Dancing With the Shadow: A Conversation With Connie Zweig

Interview originally published in Psychology Today

Continued from the homepage:

CZ:  That’s right. I have a client who came to see me because she was cheating on her husband and she had no idea why. Her first marriage had been unhappy and she made excuses for herself because she was miserable. But in the second marriage, there was a lot of love and stability as well as a new baby. She really wanted that relationship, and yet this self-destructive behavior kept erupting. And so she practiced centering, through her practice of Vipassana and walking meditation, and she began to watch the impulse, her internal dialogue and feelings, before she acted out the behavior.

What she uncovered was that she didn’t feel seen or desired in her marriages. So she would have anonymous sex because she then felt desired; she liked the danger. That cheater part of her had unconscious needs that were getting met when she cheated but not in her marriage. In that first layer of shadow work, she began to express those valid needs to her husband and see if she could get them met. Shadow behavior has intelligence—it’s trying to tell us something.

Then we uncovered that in her Catholic upbringing, hse was told she was bad and there was nothing she could do about it because that was her nature: to be evil and wrong. So that cheater part was confirming her badness. And when she acted it out, her higher self was completely overshadowed. The message that she was bad was confirmed. In our shadow work, she realized that all the anxiety she had felt in both her personal and work life was connected to this message that she was bad. And that if she wasn’t good at work, she would be abandoned, and that created workaholic behavior.

What motivated her was a negative motivation not to be bad. And in her relationship, it drove her to be a good wife and mother. She was performing so she wouldn’t feel like she was bad, and then she was acting out the badness in this shadow character, the cheater.

There is a lot of knowledge in these shadow parts but if we dismiss or repress them, we miss out on the gold that’s there for our own self-knowledge, for the evolution of our higher consciousness. We also miss out on the repair from our childhood because all shadow behavior is rooted in childhood messages.

MM:  How does exploration of the shadow alter our relationship to the world, and other people?

CZ:  An ability to observe expands the range of our lives so we’re not living in a narrow persona that’s always deemed acceptable, which is where most people live, people trying to be proper. So there’s a lot of richness and possibility in exploring these shadow parts, even though they may be scary and feel risky. The other thing with that client was her search for thrill and danger. She needed to find constructive ways to experience that, because that’s a positive wish. She was at mid-life and needed more excitement. So you can see there’s a lot of needs inside of the shadow character that have a positive quality to them.

MM:  How much leeway do we allow ourselves in that swing between the acceptable persona and the part that needs to risk and transgress?

CZ:  For some, there can be symbolic transgression rather than physical. Some people can do this through their creative work or through their dreams. In our dreams, so much can happen because there’s no rules by that ethical monitor: the ego. For other people, that’s not enough, and so they need to face fears and find excitement in their lives. As long as you don’t hurt yourself or hurt another person. As long as you honor your commitments and don’t break your word, then you can do all kinds of things. But that zone is different sizes for different people.

Yesterday I saw the movie Captain Fantastic, which I highly recommend. It’s about children being raised in the wilderness in kind of a hippie setting with a lot of freedom. Their father has them do dangerous things: they kill animals to survive, rock climb and break bones, and the question becomes, What is aliveness? What is the value of learning to survive independently in the woods and what is child abuse? I think we all wrestle with that for ourselves because we want aliveness. It’s also like the movie Wild. We became domesticated and civilized, and that wildness is in the shadow. I think it’s one of the causes of the increasing violence in the world today.  One of the reasons people want guns is because we’re disconnected from that wildness. And that spontaneity, that animal instinct is in all of us. It’s very repressed but it’s coming out now in some of these crooked ways.

MM: You’ve written, “To live with shadow awareness is to turn away from the peaks toward the valleys, away from the heights and the rarified air toward the depths and the dark and the dense. It is to turn toward the unpleasant thoughts, hidden fantasies, marginal feelings that are taboo. Our secret lust, greed, envy, rage. To live with shadow awareness is to move our eyes from up to down, to relinquish the clarity of blue-sky thinking for the uncertain murkiness of a foggy morning.” That is so beautiful, and yet we live in a culture that’s addicted to blue-sky thinking. So how can people begin to open themselves to the shadow in their lives?

CZ:  That’s such an individual question. There’s a risk that if we don’t hold both, we lose part of our humanity, and we may also force another person to carry what we don’t carry for ourselves, creating imbalance in relationship. So how much can you allow yourself to see, to feel, to know and still hold on to your truth, your center? Not be carried away, either by the light or by the darkness, but actually live in your ground, in the center of your reality?

Look at what happened in the Catholic Church. Sexuality was in the shadow. So we can see it all around us. We can see it in the class divisions of working class people hating wealthy people and wealthy people angry at poor people. And cops violent with African-Americans. And native people hating immigrants. This is all shadow projection that adds to the collective shadow and creates darkness in the world. So for some people, whatever contribution they can make to the larger world is their call. For some, their suffering forces them to look inside. For some people, addiction is the call they have to answer. It’s different for different people, but it’s important for all of us to answer that call. We have to take that journey, or we only add to the darkness of the world.

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Denial And The Shadow

Denial is entrenched because the shadow does not want to come out of its hiding place. Its nature is to hide, to remain outside of awareness. So, the shadow acts out indirectly, concealed in a sour mood or a sarcastic remark or a hostile act. Or it sneaks out compulsively, camouflaged in an addictive, self-destructive behavior, such as emotional eating. Or in a projection onto the Other, demonizing the trait that is lying hidden within – he’s so weak, they’re so lazy, she’s so slutty.

Therefore, we need to learn how to catch a glimpse of it when it appears. We need to sharpen our senses to be awake enough when it erupts – identifying the repetitive thoughts, feelings, and sensations that accompany each shadow.

Then we can learn to romance it, coaxe it out, seduce it into awareness – and make a conscious relationship with it. Like a coy lover, it will recede once more behind the curtain. And again, with patience, we can invite it out to dance. This slow process of bringing the shadow to consciousness, forgetting, and recognizing it again is the nature of shadow-work.

Romancing the shadow is subversive: The culture teaches us to be extroverted, quick, ambitious, productive. Workaholism is lauded; contemplation is shunned. But shadow-work is slow, cautious; it moves like an animal in the night. It moves us against the collective mandate to think positively, be productive, focus outwardly, and protect our image.

The shadow is a demanding task master: it requires endless patience, keen instinct, fine discrimination, the compassion of a Buddha. It requires one eye turned out toward the world of light, the other eye turned in toward the world of darkness.

To live with shadow awareness is to turn away from the peaks toward the valleys, away from the heights and the rarified air, toward the depths and the dark and the dense. It is to turn toward the unpleasant thoughts, hidden fantasies, marginal feelings that are taboo – our secret lust, greed, envy, rage. To live with shadow awareness is to move our eyes from up to down, to relinquish the clarity of blue-sky thinking for the uncertain murkiness of a foggy morning.

As psychotherapists we have helped hundreds of clients catch a glimpse of their elusive shadows. Seeing it — meeting the shadow — is the important first step. Learning to live with it — romancing the shadow — is a life-long challenge.

But the rewards are profound: Shadow-work enables us to alter our self-sabotaging behavior, so that we can achieve a more self-directed life. It expands our awareness to include a wider range of who we are, so that we can attain more complete self-knowledge and eventually feel more genuine self-acceptance. It permits us to defuse the negative emotions that taint our loving relationships, so that we can create a more authentic intimacy. It shows us how to reclaim our projections onto the Other and open our hearts to more compassion. And it opens the storehouse of creativity in which our talents remain hidden and out of reach – our lost creative dreams, our sacrificed gifts. In each of these ways, shadow-work permits us to find gold in the dark side.

We offer the fundamental skills of shadow-work that are needed to move from meeting the shadow to romancing the shadow as a way of life. Romancing the shadow means reading the messages encoded in the events of our daily lives in such a way that we gain consciousness, substance, soul. Romancing the shadow means meeting the shadow for a private rendezvous; eventually, it means taking it seriously enough to learn to embrace it in a long-term relationship.

Of course, some people find this shift distasteful, even abhorrent. Why not simply behave properly, they ask, shape our attitudes, cut and trim our feelings so that they fit moral, ethical, god-given outlines? Then white is white and black is black, and the struggle with grays can end.

The mind is dangerous, they say, like a tiger in a cage. Open the door and it will think cruel, inhuman thoughts. The body is wild, they say, like some unruly beast. Let it run loose and it will do terrible, perverted, aggressive things.

These people believe that we need more protection from the lures of the shadow — stricter morals, higher fences. They wish to bring back old fundamentalisms to shield us against forbidden feelings, ambiguous choices. They seek to widen the split between good and evil, between Jesus and his dark brother Satan, between the followers of Allah and the heathens, between the members of their religious cult and the rest of fallen humanity. Longing to remain on god’s side, they refuse to engage the darkness in their own souls.

But this deep-seated denial of shadow, this pervasive resistance to looking in its eye, is accompanied by a strange obsession with it. Just as we turn away from the gloomy facts of life, we also turn toward them again in curiosity, compelled in some strange way to try to understand the dark side of our nature. Millions of people read terrifying Gothic novels with great appetite, compelled to visit a domain of cruelty, lust, perversion, and crime. Or we sit for hours transfixed by films about cold, vengeful, bloody behavior that, in the outside world, would be deemed inhuman. The conventions of Gothic horror even shape our daily newspaper reporting and broadcast news programs, which tell front-page tales of hero-villains that lead double lives. The shadow is both dangerous and familiar, repulsive and attractive, grotesque and alluring.

In truth, we can no longer afford these extreme attitudes toward the shadow: we cannot afford to look away from the beast in denial, pretending that a naive, trusting stance will protect us from it “out there.” And we cannot afford to look too directly at the beast for too long, for we risk numbing our own souls. Instead, we need to cultivate an attitude of respect toward the shadow, to see it honestly without dismissing it or becoming overwhelmed by it.

In this way an encounter with the shadow might become an initiation, a call to remember the multi-faceted complexity of human nature and the fertile depths of the human soul. We need to start by acknowledging the dark side — but we do not end there. An encounter with the shadow might lead to debate about pressing social questions and even bring about change in social policy. For example, a wave of police shootings based on racial prejudice might enhance efforts toward racial reconciliation. Or a series of allegations of pedophilia among the clergy might result in a deeper examination of the role of celibacy in the lives of religious people. Or, a personal experience of the devastating effects of climate change –hurricanes, desertification, food and water shortages, mass migrations —  might lead a CEO or a farmer or even a politician to question his own denial.

I suggest that for most people — that is, those without serious psychological problems —  greater shadow awareness can lead to greater morality. In fact, Carl Jung, who coined the term “shadow,” posed it as a moral problem. He suggested that we need a reorientation or fundamental change of attitude, a metanoia, to look it squarely in the eyes, that is, our own eyes.

 

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Meeting The Shadow At Midlife

When I turned forty, the solid ground beneath my feet cracked open. I dropped through a fissure, down, down, and disappeared into a great blackness. I lived for a long while at the bottom of a dark hole looking up.

Nothing had prepared me for such an eclipse. No betrayal, no wound had shown me the way. I had not felt depressed since adolescence, when I first discovered Sartre and Camus. I had not felt depressed when some of my friends dog-paddled and sank beneath the surface from addiction or failed marriages. I had not felt depressed when world events turned grim and human cruelty stared back at me with hollow eyes.

Instead, I had felt some strange immunity, as if I were vaccinated against descent, as if I walked on buoyant ground filled with helium perhaps, or hope. And I saw this as a sign of grace, a sign that the gods winked at me and smiled.

Then I turned forty. And, like an unforeseen natural disaster, the earth yawned open, a long hand rose up from the depths of the underworld, grabbed me by the foot — and stopped my dancing.

The music of the underworld plays in a minor key. It hums constantly like a droning lament. The inhabitants of the underworld, shrouded in black, speak in whispers, as if they could awaken the dead.The sky in the underworld is not a blue envelope; it is a dusky tunnel that swallows every particle of light. The colors of the underworld pale and fade to gray, not an oceanic blue-gray, not a shiny silver-gray, just gray, flat and unending. Tastes — sweet, salty, bitter — turn to ash on the tongue. Life in the underworld is a still life, drawn without motion in two dimensions.

For a while, I faded into the background, monotone and colorless, part of the still life. Then, like Theseus holding onto Ariadne’s golden thread, I began to follow the plumb-line through my dreams. Slowly, I opened my eyes to the darkness;   slowly, I opened my heart to the pregnant possibilities that gestated there. Slowly, like a blind poet, I groped my way toward images and words.

I sought an acquaintance with the journeyers who had descended before me: Inanna, Persephone, Orpheus, Dionysus, Theseus. Their strange-sounding names grew familiar to me. I recited them like a long litany. . . and slowly began to feel that I was not alone, but rather that a family of souls encircled me. Then I began to feel that I was not off the path, but had stumbled onto another path, a hidden, more treacherous road that led not to enlightenment but, perhaps, to endarkenment.

*                                                        *                                               *

The Greeks had a name for this downward path: katabasis, or descent. Our ancient forebears understood that we needed not only to fly above with the birds, lightly and full of grace, but also to crawl beneath with the snakes, slowly, silently, on our bellies. We do not choose this lower path; it chooses us. At midlife, we do not have depression; rather, depression has us. And if we can allow the ego to take a back seat and go along for the ride, then the real journey can begin: depression can become descent; the refusal to go down can become the choice to go down. And the appointment with the shadow can be kept.

We propose here a symbolic approach to midlife depression. It does not preclude a psychological perspective or a biological one. In fact, we suggest that the ideal approach to depression might include all three — body, mind, and soul. But we wish to address a specific kind of depression here, the kind that typically appears at midlife. And often this garden variety does not stem from early childhood trauma or from neurochemical imbalance.

Instead, midlife depression is an archetypal event, a meeting with the daimonic. It is a symbolic turning toward the second half of life, an irreversible turning. And just this quality — its irreversibility — carries a depressive weight. For an individual to carry this weight alone, the task may be arduous, even unbearable. But if we can detect footprints on the path, we might learn the stories of those who have gone before and in this way lighten the load. We may uncover the pattern that connects us to the past and to the future. For the underworld of midlife depression is the ancestral realm and the mythical realm; it is the land of the dead and the land of the dream.

As James Hillman says, the underworld is the psyche. An experience of it radically alters our experience of life.  For some travelers who identify with the depression, a katabasis leads to total despair. Jung, who saw descent as a stage in the individuation process, pointed out that “the dread and resistance which every natural human being experiences when it comes to delving too deeply into himself is, at bottom, the fear of the journey to Hades.”

For this reason, Jung suggested that we need to be led downwards by another because it is not easy for us to descend from the heights alone and remain below. We fear a loss of social prestige and a loss of moral self-esteem when we have to admit our own darkness. We fear that we may never ascend again. Yet, he said, “‘below’ means the bed-rock of reality, which despite all self-deceptions is there right enough.”

This hell-realm is bankrupt of feeling, empty of meaning. Some journeyers, unable to heed the call, refuse to walk through the door to Hell by feverishly doing more of the same: more work for more hours, more alcohol, more jogging, more sex, more gambling, even more books about the promise of immortality. For them, midlife looks like an uphill marathon race, anything so as not to stop — and hear the call to descend.

How do you deny the call to descend? What are the consequences of disobeying the voice? What do you imagine will happen if you go down into the underworld of your own psyche?

How do you meet the shadow at midlife?

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The Challenge Of Romancing The Shadow

Denial is entrenched because the shadow does not want to come out of its hiding place. Its nature is to hide, to remain outside of awareness. So, the shadow acts out indirectly, concealed in a sour mood or sarcastic remark. Or it sneaks out compulsively, camouflaged in an addictive behavior. Therefore, we need to learn how to catch a glimpse of it when it appears. We need to sharpen our senses to be awake enough when it erupts. Then we can learn to romance it, coaxe it out, seduce it into awareness. Like a coy lover, it will recede once more behind the curtain. And again, with patience, we can invite it out to dance. This slow process of bringing the shadow to consciousness, forgetting, and recognizing it again is the nature of shadow-work.

Romancing the shadow is subversive: The culture teaches us to be extroverted, quick, ambitious, productive. Workaholism is lauded; contemplation is shunned. But shadow-work is slow, cautious; it moves like an animal in the night. It moves us against the collective mandate to think positively, be productive, focus outwardly, and protect our image.

The shadow is a demanding task master: it requires endless patience, keen instinct, fine discrimination, the compassion of a Buddha. It requires one eye turned out toward the world of light, the other eye turned in toward the world of darkness.

To live with shadow awareness is to turn away from the peaks toward the valleys, away from the heights and the rarified air, toward the depths and the dark and the dense. It is to turn toward the unpleasant thoughts, hidden fantasies, marginal feelings that are so taboo. To live with shadow awareness is to move our eyes from up to down, to relinquish the clarity of blue-sky thinking for the uncertain murkiness of a foggy morning.

As psychotherapists we have helped hundreds of clients catch a glimpse of their elusive shadows. Seeing it — meeting the shadow — is the important first step. Learning to live with it — romancing the shadow — is a life-long challenge. But the rewards are profound: Shadow-work enables us to alter our self-sabotaging behavior, so that we can achieve a more self-directed life. It expands our awareness to include a wider range of who we are, so that we can attain more complete self-knowledge and eventually feel more genuine self-acceptance. It permits us to defuse the negative emotions that taint our loving relationships, so that we can create a more authentic intimacy. And it opens the storehouse of creativity in which our talents remain hidden and out of reach. In each of these ways, shadow-work permits us to find gold in the dark side.

We offer the fundamental skills of shadow-work that are needed to move from meeting the shadow to romancing the shadow as a way of life. Romancing the shadow means reading the messages encoded in the events of our daily lives in such a way that we gain consciousness, substance, soul. Romancing the shadow means meeting the shadow for a private rendezvous; eventually, it means taking it seriously enough to learn to embrace it in a long-term relationship.

Of course, some people find this shift distasteful, even abhorrent. Why not simply behave properly, they ask, shape our attitudes, cut and trim our feelings so that they fit moral, ethical, god-given outlines? Then white is white and black is black, and the struggle with grays can end.

The mind is dangerous, they say, like a tiger in a cage. Open the door and it will think cruel, inhuman thoughts. The body is wild, they say, like some unruly beast. Let it run loose and it will do terrible, perverted, aggressive things.

These people believe that we need more protection from the lures of the shadow — stricter morals, higher fences. They wish to bring back old fundamentalisms to shield us against forbidden feelings, ambiguous choices. They seek to widen the split between good and evil, between Jesus and his dark brother Satan, between the followers of Allah and the heathens, between the members of their religious cult and the rest of fallen humanity. Longing to remain on god’s side, they refuse to engage the darkness in their own souls.
But this deep-seated denial of shadow, this pervasive resistance to looking in its eye is accompanied by a strange obsession with it. Just as we turn away from the gloomy facts of life, we also turn toward them again in curiosity, compelled in some strange way to try to understand the dark side of our nature. Millions of us read terrifying Gothic novels with great appetite, compelled to visit a domain of cruelty, lust, perversion, and crime. Or we sit for hours transfixed by films about cold, vengeful, bloody behavior that, in the outside world, would be deemed inhuman. The conventions of Gothic horror even shape our daily newspaper reporting and broadcast news programs, which tell front-page tales of hero-villains that lead double lives.The shadow is both dangerous and familiar, repulsive and attractive, grotesque and alluring.

In truth, we can no longer afford these extreme attitudes toward the shadow: we cannot afford to look away from the beast in denial, pretending that a naive, trusting stance will protect us from it “out there.” And we cannot afford to look too directly
at the beast for too long, for we risk numbing our own souls. Instead, we need to cultivate an attitude of respect toward the shadow, to see it honestly without dismissing it or becoming overwhelmed by it.

In this way an encounter with the shadow might become an initiation, a call to remember the multi-faceted complexity of human nature and the fertile depths of the human soul. We need to start by acknowledging the dark side — but we do not end there. Ideally, an encounter with the shadow might open debate about pressing social questions and even bring about change in social policy. For example, a wave of accusations of satanic cult abuse might lead to an inquiry into the growing fascination with demonic forces. Or a series of allegations of pedophilia among the clergy might result in a deeper examination of the role of celibacy in the lives of religious people. Or a rash of hate crimes based on racial prejudice might enhance efforts toward racial reconciliation.

I suggest that for most people — that is, those without serious psychological problems — greater shadow awareness can lead to greater morality. In fact, Carl Jung, who coined the term “shadow,” posed it as a moral problem. He suggested that we need a reorientation or fundamental change of attitude, a metanoia, to look it squarely in the eyes, that is, our own eyes.

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The Shadow Knows | An Interview with The Moon

This article originally appeared in The MOON magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Connie Zweig, Ph.D., is a Jungian-oriented therapist and the founder of the Center for Shadow-work and Spiritual Counseling of AIWP. Known as “the shadow expert,” she has written three books on shadow-work, including Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (with Jeremiah Abrams), Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul (with Dr. Steve Wolf), and The Holy Longing: Spiritual Yearning and Its Shadow Side. She and Wolf have developed techniques for drawing the shadow into the light so that clients can understand how and why their shadows have developed, what are the unmet needs or unfilled aspirations the shadow represents, and how clients can address those needs and aspirations more directly, thereby freeing themselves from self-sabotage.

With more than twenty-five years in private practice, Dr. Zweig counsels couples and individuals locally in Los Angeles and internationally via Skype. She also does dream work with clients, particularly around issues of blocked creativity. As a meditation instructor for forty years and a lifelong student of the mystic traditions, she is also available for spiritual counseling with people of all spiritual paths.

She spoke with The MOON by phone from her home in Topanga Canyon, outside of Los Angeles.

The MOON: What is “the shadow”?

Zweig: The shadow is what psychologists refer to as the personal unconscious. It’s the part of us that’s a blind spot, outside of our awareness. It’s elusive. When we catch a glimpse of it, it runs away again. It contains all of the qualities, attributes, feelings and abilities that we were not allowed to develop and that became taboo to us. So it might include our anger, our artistic abilities, our addictive tendencies, our sorrow. It can contain any traits or capacities that were repressed when we were children. They don’t vanish or disappear, however; they are stored in our bodyminds and become our shadows. We don’t have the freedom to express these traits or qualities or to live them out because we don’t even know that they’re there.

The MOON: So how do we engage them, or work with them, if we can’t see them; if we don’t know they’re there?

Zweig: Shadow material tends to leak out, and sometimes it erupts. Sometimes it leaks out in our humor—a joke or a snarky comment that has meanness or superiority in it. Sometimes it erupts in rage. Sometimes it erupts in tears that seem to come out of nowhere. At midlife it might come out in feelings of regret that we haven’t lived our authentic life; we’ve lived someone else’s choices for us. That’s because if we choose conformity in life, a lot of stuff gets buried in our shadow—hidden from our awareness. So in midlife, you see people blow up their marriages, walk away from their jobs, throw their lives into complete disarray so that they can live out those qualities that were buried before.

The shadow also comes out in projection. For example, we see someone we intensely dislike. We think she looks slutty, but it’s because our own sense of sexuality is repressed. We rail against homosexuality, because we’re not willing to face our own homosexual impulses. Or we find a man bossy and overbearing because our own sense of power is repressed. We project qualities onto other people and see them as outside of ourselves. That’s one way of detecting our own shadow—by looking at our projections onto others.

The shadow often shows up in our relationships. We might marry someone who carries qualities that are repressed in us. We might have repetitive fights with our partners about these things because we’re encountering our own shadow material in our partner.

You meet the shadow when your unconscious mind sabotages your conscious intentions. You know that the shadow has appeared when you feel angry, powerless, invisible, envious, greedy, anxious, depressed, or out of control, and you say or do something impulsive or self-destructive, then feel guilty or ashamed afterward. At those times, you are meeting an unacceptable part of yourself.

Another way you can meet the shadow is through negative feedback from others who serve as your mirror. They might say something like, “This is the third time you’ve arrived late without calling.” Their feedback is telling you that there’s a part of your personality that is hidden from you, but it’s leaking out, and others are calling your attention to it.

The MOON: We’ve often heard that those qualities we object to in another are those that we’ve repressed in ourselves. But if we don’t like a quality—even in ourselves—doesn’t it make sense that we’d also find it objectionable in another?

Zweig: Yes, but the question to ask yourself is why am I so antagonistic to this behavior—in myself or another? Usually it’s because we learned to disown a similar part of ourselves very early on. It’s the force of our repression that gives an objectionable behavior such a charge when we see it in another. If it’s just a casual preference—I prefer baseball over basketball, for example—it won’t carry so much energy, as in I can’t stand basketball! I can’t even stand to hear it broadcast! which might indicate that we’ve got an association to basketball with something objectionable in our past. Once we understand why we’re reacting so hostilely to something as mundane as basketball, our reaction will probably lose a lot—if not all—of its intensity. We might still prefer baseball, but basketball won’t trigger such a strong emotional reaction.

I’m currently counseling a couple who are almost complete opposites. She’s like a princess and wants to be treated so that she feels precious. To her that means spending money on her, going to expensive hotels, buying her gifts. That’s how she feels loved. He, however, is kind of a hippie. He’d rather go camping than stay in a hotel; he doesn’t want to spend money on fancy restaurants, excess consumption, or other superficial things. So they’re really opposites in their values. Yet they’re incredibly attracted to each other because each one of them is carrying the disowned side of the other’s psyche. It’s very mysterious, the way the shadow leads us to our physical and emotional attractions to other people. But part of the mystery is that the other person is living out qualities that are buried in us. It doesn’t mean we should be with that person; it doesn’t mean we can be compatible. But in some cases, when you form a relationship like that, it can be a really broadening and deepening experience if you willingly take on sharing the values of the other person.

For example, I’m seeing another woman who has led a very independent, unconventional life. She was committed to being single until she recently married a man who’d had a long previous marriage with children. At first she wanted nothing to do with raising a family, but she has since stepped into the role of wife and stepmother, and she’s really enjoying all of the aspects of domestic life that she’d previously rejected.

The MOON: So it’s a matter of choice. If you choose to engage repressed aspects of yourself—your shadow—you might develop new capacities. But I’m curious about the couple that is so incompatible. Can that marriage be saved?

Zweig: It’s very challenging. They’ll have to find what their deep connection is really about and focus on cultivating that connection, because it’s not behavioral; it’s not about lifestyle. And they’ll each have to adapt because neither of them will get all of what they want from the other. He’s not going to get a camper; and she’s not going to get treated like royalty. So they’ll have to develop the capacity to stretch and accommodate and give their loved one some of what he or she needs if they want to be together.

A lot of repetitive conflict in relationship is about shadow material. You can’t really work on shadow material yourself because you can’t see it. But when you can get help to uncover what is hidden in your unconscious, you start to see that it’s asking for help; it’s asking to be recognized and acknowledged.

For example, one client is always criticizing her husband. She doesn’t like what he wears, how he cuts his hair, what he eats, the fact that he’s overweight, and she’s constantly giving him the message that he’s not good enough; he’s “not doing it right.” So the first question is, “Why does he put up with this?” The answer is, he had a very critical mother. So very early in his experience he connected love with criticism. In his psyche, love and criticism go together, so part of his work is to untangle that. He has to realize that criticism is not loving behavior and choose whether he will continue to tolerate criticism if she cannot change.

The second question is, “Why is she constantly criticizing him?” The answer is that she, too, had very critical parents. Her parents criticized each other and her. But her need to control him is more about her perfectionism. She has an image of the perfect man in her psyche that she is trying to get him to fit into. That’s not who he is; he’s human; he’s not perfect. She has to work with her own perfectionism and need to control. Her criticism is just a symptom of her internal process; she’s objectifying him the way men objectify women. When she learns to open her heart and accept her husband for who he is—rather than an inadequate replica of the image in her mind—then she’ll stop criticizing him. Why would you criticize someone for being the way he is? That’s like criticizing water for being wet. That’s a waste of time and energy. So, what just looks like behavior—criticism—is actually a very profound reflection of what’s going on inside each of their shadows and what needs to be healed. The parts of them that are struggling with this are actually coming into consciousness to be healed. It’s not just his life that will be improved if she stops criticizing. She will be freed from her bondage to an image of perfection and will be able to enter into an actual loving relationship. She has moved in this direction already. She’s much more deeply accepting of him now and criticizes him much less often. And when she does, she’s much more likely to catch it and say, “I’m sorry. My critical shadow came out. It’s not about you. I’m going to take a few minutes and come back to myself now.” The dynamic of their relationship is shifting because they’re gaining awareness about themselves, which is the benefit of shadow work. That which was hidden moves into our awareness so we can choose how we want to deal with it.

The MOON: Harville Hendrix, in his book, Getting the Love You Want, says that we inevitably attract partners who will remind us of the unhealed aspects of our relationship with our opposite sex parent. Even if our partner didn’t start out reminding us of our father, for example, over time we will elicit that familiar father-like response from our partner because we’re unconsciously trying to heal that relationship, that wound. Is that part of the shadow, too?

Can we find healing on our own, or do we always need therapy?

Zweig: Hendrix is speaking there about projective identification. My colleague Steve Wolf and I developed a method for doing that work, which we describe in our book, Romancing the Shadow. Carl Jung, who coined the term “personal shadow,” used dreams as a way to access the shadow. Dreams give us a direct portrait of what’s going on in our unconscious. Steve and I developed a method that adds to dream work. Most people are living at a more superficial level of awareness and, rather than necessarily understand their unconscious, they want to work on feelings and behavior, such as communication and other skills. There are techniques you can learn to acknowledge and accept rejected parts of yourself into your life, to communicate so that you don’t trigger your partner, and so on.

In order to be able to really observe what is going on in your shadow, you need a way to center yourself. The shadow is a container of all this banished material. While in the container, this material forms itself into various characters—a raging monster, a victim, a perpetrator, a tyrant, an innocent child, a mean Mommy, a rebellious teenager, a philandering spouse, an addict. These are shadow characters, and with awareness you can begin to identify these characters and recognize patterns regarding when they’re likely to emerge. When you recognize the signals that indicate this character is active, is about to emerge in your behavior, you can choose whether you want to obey it or not. You do this by listening to your internal dialogue and identifying who is speaking. For example, in the case of the hypercritical wife, she learned to listen to who was speaking in her mind just before she was tempted to be critical—and it was always the exact words. Her inner critic would say, “Oh no, he doesn’t look good.” “Oh no, I can’t be seen with him.” Along with that internal dialogue there are physical sensations: her stomach or shoulders would tighten. She’d also have an emotional response: dread, fear, or anxiety. Now she had three cues, or signals, that her shadow character, The Critic, was about to speak, and she had a nanosecond in which she could choose whether she was going to allow that or not.

If you have some centering practice, such as meditation or martial arts, then you can catch your shadow character before it acts. If you don’t, the shadow character is likely to take over and you’ll only be able to recognize it afterwards, and apologize for it, or make amends. Our method is to help people learn to catch the shadow ahead of time and make a different choice.

What can a person do with that energy that’s about to emerge from the shadow? In the case of the wife who has caught The Critic a split second before she speaks, she can ask herself, “Do I accept my husband as he is?” She can go into her heart and connect with her love for her husband. She can choose a different way to express her concern about his appearance. She could make a suggestion, or a request, for example, instead of voicing a criticism. She could say something like, “Oh honey, I’m so happy we’re going to the party together tonight. I really think you look great in that blue shirt. Would you mind wearing that one?” That kind of communication gives her husband a totally different message.

Another skill we teach is taking responsibility for your shadow and making amends if you fail to catch it in advance. So if the wife doesn’t catch her Critic in time she can say something like, “Honey, I’m so sorry. My shadow critic came out. I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings. This is not about you; this is my shadow, and I’m working on it.”

Other people might want to exercise some form of creative expression with various aspects of their shadow. They might want to draw it, dance it, express it through movement, write about it or write to it, or even act it out in a role-playing opportunity. The point is to get to know your shadow very intimately.

It’s also helpful to trace it back to your family history so you can see where it began and why this aspect of your psyche might have been repressed. As you do that, you begin to have compassion for the deeper need that is embodied by that shadow character. In the wife’s case, for example, The Critic is trying to protect her from shame and embarrassment. She’s fearful of losing control and being in a situation that isn’t safe. Once she recognizes this, she can begin to attend to that deeper need. Is her safety really jeopardized by what shirt her husband wears? Or by how much he weighs? How could she reassure herself that she really is safe in social situations? There’s a deeper need in every behavior and every shadow character that’s actually valid. The benefit of shadow work is identifying that need and and meeting it directly, rather than indirectly.

Say, for example, someone is addicted to a substance. There’s actually an underlying valid need that’s drawing that person to drink too much, or eat too much, or take drugs too much. It usually goes back to our very early childhood when we were figuring out our coping strategies to protect ourselves and meet our emotional needs. However, as children we didn’t have the power and autonomy we do as adults, so most of our coping strategies were indirect. Now that we’re adults we have a much greater range of possibilities for dealing with stressful situations—and we can address them directly. They don’t have to hide in the shadow. They don’t have to affect our lives destructively.

The MOON: I understand that couples, groups, and even nations can have shadows. What do you see as evidence of the United States’ shadow?

Zweig: One of Jung’s greatest contributions was to go beyond personal psychology and recognize that groups also have an unconscious process. So the Catholic Church has a shadow, right? [Laughs] The local Rotary Club has a shadow. The United States has a shadow. It’s a complicated shadow because we’re a diverse nation, but this country was founded on genocide of the Native Americans. It was built on the enslavement of Africans. And it projects superiority and a certain kind of paternalism on the rest of the world to this day. This creates a lot of shadow material in our dealings with other countries. Even our foreign aid is corrupted by our shadow. For example, I just saw an incredible documentary on the unintended consequences of our constant gifts of rice and flour to Africa. Our aid, which is often supported in the U.S. by price subsidies, wipes out local agriculture in Africa. The farmers can’t compete with free food week after week. So there’s a shadow even in our giving. There’s also a shadow in our self-righteousness about capitalism and democracy; our belief that our way is the best and everyone else should follow it—even if we have to kill to get them to. There’s still racism in our culture, and sexism, and classism. Our government is still basically a patriarchal white man’s club and consequently we have a lot of shadow issues around income and class. All of these shadow issues are rarely discussed; they’re mostly ignored.

Climate change, which is only now being taken somewhat seriously, has been recognized by scientists for decades, but ignored. In one sense, it’s too big a blind spot to see. In another sense, there are too many vested interests to allow us to see it. That kind of denial is a defense against the shadow — in this case, the destruction of our habitat.

The MOON: Even as I anticipate publishing your interview, I can imagine a response of “That’s unpatriotic; that’s un-American. Why do you hate America?” That’s the conventional response of people who respond angrily to being informed of genocide, racism, or even climate change.

Zweig: Well, as I said, vitriol—a very intense negative reaction—typically indicates the shadow at work. I think telling the truth is patriotic. I don’t believe it’s patriotic to be in denial of reality. I think we need to define patriotism differently if it means blind obedience to whatever propaganda our leaders or news media tell us. Patriotism shouldn’t mean nationalism. It shouldn’t mean arrogance or know-it-all superiority. To me, patriotism means looking at our greatness and our limitations and doing the work to get better, just as we have to do in our personal lives. We become conscious of where we’ve created harm and we make amends and work to repair the past. To me, that’s patriotic.

Right now the health and sustainability of the entire planet is at risk, and most of humanity is in denial about it. They can’t imagine life without a livable planet because, indeed, it is unimaginable. There won’t be complex forms of life if we wreck the planet. So most people either fall back on the belief that God will save us, if they’re religious; or that Nature will save us, if they’re atheists; or that technology will save us. It’s too unbearable to think otherwise. To me, this is the biggest collective shadow issue. By that I mean, there’s a kind of looking away, an inability to tolerate the truth; an avoidance. Some people rationalize away the truth; for others it’s just too frightening to even contemplate. Meanwhile, everything is at risk. This is not just an individual’s denial; this is a species-wide denial. I believe this is the shadow issue that is carrying the most power right now and therefore is the most dangerous.

The MOON: How could we effectively, collectively engage it—by which I mean, bring it into the light and address it?

Zweig: I don’t know that I can answer that. Scientists have been trying to do it and they’re being mocked, belittled, and ignored. After all, many people on the planet don’t trust or believe in science. A lot of the population is caught up in survival. They’re not thinking about broader issues if they don’t have food, or water, or safety, or a functioning government. I’ve had this fantasy that the children and grandchildren of the men who own the oil companies will take this on, but I don’t have an answer because it’s such a huge and complex problem.

I’ve taken several trainings about dealing with climate change, and the answer for some is that climate change is only going to be addressed—or it’s going to be addressed first—locally and regionally. Several states are now creating regional carbon trading systems; some cities are creating policies for adaptation and resilience. It doesn’t seem as if it’s going to be effectively addressed at the level of our federal government or at the level of the U.N. and the International Panel on Climate Change—at least, not without more disasters. But even disasters only bring reality into the light and mobilize us for a short period of time. Then the media changes focus—to a war, or an accident—and public attention dissipates. I just read today that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is denying climate change. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed his state, he’s rejecting reality. So when you’re up against that level of denial, I don’t know what you do. Unless the young people could organize the adults in power…that’s my only hope.

The MOON: Rabbi Michael Lerner has proposed a day of atonement to address—with humility—the fact that we’ve done wrong. To me, that seems like a promising start, although we don’t yet have a national day of atonement.

Zweig: Exactly. Michael has come up with some beautiful ways of addressing collective shadow work, but I don’t see much movement around them. I think there could be collective atonement about all the national issues we talked about, and about this global issue, as well. But I don’t see it happening. Moreover, atonement for global warming isn’t going to help the planet. We’re in high emergency now.

I was trained by Al Gore to give climate change presentations and they’re so catastrophic that I decided I couldn’t continue making them. Then I was trained to lobby our elected officials in Washington on this issue, and after about fifteen meetings I realized that these elected officials were clinically depressed, so depressed that they were paralyzed. So I don’t have an answer for the question.

The MOON: I appreciate you wading into this because The MOON is about consciousness and community—so how we as conscious people address issues that affect our community is squarely on-target. I also wrestle with this issue myself: how to deal with reality enough that you’re informed, yet not so much that you’re paralyzed by fear and grief. Because we have to maintain our own individual and collective morale so that we can function.

Zweig: I think we keep up morale by empowering ourselves and experiencing our effectiveness in something we’re passionate about. I think there is definitely a role for community on this issue—for people to organize their neighborhood, their church, their friends; to work with their city governments; to lobby their state and federal governments. But all of this activity is incremental and slow. It helps our morale, but I don’t know that it’s going to save us or the planet. In fact, the issue is not prevention any longer. It’s too late to prevent some of the worst consequences of climate change. Now we have to work on strategies for adaptation and resilience—how to get our communities ready and prepared.

The MOON: I’ve also spoken with environmental activist Tim DeChristopher on this issue, and he believes it’s important to tell people the truth and let them experience their grief about it because on the other side of the grief is the will to take sustained action. He says we need the support of a community to handle the grief, but it’s his experience that so long as we’re keeping the grief at arm’s length we’re operating on the surface; we’re skirting denial. We’re not fully empowering ourselves. It’s like the difference in commitment of someone who’s intellectually opposed to drinking and driving versus someone who’s lost a child to a drunk driver. In our case, we have to have faith that if we go through the grief we’ll get to a better place, a place that will inspire more effective action.

Zweig: Yes, but I don’t think there’s a single answer that’s right for everyone. I think his approach could be right for some people. I remember Joanna Macy in the 1970s writing about grief in connection with the nuclear arms race. Whenever there’s a big collective shadow issue, there’s a role for facing our grief and our mortality. I would say the grief is about our mortality. For some people, however, that can be paralyzing. If they tend toward depression, I don’t recommend it unless they have a really strong guide who can take them through. For others, it could be very powerful work because the grief is there, and if we’re defending against it, it’s in the way. It’s consuming energy we could better use for taking action, or even taking better care of ourselves.

Some people are better built to handle grief than others. We have different constitutions and defenses, and I don’t think there’s one right way for everyone to face the collective shadow.

The MOON: How did you become interested in shadow work?

Zweig: In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I fell in love with reading Jung and I went into Jungian analysis and started working with my dreams. At the time, I was a fulltime meditation teacher and my spiritual life was all that mattered. I was very ungrounded and disconnected from my body and nature, and I was just getting high spiritually. I started analyzing my dreams and realizing I was in denial of my own shadow material. As I stayed with the work I realized I was actually cut off from my own depths. Meditation takes you up, but it doesn’t necessarily take you down into the depths of your psyche. I realized that I wanted both the depths and the heights. So I went through two analyses and got to know my own shadow stuff really well and eventually, in the ‘80s, started writing and publishing about it. In the ‘90s I went back to graduate school to get my doctorate in depth psychology. Meeting the Shadow, my collection of writings about this came out in 1989 and was a huge hit, making me realize there was a hunger for this material. Six or seven years later I wrote Romancing the Shadow with Steve Wolf, followed by the Holy Longing, which is about spirituality and the shadow. So I’ve been following this thread for a few decades now, and it’s been very rewarding—both for my own personal development, as well as for the effectiveness of the therapy I do with people.

The MOON: Aside from your professional success, what have been the benefits of getting to know your shadow? How has it enriched your life?

Zweig: I would say that there’s a level of authenticity that comes from facing your own wounds. There’s a level of truth-telling to me now. There’s a level of deepening into my own soul. I feel that I know myself very well. I have the capacity to witness my shadow material when it comes out and to repair the damage it does. So my relationship with the shadow is very conscious, which translates into a very conscious relationship with my husband. He is conscious of and willing to make amends on behalf of his shadow too. Our marriage has become part of our path for both our emotional and spiritual work. Without this depth work I’d be a totally different person.

The MOON: Can you give us an example?

Zweig: My friends used to tell me I was judgmental. So I started working on this shadow character, “the Judge.” Why was this coming up in me and what were the consequences of my feeling judgmental? The consequence was separation. Judgment breaks the heart connection with people. So I started examining this…and it doesn’t come up anymore. I feel an openness with people I didn’t feel when The Judge was active in me.

The MOON: Are you more loving of yourself? Are you more self-accepting?

Zweig: You can’t be truly self-accepting until you know your “stuff.” I mean, in my twenties when I thought of myself as a spiritual being who was going to save the world by teaching meditation, with nothing else going on, I might have been self-accepting, but it was acceptance on a very superficial level. I didn’t know my fears. I didn’t know my capacity for harm. I didn’t know the consequences of my childhood wounds. I didn’t know my own anger. So, yes, you’re more self-accepting when you really understand what all these shadow impulses stem from and what you can do about them. I’m more aware of projection that goes on in me and all around me. I can recognize when people are projecting onto me and I can make adjustments for it. I can say something like, “I don’t think you’re getting me. Let me explain where I’m coming from.”

When you know yourself in this way, it’s a different life. Your capacity for love, generosity, and compassion is always there; it’s innate, but it’s blocked by all your garbage. Once you clear the garbage away, the love, generosity, and compassion can flow. Quieting your mind is also extremely helpful. My mind used to be very noisy, with a lot of internal dialogue. It’s not like that anymore. It’s quiet a lot of the time, which gives me a sense of internal peace, and less sense of separation from everyone and everything. When I’m out in nature now I feel deeply connected. I’m not still caught up in the dialogue going on in my head. It’s the ego-mind that separates us—the ego’s identification with the mind, thinking that we are our thoughts. That’s very distracting and isolating. When the ego is in its place, however—when it’s not inflated thinking “I’m so spiritual and better than everyone else”; and not deflated thinking “Oh, I’m worthless”—then we can have peace and connection with all that is. That’s a completely different quality of life.

Our lives are determined, I believe, by our level of consciousness and our momentary state of consciousness. So that’s our work: cultivating an emotional and spiritual state in which we can find equilibrium and unity with people and things around us; in which we can experience a quality of awareness that’s inclusive and doesn’t have to be so defended against through repression, denial, and projection.

The MOON: I’d like to try one more time to see if we could find one technique that we as a collective could use anytime we noticed that our national dialogue was very hostile and polarized and that perhaps there was shadow material at work. Is there a recommendation you could give us for helping us to recognize the shadow and change the conversation? Would it be acknowledging a wound? A fear?

Zweig: The liberal/conservative, Democratic/Republican split in this country is all about shadow projection. Some people want change and others are terrified of it. Some people want awareness and others are terrified of it. Some people want inclusiveness—whether it’s women, or immigrants, or minorities—and others are terrified of sharing power, or authority, or whatever we want to call it. These issues are all about shadow projections. There’s research that shows that the brains of liberals and conservatives are different; they respond differently to stimuli. There’s a fear of novelty in conservative people. There’s a fear of intrusion or otherness. That’s the fear of the shadow. So it appears as if conservative people are saying, “We want to maintain power. We want things to stay the way they are. We don’t want those other people to have power.” It’s all about shadow projection of the fear of otherness. And some of my progressive friends have that same shadow fear of conservatives. They rage at the television when Republicans are talking. The same hatred and fear of difference, of otherness, is present.

But I don’t think it gets us anywhere to talk about projection when it’s happening at that scale and at such a primitive level of emotions. It’s the exact same situation with Palestinians and Israelis: ancient, tribal enmity that’s based on fear of otherness. Palestinians want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth and deny its right to exist. Israelis see Palestinians as primitive, almost subhuman—completely “other.”

To me it’s like stating the obvious: it’s all about shadow projection. What can be done about it? Evolution of consciousness.

Human beings are at a very primitive level of consciousness right now. There are only a relative handful of people on the planet who can even have the conversation we’re having. Most people are living in their limbic brains where life is about survival. Then there are the people who are negotiating for us—whether it’s to end war, or address climate change, or whatever. Those people are operating from paradigmatic frameworks that are heavily invested in national or corporate interest, rather than humanity’s interest. People are not living at the level of concern for humanity. The heart chakra of humanity has not opened. People are not inclusive at the level of the species—that we’re all in this together. As long as the limbic brain, or the ego, is in control, I don’t know what can be done. The unconscious is running the show.

I think a lot of what happens in the United States is that we project this heroic, savior-complex onto our presidents. It happened with Kennedy; perhaps a little bit with Clinton; and it happened with Obama. People think that somehow these leaders can do what hasn’t been done before. But I believe our government policies reflect the level of our collective consciousness. That’s what progressives are upset with Obama about: he looked as if he was going to be different, but the same horrible policies are happening. What does that mean? We teach everyone to meditate and do shadow work? Even if we’re successful, we’ll only reach a fraction of a fraction of humanity.

The MOON: What if it only takes a fraction of a fraction of humanity to make the difference?

Zweig: What I’m saying is there’s no formula and no glib solution, and people who think there is are dangerous. If their solution is to convert everyone to Christianity or Islam, they’re dangerous. People who insist they know what’s best for everyone—whether it’s democracy, or capitalism, or Islam—haven’t done their own shadow work.

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