Originally I was going to write on my changed perception of the acceptance stage of grief. However as I researched various views on the acceptance stage I came across the Jungian concept of “the shadow” in relation to the dying of loved ones. This inspired me to talk about my own views of “the shadow” especially in relationship to my grief.
For the purpose of this discussion I will be using the “shadow self” as defined as “the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious.” The human psyche has a tendency to construct a conscious personality with which it interacts with the world. All of our trauma and pain we push down into our subconscious mind. Sometimes positive attributes are stuffed into the shadow self as well. In this way, contrary to what Jung proposed, our true Self becomes hidden within the shadow while the false self walks in the light.
From my experiences the abused wife is the best way to illustrate this construct. No matter whether the abuse comes physically or emotionally (as in the case of narcissistic abuse) the abused wife learns and unlearns patterns of behavior and pushes into the shadow those behaviors that trigger the abuse. The woman may have been a confident nurturer who enjoyed drawing, writing, and exploring the sexual side of her life. After abuse is triggered during nurturing, or in the act of creation, or in the bedroom during intercourse she begins to lock away those portions of her identity viewing that as the safest method to continue living. Unfortunately the very things that she has locked away kept her spiritually alive. Every person, on some level and with some exceptions, desires to live life fully in body, mind, and spirit. Thus she fabricates a way to satisfy her spiritual need by embracing religion. While this suggestion is controversial it must be noted that I am using an example here and not specifically stating that people only find religion because they are satisfying the needs of their false self.
This process creates what I will refer to as an “identity dissonance” wherein symptoms may manifest themselves through a variety of ways including depression, anxiety, dissociation, personality disorders, etc. In many cases ignorance of the dissonance helps manage the symptoms until such time that the dissonance is brought into the light and forces the person to face it once and for all. This will occur at some point in a person’s life and may manifest itself as a midlife crisis, during personal trials and tribulations, or it may present itself near death.
By the time the identity dissonance has occured it is often too late to supress either the shadow self or the conscious self. At this point it becomes necessary to recognize the True Self — that Self which is neither shadow nor conscious, but an amalgam of both. The True Self is the integration of shadow and light, masculine and feminine. In order to do this something must die so that the new may be reborn.
“The grace of death lies partially in the fact that people are their most authentic selves as they are dying – with all of their pain and worry and fear. Often at the very end, all of the masquerade of the false self is stripped away and there is just the breath and the spirit in the room” – Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D
Resolution of the identity dissonance is always accompanied by fear. We fear the abandonment of the very construct that has kept us “safe” for so long. Because we do not possess, or do not believe we possess, gnosis of what lies beyond that abyss we choose to run away. We end up disappointed in ourselves and that disappointment is actually a diagnostic tool. Most of our emotions are diagnostic tools. In this case the disappointment is diagnosing that we have chosen the path we do not truly want for ourselves. Let’s look at the abused wife again as an example. She stays with her husband and becomes disappointed in herself for being weak and a coward. The disappointment drives her to a suicide attempt. She didn’t understand that the disappointment was diagnosing that she had chosen the path of least resistance. Had she escaped from the abuse she may have faced fear and other consequences that she may or may not have considered, but the disappointment would be gone and resolution of the dissonance would occur faster than if she had stayed.
In many ways the identity dissonance is only resolved through death. One confronts the duality that has composed her entire life. She evaluates that the life she has known has been disappointing but safe. She hunkered down with that life and made the best of it. The shadow self has been recognized after a recent trauma. The shadow, anxious for recognition, begins to claw its way out of her. She begins to feel pulled in two directions and cannot resolve the dissonance. She makes a choice. Upon making that choice her disappointment increases, the shadow does not leave, and potentially more of herself gets pushed into the shadow. Fear of the unknown is a natural reaction when faced with resolving the identity dissonance. However it does more good to embrace both selves, creating a death of the old way of being, and being reborn into the True Self. In this happiness becomes reality far more quickly after the fear than when choosing disappointment. The resulting choices are — death of the physical body (which has its own spiritual consequences depending upon your belief system), death of the relationship (which carries with it a certain grief that has fewer consequences than the other death), death of the false self (which, when combined with the previous death, allows for full growth of the True Self).
In closing, the experience of trauma and unresolved grief can lead to the subdual of the True Self and placing aspects of oneself into the shadow where those unresolved issues are resolved only unconsciously. When identity dissonance is created we must face our fears, use disappointment as a diagnostic tool, and allow for the death of the false self. Once this is done true healing occurs.