It’s a little strange, right — Halloween? The thrilling excitement of a haunted house, the delightful surprise of spooky characters emerging from the dark city streets to go trick or treating? The aisles of our grocery stores become stocked with fake blood, skeletal remains, and signs of death around every turn.
From classic horror movies to monster mash music, everyone has an experience they relate to when it comes to Halloween. As a parent of young children, I find myself asking, “What is TOO spooky to include in Halloween goody bags? Are witch fingers okay? How about bloody eyeballs? Where is the line between fun and scary?”
Obviously, this line has to be individually drawn for each unique person. But even as our culture has become increasingly sensitive to what we are exposed to and how we celebrate collectively, Halloween still seems to be immune to this censorship. Haunted houses go on haunting and thriller movies get even more gruesome year after year.
What that says to me is that Carl Jung, famous Swiss psychiatrist, was not wrong when he outlined the archetypes of human existence, which included a “Shadow” that we all have in some form. Jung believed that as a moral and civil society, there existed parts of ourselves that we do not wish to bring to light. Parts that we repress, or reject entirely in some cases, and so these parts are relegated to a kind of shadow self, a double self that we sometimes live in complete denial of.
Pop culture has long explored the phenomenon of humans having a “dark side.” These characteristics can manifest in a multitude of ways, spanning across a range of offensiveness. They could be anything, really, that impacts your social acceptability, from primal urges to quirky defense mechanisms, intense jealousy or rage issues. But the bottom line is, we all have them, we all have the tendency to hide them, and they can sometimes be identified by something that we claim we dislike in another person.
One operation of the Shadow is projection making. When we spot a characteristic in another person that we have rejected within ourselves, our unconscious defense is to project onto this person the level of anger, rejection, or disgust we feel for that characteristic that has been mirrored back to us. It is a complex process that can be difficult to bring awareness to.
There is a type of “shadow work,” exercises to bring awareness to our individual shadow selves and address things we have repressed or rejected. Though it should be said that any kind of work concerning the psyche should be treated carefully and in serious cases under the supervision of a trained professional.
But what could benefit us from acknowledging or exploring a shadow self? After all, isn’t what is cast into the shadows often cast out because it is unwanted?
For starters, integration of the self. Maybe more than our desire to be well rounded and well liked is our desire to be whole and complete. Which would include reconciliation of all of our misgivings and all of our darkest secrets. And Jung explains that whatever it is that lurks inside our shadow, can only be addressed if our awareness is brought to it.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” – Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion
If we do not allow ourselves this maturity into integration, then we remain somehow internally divided. And there exists a strong link between chronic health issues, both physical and emotional, and unaddressed stress or repressions.
Maybe Halloween is an opportunity for us to bring awareness to this shadow-self, individually and collectively. It may actually be our most noble quest that year after year, we pull out all the things that scare us and we examine them under safe and favorable light.