat this self-part like a parent or therapist and give this part love, listening, honor, and expression. Maybe you’ll need to give this part a job or a role to fulfill. In this way, it is the relationship between ego and self-part that creates healing and integration.
Other times you may need to use radial acceptance and mindfulness to heal from a chronic issue, pattern, or block. You may need to heal by not identifying with what is in the shadow while radically accepting the conscious emotional expression of this shadow part without identifying with it.
We are not our wounds. We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings.
Integrating the archetypes into conscious life, on the other hand, is necessary. You don’t want to not identify with your most fundamental human instincts. Well, unless you are a radical Buddhist monk. Otherwise, you want to integrate the archetypes so that you live with more health, balance, freedom, and happiness.
How do you know the difference between a self-part in the personal shadow and an archetype?
Usually the self-parts in the personal shadow leak through conscious life as chronic issues, negative narratives, and repeated feelings, whereas the archetypes tend to seize the ego and come on strongly as potent feelings or character traits, instincts or impulses.
For instance, in the personal shadow may be an “ugly girl” who was teased as a child and felt rejected by her classmates. This may show up in the adult woman’s ego as a chronic insecurity narrative where she is always trying to lose weight, look prettier, shop for new clothes, and improve herself because she never feels pretty enough.
The archetype that pulls the “ugly girl” into orbit may the lover, our instinctual desire to sexually merge with another. The lover archetype would seize this woman with erotic desire, feelings of love, seduction, a crush, a need to merge with another. Now we have a complex (usually there are more parts but for the sake of example, I make it simple).
The complex blocks integration of the lover with the ego of the woman because the “ugly girl” in her personal shadow shows up as the insecurity narrative in one form or another and she never allows herself to feel beautiful enough to merge with another. The lover remains shadowed and the “ugly girl” remains in the driver’s seat of her conscious life.
Does this woman need to engage with the “ugly girl”, listen to her, love her, and let her express all her wounds and pain? Does this woman need to give radical acceptance to the insecurity she feels while ignoring the chronic narrative of insecurity at the same time? Or does this woman need to do a little of both?
Intuition guides us and so does trying out different methods. I am naming only two methods and using only one framework of understanding the psyche. The important thing to keep in mind is to not compare yourself to others and do not treat any healer or therapist as a god who knows more than yourself. Results are real and methods work. Healing also may happen without any method. Keeping the mystery alive after all of this explaining! Do what works for you.