How well do you know yourself?

Not just the bits that are easy to see in the light… but the parts that lurk in the shadows, too. The more hidden, darker undersides. The parts that might be harder to catch a glimpse of. That you’re less comfortable with – or even unconscious of.

Or maybe you don’t believe you have any of those…

Carl Jung believed that you do.

A luminary of the psychological realm, and founder of analytical psychology, Jung pioneered a whole new outlook on the way we tick. He peered into our darker spaces and our dim, forgotten corners. And there he saw the shadow play that he felt we all engage in.

Jung thought each of us (even you) harbour both constructive and destructive forces – the good and the bad – the yin and the yang.

And our shadow self is simply part of that rich mix. It’s just that it happens to be the darker side. The less socially acceptable one. The dangerous. “…The side of ourselves that we would prefer not to recognise.” [1]

So it’s the bits you’d rather disown. Or deny. The stuff that might unconsciously drive you in directions that your more public self could feel embarrassed about, shocked over, or even ashamed of. The secret self…

Do you feel like you might have one of those?

And, if so, how might you actually see it?

Well, much like your physical shadow, if you only look directly at yourself, you may not even spot it. So the trick is to sort of look indirectly… For if you look around you, at where your shadow might be projected onto, you often get a much clearer sense of it.

And in the case of our shadow self, Jung felt we project it onto other people.

How might this work?

Well, you know when someone really ‘pushes your buttons’ or ‘gets under your skin’? The theory is that maybe it’s not always just them that’s involved… that maybe you’re finally catching a glimpse of something that you do, too (that you just haven’t recognised about yourself yet).

So next time you feel a strong reaction to someone – an inexplicable discomfort, a ‘bad feeling’, an anger that’s a bit too big to be explained – just take another look…

For, deep down, maybe you’re not even engaging with them much at all. Maybe you’re engaging with your shadow self

And then what?

Jung felt that it’s vital to learn to accept this part of ourselves.
To embrace the full complement of our possibilities.
To truly see our “…primitive impulses such as selfishness and greed.” [2]
To “…recognise that we are not entirely free of what we consider the bad or evil traits we see in others.” [3]

To simply accept our shadow’s existence…

And in light of all this shadow stuff, maybe there’s another way of putting the question at the beginning of this post:

How well do you know your selves?


1. Monte, CF & Sollod, RN (2003) Beneath the Mask: An Introduction to Theories of Personality (7th Edn) John Wiley & Sons, p.137.
2. Corey, G (2005), Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 7th edn, Brooks/Cole, Belmont, CA, p.74.
3. Monte, CF & Sollod, RN (2003) Beneath the Mask: An Introduction to Theories of Personality (7th Edn) John Wiley & Sons, p.137.
Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.