Shadows

by Sara Gran

I have become obsessed with Robert Bly‘s A Little Book on The Human Shadow. Bly describes the Shadow as those parts of ourselves, dissaproved and unloved by our parents, peers, society and self, that we’ve stuck into a great big bag and tried to forget about. So you might put, say, your anger, or your kindness into the bag–two qualities that many interepert as “weaknesses.” You think they’re gone, but they’re not gone. They’re in this big bag of crap you’re dragging around with you everywhere! And when the things in your bag, which are after all living things, start to poke and prod at you, you’re likely to project that experience outward, and think it’s that guy over there who’s poking you. Bly suggests that because a lot of us have put qualities we associate with the “other” gender in that bag, our projections might likewise land on that “other” gender. So a man might “project his witch” onto the women in his life, or a woman might project what Bly calls her “giant.” So you think this other person is out to get you,

because you know SOMETHING’S poking you all the time, but it’s not the other person at all–it’s your own witch, trying to tell you hey, buddy, you’re been ignoring me since you were five but I’m still here, and I never stopped growing! We have things to do together and you’re ruining it!

One way to find your shadow is to find the things that irrationally piss you off in other people. The key is the emotional charge, and the degree to which you’re willing to admit complexity. That person who is so awful maybe isn’t. Maybe that’s your Shadow.

“A human being who has. . .absorbed the shadow gives the sense of being condensed,” Bly writes. He says that people who have absorbed their shadow have a thick, viscous quality. People who are fighting the shadow might therefore be scattered, fragmented, brittle.

Earlier he says, “If we have given away thirty parts of our self, we will then eventually feel ourselves diminished in thirty different ways.”

4 Comments to “Shadows”

  1. So fascinating! how is it different from the Freudian unconscious and “projection,” do you think? Or is that what Bly is riffing on?

  2. Boy, I’m not sure! You would know more than me! But I think yeah, that’s pretty much what he’s riffing on. He’s a jungian, if that explains anything. I think the shadow would be a part of your unconscious–not the whole thing, just this particular part where these unwanted bits go. But those are our best parts!

  3. Was Robert Bly the Sit-Around-In-Circles-And-Bang-Drums-And Cry-for-$250-Per-Weekend guy?

  4. Yes! I think he’s a genius. It’s a shame the whole men’s movement thing not only got so distorted, but it’s all many remember him for.

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