What is “Shadow Psychology”?

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD
March 15, 2019

Carl Jung was one of the most famous psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, and founders of psychology as we know it today. He developed theories about why we think and feel the way we do and  had many philosophies that influenced the field of psychology; a major one involving the unconscious parts of human personality and why they are  meaningful. Jung and fellow theorist Sigmund Freud had many ideas about the unconscious mind and how it affects our consciousness and mental health in general and their theories, while similar, usually diverged around the idea of the unconscious mind. Jung often called the unconscious mind the “shadow”, or the unknown “dark side” of our personality, due to the “primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses” that we all have naturally.

shadow psychology

Jung’s theory suggests metaphorically that humans tend to hide their flaws, faults, or maladaptive tendencies from others and themselves in an effort to see themselves as more honorable than those around them. While the shadow is normally identified as the negative parts of our subconscious, Jung also believed that it could involve positive things, if a person was struggling with mental health issues. For example, if someone was suffering from depression, they may not be able to connect with their positive qualities and all of their positive attributes, in their own mind, may be hidden in their unconscious, unable to reach. So, what is the opposite of the shadow? Jung discussed the “light of consciousness” as the conscious part of the human mind that is easy to uncover and understand. His theory suggests that if there are dark, unconscious urges or desires that conflict with a person’s conscious mind, they will cause problems for people in their life. However, if the person is able to bring those urges and desires into their “light of consciousness”, they may be able to normalize them, understand them, and address them to help decrease the conflictual feelings they are having.

A psychologist who follows the teaching of Jung may be inclined to help a person who is struggling with mental health issues to dig deep into the things that they try to repress, things that are in their “shadow” mind. Someone who studies and practices “shadow psychology” can conduct a lot of different kinds of therapy activities to help a person to unlock things that they may be hiding from themselves. Often those who follow Jungian psychology will help a client understand different ways they are trying to keep unconscious thoughts at bay, including using projection to place the unwanted thoughts or feelings onto another person when they begin to see themselves embodying those characteristics that they dislike in themselves, among many other ways.

There are many other different patterns that Jung calls “archetypes” that he believed originated in the unconscious mind but begin to enter consciousness as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. He also believed these archetypes were all part of the “collective unconscious”, or that they were something that all human beings shared with one another.Jungian psychologists will use archetype theory and shadow theory to help clients understand and normalize some of their negative associations with themselves by explaining that we all experience times when our unconscious mind tries to infiltrate our conscious mind and cause us to experience distress. Overall, the theory is something that is used more metaphorically by psychologists to help their clients understand the deeper levels of their psyche in order to provide some relief of their mental health symptoms.

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events

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