Of all the problems we face, few are more painful or difficult than those presented by the human shadow. Whether beating up on ourselves or taking our frustrations out on others, the shadow is the source of the most difficult challenges we face. Ranging from meanness and greed to rage-driven behaviors like murder or sexual abuse, the havoc the shadow can unleash is legendary. Evil lives in the shadow. Unleash the shadow and people die. Human history is a record of what happens when people’s lives are taken over by their shadows. And yet, for all the shadow’s power and for all that has been written about evil and cruelty, we understand surprisingly little about it. We warehouse criminals in prison because we are unable/unwilling to help them come back across the dark river.
In its essence, the shadow is a protector. It seeks to defend us from those who we think might abuse us. I want to emphasize that the shadow is a defensive system. Although it can use a remarkable range of behaviors from passive avoidance to physical and emotional violence, none of these behaviors seek to resolve problems.
Whether they cause us to be aggressive or give way, the purpose of the shadow’s responses are to create separation, i.e., “psychological distance” between ourselves and a perceived threat. In its aggressive posture, the shadow will lash out. It is the instrument of the preemptive strike. In order to create passivity, the shadow does things like shatter our self-confidence or magnify a threat to keep us from venturing into dangerous territory. The shadow also seeks to prevent us from losing our individuality to the mind-numbing influences of mediocrity and psychological confinement. It rebels against mindless conformity and sheep-think.
Because of its protective nature, the shadow is responsive to our fear, and that is where we get into trouble. What if we conjure a threat where there is none? Or, what if we exaggerate a threat out of proportion? To the mind, perception is reality. You react to a movie, even though it is only images on a screen. A threat, real or imagined, demands a response. An objective observer might judge your reaction as excessive, but to you, your response is necessary, even though the consequences are regrettable. What twists the situation around, as I said, are our fears, and fear is individual and comes in many flavors. You may be comfortable in a situation I find completely terrifying – around intimacy, for example. What if someone merely desires friendship, but you are afraid of being hurt or rejected? Real or not, these are threats, and they must be defended against. The shadow provides ways to “cope” with these threats.
“Coping” by the way, does not mean addressing things openly. Our fear regales against that. “Coping,” means creating wiggle room. So what do we do? We lie, we cheat, we connive, we manipulate. We avoid, we deny, we sell out. Internally we rationalize the situation so that it fits our mindset. “He’s not my type,” “She just uses people,” etc. Under other circumstances, those things might be true, but more often than not, it’s just you seeking to justify your response to an uncomfortable situation. And by the way, what is the meaning of “uncomfortable?” At the core it means, “I am threatened.”
Now, as TV chef Emeril Lagasse says, “let’s kick things up a notch.” Assume that your partner is having an affair. When you learn about it, you are naturally going to be hurt and angry. Your partner has violated both the relationship and your trust. That is the healthy and normal part of your reaction. However, the explosive part of your response does not come from there. The incendiary part is driven by the little boy or girl who has, once again, been rejected. Feeling extremely vulnerable, the wounded inner one brings the shadow’s protective mechanisms into play in order to blunt the painful assault of an old wound that has just been ripped open. Your inner child fears a return to a very painful past experience. Your partner has chosen someone else over you, and the fact that “this is happening again,” and by someone very close to you, sends your inner child over the edge.
The shadow generates the rage of your response, but the thing to keep in mind is that your reaction has really little to do with the present situation. You inner child is responding to what the present situation represents from your past. Otherwise, although it may be difficult, you just deal with the situation. Think about a broken water heater or something going wrong with your car. You don’t like having a problem, but you deal with it. End of story. Why is a broken relationship any different?
I know that may sound crazy, but think about it. The difference is your attachment, not to the other person, but to what they represent. We do not attach to things, ideas or to people, we attach to what they represent. Attachment is a way we use to create value for ourselves when we are unable to do it legitimately. The problem with attachment is that it gives others the power to determine your worth. And it is the mixing of previous woundings with present circumstances that takes us out of the present moment and into the realm of “Hell.”
Our feelings of helplessness and victimization, driven by our old unhealed wounds, require us to respond, out of all proportion to the immediate situation. Some people are so “touchy” that when rubbed the wrong way they react explosively. Others live in a world of constant threats – real, but exaggerated, or imagined. Consider, for example in the situation above that the “affair” was the creation of a confused and fearful mind, and wasn’t taking place at all. . .
We label that as irrational behavior. When it becomes extreme, we call it paranoia. Until then, these people are just “difficult” to deal with. But, out of their fear, out of their need to defend, out of their terror of being “found out” and exposed, these people can make life a living hell for the people around them.
But, and this is important, they will not see things that way. They are simply protecting themselves. Killing a crocodile that is pursuing you is self-defense, it is not murder. Twist that logic far enough and it becomes permissible for Hitler to exterminate the Jews or for Dick Cheney to torture political prisoners. Combine these dynamics with a sociopathic personality and you end up with a Stalin, Saddam Hussein or the people who ran ENRON. What we are talking about is the manifestation of evil.
It is sometimes easier to understand psychological dynamics when viewed in the extreme. Let’s look at the creation of criminal behavior. Take a child and beat him. Beat him for every little thing, perhaps for no reason at all. . . (You don’t have to beat him physically by the way, this can also be done psychologically.)
What is going to happen to this young man’s demeanor and outlook? How is he going to respond to the world? His survival threshold is going to be very low, and his need to survive will demand that he res pond to that. He is likely to see everyone in authority as a threat. He will have great difficulty trusting. Push on this guy and you will get a strong push back.
This young man may live in the same town you do, but he does not live in the same world. The rules of your world don’t apply to his, and people on the outside have a difficult time understanding that. The social conventions that place limits on your behavior are not relevant in his world. But, we expect, and we apply, the rules of “civilized” behavior to him, and they just don’t fit. In his world, life is a jungle of survival and violence. To him, qualities like compassion and kindness are expressions of weakness because they can be exploited.
His loyalty is to his “gang,” replacing what you get from family and community. In his world if you want something, you go get it, screw other people, screw the law, screw the rules, screw society. Need some money? Sell drugs, rob a store, create a Ponzi scheme or a securities scam. Why not?
Between 80 and 90 percent of the people incarcerated for violent crime report having had violent and abusive childhoods. Push on them and they will snap. The rage takes over. In it’s essence, their behavior is still protective, but the element of retaliation also comes into play.
Although the frequency of physical and emotional abuse increases as you move down the social ladder, we tend to forget how devastating the damage of an emotionally dysfunctional family can be because in the Hamptons, it wears better clothing and probably went to prep school.
We have studied the outward aggression of the shadow. Let’s now look at the shadow’s inner aggressiveness. Take a girl and sexually abuse her. Abuse her repeatedly. One of two things will happen. She will either become outwardly aggressive and violent as did our young man in the above example, or she will collapse her pain in on herself and destroy the coherence of her person. Since the integrity of her self has been violated and broken, she will have lost the right to the personal private space we take for granted.
She will most likely become passive, withdrawn and probably manipulative in order to survive. Her response to life may well be to avoid it. She will either shy away from relationships and intimacy or misuse them. She will not step into life, she will dwell in the murky “in-betweens,” never committing, being unable to risk. Challenged, she will likely seek cover and avoid. These are expressions of the shadow.
And just for reference, back the situation off, take away the sexual abuse, but deprive her of her personal power through social conditioning – “Be a nice girl,” “Good girls don’t do that,” and you still damage her sense of self. Her reaction may not be as extreme as with the abuse, but her shadow defenses will remain active. She is going to be angry and hurt and respond accordingly.
One other thing – shadow-driven people do not see themselves or their behavior clearly. They have learned to do what is necessary in order to survive, and it has been essential for them to rationalize both their choices and their behavior. It will be necessary for them to rationalize away the damage they leave in their wake. They are also unable to live in reality because it conflicts with the distorted way they see themselves.
When you deal with someone deeply affected by this dynamic, the effect is truly surreal. Many convicts, even after a trial with evidence and conviction by a jury, still maintain their innocence. Certainly the judicial system makes occasional mistakes, but not on that scale.
The real tragedy for the rest of us is that these people do not mean to harm others. It is just that they have little choice. They need to protect themselves, and if someone else gets hurt in the process, it is a regrettable necessity. It is possible to drive someone to be cruel, but that is an extreme situation.
Your parents didn’t mean to hurt you. They were dealing with their own issues, and you just got in the way. Unfortunately, you could not see that and took what happened personally. All children do. The same thing happens with our social interactions. When people do hurtful things, almost all of the time they are just struggling (painfully) with their fears and anxieties.
Their behavior really has nothing to do with anyone else. Other people just trigger old wounds. But in that moment, they must place their survival needs ahead of social compassion.
One can argue that the presence of the shadow is regrettable, but for people unable to remain in the moment and unable to hold “The God Space,” there must be ways for them to protect themselves. Otherwise, their alternative is insanity.
The prevalence of the shadow is also an expression of where we are in our development as a species. And, it is also why Christ’s messages of compassion, forgiveness and love are so very, very important. They encourage us to live in the moment, not in our past.
So that leaves us with the question, “Is there such a thing as evil?” And the answer is that there are tormented people who do evil things, but there is not an independent pernicious force we can call evil. Some spiritual teachers speak of “protecting” yourself from evil forces, and there is certain logic to this perspective. Allow me to explain:
Short of some physical act, there is little you can do to me as long as I do not hold dark feelings about myself. But, if I see myself as flawed or defective, it is then possible for you to manipulate me. People do it to each other all the time!
So yes, I can be hooked, but it is by my own hook! The driving force may be external, but without my agreement, the external influence can have no impact. So, shifting my mindset, even temporarily, can be helpful. This is especially true because unfortunately, most people are vulnerable to negative messages. What happens to you when someone calls you inept, stupid or foolish, or treats you poorly?
Since the origin of the torment that leads to evil is internal, that is where its resolution also lies. For centuries charlatans have hawked potions, talismans and incantations to fend off evil, and these things do “work” – but only so long as you believe that they do.
It is your belief that creates the change. There are masters who can manipulate the energy of objects and other people, but they are far more rare than is commonly believed. Besides, it is far easier to work on people’s dark beliefs about themselves.
There is much more to be said about this topic, but I have gone on far too long already. In years of working with people we have found the shamanic journey process to be a remarkably effective method for helping people heal the “originating wounds” that drive their shadow defenses. This then allows these people to live more fully and joyfully in the present.
There is a related topic that requires more discussion. It is the concept of negative entities. I wrote about the subject at length in my book, Healing The Shadow, and there is not space here to repeat that discussion. Suffice it to say that there are “beings,” which I call negative entities, associated with the shadow process.
Entities serve as amplifiers for an individual’s fears. They do this in order to energize shadow-based behavior. There is disagreement about whether entities are separate beings in their own right or merely extensions of our minds, driven by our fear.
Entities have no power by themselves, but their ability to influence is considerable, more than making up for this deficiency. In any case, we have developed techniques for effectively dealing with them, so in this context, their origin is not important. Let me just say that entities cannot be defeated, nor is it helpful to engage them. They must be transcended.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016