This week I was reminded, as I so often am, of something psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said, “who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes”. A client she is telling me about how depressed she feels all the time, and how life seems to hold no joy. Soon afterwards she is describing a friend who seems to help lift her mood with his positivity, his compassion and willingness to see the best in himself and others. She is learning from him something important about herself, about how to find the things she fears, and what it is possible to do about them.
Some years ago in my distant corporate life I had to work closely with someone I didn’t like. Although I feel certain that the feeling was mutual, my experience of him was particularly alarming and unsettling. His arrogance, ambition and self assuredness translated to me as an odious self server who couldn’t be trusted. At the time it was impossible for me to realise that he too was teaching me something important about myself. My dislike for him was much less to do with who he was than with the way I experienced myself.
A client stares out of the window, nearing the end of a long and abusive relationship, but with all the practicalities and emotional turbulence of final severance in front of her. She is overwhelmed but through it all she still identifies a fundamental fear. “I don’t want to feel lonely”. I know that she will come to see that she can never be as lonely as she has been in this relationship, and that she does not fear her husband being absent, but instead her ability to be present for herself.
Jung talked of the “shadow” that we have in all of us, and how in that shadow we keep the parts of ourselves that we fear or repress, believing them of no value. He understood that what we fear is so rarely outside of us and that emotional distress and neurosis is generated within us, held in the shadow.
My client was drawn to her positive and caring friend because he is a constant reminder that she needs to find those qualities in herself. In her shadow she has diminished the value of self worth because her life experiences have left her with the impression that she is not worthy of care and love in the quantities she needs and deserves.
My corporate colleague displayed a level of confidence and self promotion that I found so distasteful because I had convinced myself that these “selfish” characteristics were to be despised. But I was failing to draw distinction between that which is healthy self image, and belligerent self interest. Held in my shadow was a fear of being too confident for fear of appearing arrogant. In my shadow I tell myself that arrogance leads people away from me and leaves me in isolation. I don’t want to be alone.
My client’s concern about loneliness after the end of a marriage is a clarion call, to ensure that never again will she be abandoned by the one person she needs to feel love from, herself. In her shadow she had denied herself love believing that it can only come from someone else because self love is selfish and bad, and that nobody loves someone selfish and bad because they do not deserve it.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Other people are like mirrors, helping us to identify what lurks in the shadows. The problem is that when see our shadow reflected in others we are sold on the lie that it is just them who has the problem or the solution, when really we are seeing our own issues projected back to us and being left with the opportunity to address them ourselves, the only way that progress is ever made in a meaningful and sustainable way.
Often the hardest place to look is inside, but it is the place with all of the answers. Today someone told me about the small steps she has made this week and the discomfort she feels from making the changes, despite the euphoria of seeing them happen. Jung has an idea about that too. “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them”.