Electric Dreams

Jung, the Shadow and Dreamwork

Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

(Electric Dreams)  (Article Index)  (Search for Topic)  (View Article Options)

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 March). Jung, the Shadow and Dreamwork. Electric Dreams 8(3). Retrieved December 30, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

Jung CW 16 para 470

For Freud, the unconscious was about content that was socially unacceptable. Jung agreed with Freud and called this the personal unconscious, or the personal Shadow. However, there are some differences. Jungians will often refer to any material that is unconscious as "In Shadow" and there are depths to the Shadow that become collective rather than personal, such the Devil Archetype, or the dynamics that Shadowed Nazi Germany. That is, at some point, our personal Shadow becomes so large it is more accurate to call it a Collective Shadow. Positive characteristics may be in Shadow as well. But the most common way to refer to Shadow material is anything we once were but then pushed away. Jung felt the Shadow would often appear in dreams as an unknown but same sex person. But not *all* unknown same sex persons in dreams are Shadows. All that is unacceptable is, as they say, "in Shadow" to the degree that is us, or was us, and we deny it.

We would usually consider a Shadow figure as morally inferior. They slink around our dreamworld and we would rather die than have someone say we are like them. But denying the Shadow robs us of strength and that's why it's so useful to take a look at the Shadow when one is frozen or loses the ability to move or walk or is paralyzed in some other manner. Also, as mentioned, when its time for a person to begin to deal with the Shadow, it may begin to stalk the dreamer, which is that part of the psyche's way of saying, "Hey, you've neglected me too long and we need to talk."

Exercise: Make a list of the people you know that when they are in the room, they really get under your skin, they really bug you, and you can't say why. (Except, of course, that you consider them morally wretched creatures). And include in the list a few statements "I really hate it when they [fill in blank]." Like, "I really hate those people who suck up to the boss" or "It really bugs me every time that guy gets angry everyone whimps away and lets him have his way." OK this is the gist of an aspect of *your* Shadow. For the most part, we would rather die than admit to being or having that Shadow. But if you ask around, others may clearly see this in you, though in perhaps another form or way.

If you can locate these figures in your dreams, all the better. The point, according to Jung, is not to become or accept these figures nor to reject them, but to find your own unique and creative way to be with them or relate to them. Jung felt the dream not only *revealed* the Shadow problem, but always offered a *solution* that the ego might creatively consider, thereby carrying the dream forward. The general idea being that this is an undeveloped aspect of your personality and by coming into playful and even serious relationship with it, something special and unexpected happens.

Here is an exercise I use in my class to teach students how to begin working with their own Shadow.

Lets do a variation that Ann Wiseman uses with children. Draw a picture of a part of your dream where there is someone or something bugging, stalking, chasing or threatening you. Now draw something that would make it safe for you. Kids today too often draw guns killing the problem, but showing them how to use a prison or magic circle is useful. Now you can "talk" with the thing that has been neutralized. Have a pretend conversation with it like you were one of Ann Wiseman's school children. "Bad monster, I want you to leave me alone!" Then allow the dream image to speak back. What might does it tell you? With the kids, the monsters often said they just wanted to play. One wonders with Jung's idea that the Shadow need attention and asks for it how these wonderful little minds came up with the same solution as Jung.

Of course, adult responses may be more complex than a child. Israel is said to have wrestled all night with the angel and the thing broke his leg in the struggle. But the point here is to move forward with the dream image, to attend to it, to respond, to listen.... to begin to play. And it is surprising how things really begin to change for a person once they learn in the *dream* to begin confronting the evil threats and pursuers. One note of guidance. Jung was once doing some active imagination with a woman on a dream and she was being confronted by a lion. Jung asked her continue the dream in her imagination, go back to the image and play. She did so and said the lion turned into a flower. Jung asked her to immediately bring the lion back.... The point of image confrontation is not to gloss over the threat but come into a better relationship with it. True, we may have to cast spells and turn enemies into flowers momentarily to protect ourselves from the threat, but this is not the same as staying with the image and the tension until something new and creative happens.

Exercise: Stick with the Image: Pick a really annoying or uncomfortable dream image after awakening and choose to keep it with you during the day. Try to stay as close as possible to the feeling tone, the icky , uncomfortable part of the dream. What parts of your body does the image linger most strongly? You don't want to analyze it too much, just attend to it as if it were a sick child you are attending. Imagine that you are going to carry this image around with you in your pocket during the day. Try to bring the image out whenever possible: coffee breaks, walking to the car, on the bus, in the bathroom, while cooking dinner. Watch your own reactions and feelings and thoughts to the image, but again, don't over analyze it, just stay with it, and notice what comes up for you. At the end of the day make some notes about your feelings about the image, how your day was or wasn't different, if anything new came up for you. end exercise.

For most people, the changes are very slow and subtle in this exercise. But many feel a movement from an all-out desire to just get rid of the feelings (or complaints about how boring the exercise is ? an interesting 20th century emotional fear defense) to an unexplainable empathy and affection for the image, even though it basically remains an icky image.

Shadow work is the work of a lifetime. We don't get rid of our Shadow by doing Shadow work (though it will shift and change). Develop one side and another will slip into being unused and underdeveloped. To accept and value one thing means another will seem unappealing. What can we do? If Jung is correct about our dreams balancing our ego, and our path is one of wholeness and individuation, we watch our dreams, that's what we do. The dream itself forms a Shadow for our society. Notice how in popular culture the dream and the Shadow are both considered something morally inferior (rare is it that the ethics of a dream are taken by people as superior to dayworld judgements). Both are something we want to be rid of (as a culture, our parents tell us it was "just a dream" and we should focus on the daytime tasks at hand). Both are intrusive ? they happen *to* us. It's only recently that lucid dreaming has come into the public consciousness. For the most part, we are the passive recipients of dreams (and inferior parts of our self ? we don't *choose* to have people get under our skin!).

Besides the personal Shadow, there is the collective Shadow, who shows up in stories as Evil Itself, the Devil, and the Enemy. Although mythic heroes engage and take on these monsters and exemplify various historical paths we can take as individuals, we cannot take on the Collective Shadow by our own. We do our part by dealing with our personal Shadows, but its an egotistic and inflated person that thinks they can take on a Collective Shadow. It would be like an individual trying to solve the problem on his/her own of atomic weapons. And we see what happens to these individuals in mythic characters like Captain Nemo in _Twenty thousand Leagues under the Sea_ or Ahab in _Moby Dick_. Because the approach to the personal Shadow can led us into "deeper waters", its often advised to have a personal therapist or be part of a larger community when doing this kind of work. Its still in question whether or not non-professional or peer groups can provide the kind of container to do deep shadow work. The Electric Dreams community has been exploring this since 1994 and the general feeling is that it can provide a container for the insight aspects of Shadow work, though it often lags on the emotional side. John Herbert's work on group dreamwork and computer mediated communications has provided some encouraging statistics and guidelines. Whether this work is really Jungian is a question beyond the scope of this essay. I am bringing it up just to say that at some point we *do* need to move our personal Shadowork to group Shadowork, and all forms of communication can be instrumental in this project. Note for example the work done by the Electric Dreams community during the Kosovo Crisis when we had Serbian members in the online dreamgroup. Some people left the group in protest, while others stayed and continued doing dreamwork with the "enemy" to the benefit of both sides.
(see http://www.dreamgate.com/dream/Serbia/

I would like to advise that anyone taking the path of self development and self discovery might examine the support system that is available to you. Grass root dream support groups and other support groups are now available all over the Americas and Europe. Ask the leaders about the ethics of the group. For a guide, I recommend using the Association for the Study of Dreams ethics guide for dreamwork:

While we might work with our personal and collective Shadows all our lives, we aren't *always* encountering the Shadow in dreams. Once we have a productive relationship with the Shadow and the unacceptable, a new guide emerges, that which we most desire. This area is even more dangerous than what we despise, yet can lead us to live a life of completeness and wholeness. However, this journey begins by not turning away from the unacceptable, by not tossing our dreams aside in the morning, by not averting our gaze from what our dreams present to us, from
learning to look at what we can absolutely not look at.

Bibliography & Special Bibliographies

(CW) = Jung, C. G. (1953) The Collected Works. Translated by R. C. F. Hull. Bollingen Series XX, vol.s 1?20, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

(MDR) = Jung, C. G. (1965). _Memories, Dreams and Reflections NewYork, NY: Vintage Books.

Campbell, Joseph (1959). _The Masks of God_. Vol 1?4, New York: Viking Press

Eliade, Mircea_A History of Religious Ideas_ Vol1?3, Chicago, IL: Universtiy of Chicago Press.

Guggenbuhl-Craig, Adolf. _(1978) Power in the helping Professions._ Zurich: Spring Publications.

Hall, James, A. (1983). Jungian Dream Interpretation: A handbook of Theory and Practice. Inner city Books: Toronto, Canada.

Jung , C. G. _ Aion_, CW 9, II, chap. 2 pp. 8?10.

________ . "Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious," CW 9, I pp. 3-41.

________. "The Problems of Modern psychotherapy," CW 16, pp. 53?75.

Von Franz, marie-Louise. (1971). "The Inferior Function". In von Franz, marie-Louise, and Hillman, James, Jung's topology. New York: Spring Publication.

von Franz, M?L. (1964) "The Realization of the Shadow" in C. G. Jung's _man and His Symbols_ . p 166-176. New York, NY: Doubleday

Whitmont, Edward, C. (1969). "The Shadow: Chapter 9 in _The Symbolic Quest_. Princeton, NJ :Princeton University Press.

Psychological Types, CW 6, esp, chapter 11, "Definitions," under "Soul (psyche, personality, persona, anima)" pp. 463?470.


Jung , C. G. _ Aion_, CW 9, II, chap. 2 pp. 8?10.

________ . "Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious," CW 9, I pp. 3-41.

--------. "The Problems of Modern psychotherapy," CW 16, pp. 53?75.

Guggenbuhl-Craig, Adolf. _(1978) Power in the helping Professions._ Zurich: Spring Publications.

Von Franz, marie-Louise. (1971). "The Inferior Function". In von Franz, marie-Louise, and Hillman, James, Jung's topology. New York: Spring Publication.

von Franz, M-L. (1964) "The Realization of the Shadow" in C. G. Jung's _man and His Symbols_ . p 166-176. New York, NY: Doubleday

Whitmont, Edward, C. (1969). "The Shadow: Chapter 9 in _The Symbolic Quest_. Princeton, NJ :Princeton University Press.

For the Latest Links collected on this subject in relation to dreaming, go to the DreamGate Links page