The shadow is that part of ourselves that we fear, that we strive to keep inside of us no matter what. Most of the time we don’t want to recognise we even have a shadow and do the impossible not to meet and confront it. Owning Your Own Shadow is a book about the importance of facing that part of ourselves we fear the most.
The book is short, 112 pages, and it took me around three hours to finish. Even if it’s a book about Jungian psychology, it’s not as dense as you might expect. The author does not use psychological jargon all the time, I’d say it’s more colloquial in tone compared to other books. I believe this makes it a nice read for those who, like me, are interested in Jungian psychology, but haven’t studied it formally.
I found it an informative read, even if I had some knowledge on the topic before starting the book. It makes a good introduction on the topic of the shadow, although there isn’t a thorough explanation of Jung’s analytical psychology. Some concepts are mentioned, but it won’t give more than a general idea of the theory behind it. If you’re new to the entire topic, maybe a general introduction to Jungian psychology might help you understand where the whole shadow business comes from.
The first two chapters discuss the shadow: what it is, why we escape it, and why it is important for people to confront it. The core idea is that shadow work helps both us and society; if we integrate our shadow and recognise how it plays, we can stop projecting it onto others and refuse when others project theirs on us.
The last, brief chapter of the book – called the Mandorla – describes how the author sees shadow integration and how one could go about it. Johnson itself states there is no one way to confront and integrate one’s shadow, so there is no universal recipe either. I don’t find it surprising, coming from a therapist.
SPIRITUALITY AND THE SHADOW
Throughout the book, there is a strong spiritual and religious influence that I couldn’t always agree with. Partially because of the heavy Christian-based belief and symbolism (I don’t relate to Christ as the role model for humanity’s inner work, for example) and partially because sometimes it felt to be a little extreme, in a way. However, I do agree on three basic spiritual ideas shared.
The first one is that shadow work is spiritual work and that in doing it, we can get closer to the Divine. Not only does shadow work allow us to know ourselves and understanding better ourselves, but to better understand others as well. It is also a work of synthesis, the synthesis between the opposing forces inside of us. Both ideas can be found in a variety of spiritual traditions. I enjoyed the idea that paradox is our primary tool in this work, it reminded me of Buddhist philosophy.
The second spiritual idea I share with the author is that religious and everyday life shouldn’t be separated and put into different boxes. It furthers the idea of dichotomy and separation, whereas shadow work is – as I mentioned before – synthesis. The split is counterproductive and can also result in guilt and fear (the big fear of sin in Christianity comes to mind).
The third idea is that ritual can help us with our inner work, that through ritual we can integrate our shadow. Johnson uses the idea of Mass being a shadow experience for the Christian but also talks about personal rituals that can be ordinary actions such as taking out the trash. One of the things that find me a sceptic is in this section: the author states that since people don’t go to Mass as before, we make and consume movies and novels to project our shadow. Even if I can agree, to an extent, it is put down in a way that seems to suggest storytelling didn’t exist when Mass was popular. I bet this isn’t what the author meant, but it was what got through.
I liked this book and I think I’ll revisit it in the future. It’s short, so it’s not a comprehensive introduction, but there’s enough information to make it useful. Even if the topic is discussed from a very subjective point of view, the author’s opinions are firmly grounded in psychology. I’d suggest, if it’s a first read on the topic, to pair it with a more objective essay. It’s always useful to hear a second opinion, anyway.