I was first introduced to the concept of the human shadow by A Little Book on the Human Shadow, by the American poet Robert Bly, who in turn had been introduced to the idea by the works of Carl Jung.
In his book—a very quick read, which I highly recommend—Bly introduces the aspect of the human shadow and analyses it, and even transposes it to the political affairs of the time (the book was published in 1988).
In all of us, there is a part of light and a part of shadow. A yin and a yang, which make us complete beings, with a 360 degrees character: wholly spherical. It is the union of the light and shadow that are in us that make us what we are: it makes us complete and unique.
Jung analyzed this concept, relating it from the individual to society in general, and found that as we grow up, our state of complete beings, our unity, starts to be torn apart. Because people—parents, teachers, etc.—tell us what to do and not to do ("do not run,""do not yell,""behave yourself"), we begin casting away, denying, a great part of our shadow. As the shadow is an important positive aspect of our personality, this mechanism creates a scission: a part of us is thus put away, as if hidden in a big bag that we carry with us at all times. Bly tells us that we do this until the age of twenty and that from then on, we start opening the bag and eventually taking out and facing what’s inside. However, this is not always the case.
When we ignore, do not take care of, the part of us we have put away, that undernourished shadow becomes increasingly hostile, so that when we finally open the bag—having ignored its contents for a long time—we find inside a monster we do not recognize. It is precisely this mechanism that underlies the events of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Our shadow is part of our essence, part of who we are. We should not ignore it. On the contrary, we should take care of it, explore it, know it, face it. Our sexuality is one of the first things we put away, says Bly, and the monsters we do not recognize any longer, we will inevitably attribute to our partners, our strongest bonds, projecting them outwards as if they were not part of us. Facing our shadow, embracing it, means feeling more complete and being able to have healthier relationships in marriages but also within the family between parents and children.
Let us take care of our shadow then, let us not hide it, but love it and expose it: for the things we tend to hide from others make us even more special and human, and when we accept them and free ourselves from them, we may find a way to a better and healthier life.
Edoardo is an Italian native and has lived and studied both in Italy and abroad. He graduated with a B.A. in Modern Languages and Economics from the University of Milan and with an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of London. He now lives and works in the city of Bologna.