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The Importance of Self Awareness 3: Letting In the Shadow

November 22nd, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this third and final part of an ongoing series on the importance of self awareness, we focus on the psychological reality of shadow. Jung originated this term, now used by many who reflect on our psychological reality.

importance of self awareness
PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Just what is meant by “shadow” when we think about the importance of self awareness? At one point Jung describes shadow as,

“the thing a person has no wish to be”.

C.G. Jung, CW 16, para. 470

This is pithy and succinct, but Jung helps us when he tells us:

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.

C.G. Jung, CW 11, p. 131

Jung’s point is that, for each of us, there are parts of our personality of which we are unaware. He would add that there are parts of the personality of which we might prefer to remain unaware.

Sometimes, I would rather not be aware of certain aspects of myself because my ego doesn’t feel comfortable with them. The ego is the part of my personality of which I’m conscious, and with which I identify. Many times, ego doesn’t wish to acknowledge other parts of me that don’t fit with how my ego would like to see itself. This can create all kinds of issues for us.

Saving the Appearances; Deep Six-ing the Shadow

Jungian analyst James Hollis spells this out for us in some detail. He writes about how we “manage to dissemble, to deny, to lie to ourselves and believe our evasions”:

We are often called to save the appearances, to paper over the gap between our presumptive identity and values and our actual practices. This distressing gap is what Jung called the Shadow, those parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable with ourselves. Feeling discomfort, we repress these facts, project them onto others, are subsumed by them, or, occasionally, bring them to consciousness and integrate them into a more complex, more accurate sense of self.

James Hollis, What Matters Most, pp. 25-26

Jung and Hollis are in agreement that self awareness is not always easy! Certain parts of ourselves may strongly resist knowing important aspects of who we are, and being honest with ourselves about them. We can find it much easier, sometimes to live with fictions about ourselves.

Tolerating Our Shadow Parts

The shadow parts of ourselves may be difficult to tolerate. They may cause the ego all kinds of anxiety. Sometimes the ego may have values that it thinks are important, like being truthful. These may be challenged by things we actually do, but don’t readily acknowledge, like fudging a little on one’s income tax.

Also, we may have some aspect of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. We might feel that something about us is shameful, like having a weakness or inability to do certain things. Or, there might be something about who we really are that’s at odds with how we see ourselves, One example would be an urban sophisticate who secretly yearns to perform country and western music. Or, someone might believe that it’s bad or selfish to stand up and firmly ask for what she or he actually wants—but whose shadow is determined to do it.

It’s certainly not true that everything in the shadow is dark or morally questionable—far from it! Many things in the shadow are not really “shady” at all; they just don’t fit with the way the ego sees itself. Nonetheless, we can spend an incredible amount of psychic energy trying to avoid being aware of such shadow contents.

This struggle to avoid our authentic selves can create anxiety and even depression. The struggle with avoiding the shadow part of our authentic selves often becomes acute and even excruciating at times of major life transition. The midlife transition, or the transition into our later years are examples of this. Tragically, an individual can spend much of his or her life running from who she or he really is.

Integrating Our Shadow & The Importance of Self-Awareness

Running from the shadow produces anxiety, exhaustion and distortion of the person. It’s immensely beneficial if a person can find a way to make peace with the shadow, and integrate it. This can give a renewed sense of energy for life. As British Jungian analyst Christopher Perry reminds us,

[The assimilation of the shadow] leads to self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. Grievance and blame give way to the taking of responsibility and attempts at sorting-out what belongs to whom. A fierce conscience, which tends to be self- and other-punitive can relax, and personal values can be set in counterpoint to collective morality.

Making contact with the shadow is often greatly assisted by working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. In the accepting environment of Jungian therapy or analysis, it’s often possible to look at ourselves with true clarity, and genuine compassion and insight. This can help us greatly to see the ways in which the shadow turns up in our own individual lives. We can then start to genuinely hear it, and to come to terms with it.

Do you have awareness of your shadow? When in the past might you have encountered it?

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Importance of Self Awareness 2: Become Who You Truly Are

November 15th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this second post in this series on the importance of self-awareness, we explore the idea of becoming who you truly are. “Become who I am?” someone might ask, “Really? What’s the big deal?”

importance of self awareness
Building self-awareness… PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Isn’t it all really very simple? As Popeye the Sailorman put it many years ago, “I YAM WHAT I YAM!” From this perspective, what else is there to be said about the importance of self awareness?

Well, pretty clearly, the above is a different understanding of our unique identity than Jung intended when he wrote:

The privilege of a lifetime [italics mine] is to become who you truly are.”

C.G. Jung

What could Jung possibly mean by this? Clearly, he feels that becoming who you are is a big deal—the “privilege of a lifetime”, no less! Is knowing who I am, and being who I am, really all that important?

True and False Identity

Often, there’s a clear difference between who we think we are, and the personal characteristics that we actually possess. We can have an image of ourselves that is quite different from who we really are. Often, the story we tell ourselves about who we are doesn’t quite match the reality.

Researchers often point to evidence that shows the contradictions between some idealized version of ourselves, and who we really are. For instance, research shows that many people who don’t see themselves as racially prejudiced actually carry substantial racial bias. Or that people who see themselves a compassionate can actually walk by starving or apparently gravely ill homeless people. It can be hard for us to acknowledge some of the less agreeable aspects of ourselves.

Yet, there are plenty of other ways in which our story about ourselves can be in error. Consider the individual who may have a career as a tough, steely go-for-the-jugular business person. Then consider what can happen at mid-life, as this person realizes that he or she is actually empathetic, and cares most deeply about building people up. Such people can often come to the realization that they have been living out someone else’s story.

This process of working out who we really are can be quite involved!

When the Real Me Shows Up

We can spend a lot of time and energy consciously or unconsciously avoiding who we really are. This can consume an enormous amount of effort, and it can cause an enormous amount of pain. It may be particularly difficult when we confront situations where the real me shows up, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

We know “the real me showing up” as a classic midlife motif, but it shows up at plenty of other times in a life as well. A wealth of clinical experience has shown me how extremely painful it is to feel a huge discrepancy between how an individual is living, and who they are and what they really want. This can lead us to situations of unhappiness, even misery, and to situations of inner and outer conflict.

If we can gain insight into what is motivating us on the unconscious level, we can help ourselves to feel less conflicted and generally better on the emotional level. Research by Oliver C. Schultheiss of Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg indicates that our sense of well-being tends to grow as our conscious goals and “implicit” or unconscious motives are more harmonized. We should not grind away at careers or patterns of living that give us things that are highly valued by society or our family if these things don’t fundamentally matter to us. Jung would certainly agreed with that conclusion.

This highlights our theme: the importance of self-awareness! How do we harmonize our deep unconscious motivations with what we are consciously trying to do? We have to open ourselves up to our unconscious feelings and motivations.

Making the Unconscious Conscious

[The human] task is to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.

C.G. Jung

Much of what C.G. Jung writes is focused on the importance of self awareness, and on becoming aware of the contents of our unconscious, however it manifests. For Jungian depth psychotherapy, this can involve using a variety of approaches to self awareness, including:

  • journalling and closely watching our emotional and bodily reactions;
  • closely examining our interactions with other people;
  • active imagination“, or the use of our imagination to get closer to the true contents of the unconscious; and,
  • looking at our dreams, as a way of understanding our unconscious reactions.

In addition, a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly assist in the whole process of “sorting the ‘I’ from the ‘Not I'”, as Jung puts it. Becoming who we truly are is vitally connected with coming to terms with the aspects of ourselves of which we aren’t yet conscious, and connecting them with our conscious awareness and goals.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Importance of Self Awareness: A Jungian Perspective – 1

November 7th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

The importance of self awareness: these days, you can find a lot in the media on this subject. The world seems to have woken up to the importance of being in touch with what we really feel, and our deepest reactions.

importance of self awareness
Who Am I Concept

Self-awareness has certainly become something of a buzzword. The importance of self-awareness is stressed by the most diverse range of people and voices imaginable. Your neighbourhood yoga instructor may exhort you to be more aware of yourself bodily, while the pages of the Harvard Business Review stress the importance of self-awareness for the effective manager. Just what IS this illusive beast we call self-awareness?….

New York Times columnist David Brooks highlights the importance of self awareness in a passage of startling, and even painful clarity:

One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

David Brooks, “Is Self Awareness a Mirage?”

Going Through Life Without Being Aware

“[O]ften they really have no idea why they chose what they did”—what a stunning statement. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, it can often be true. We can easily go through the stages of our life somehow moving from one thing to the next, often without really being aware of what we are choosing or why. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a popular song from some years ago:

And you may say to yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

—By letting the days go by.

The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”

Lack of Awareness Doesn’t Have to be Fate

A Jungian approach to the personality and to the psyche strongly asserts that this kind of lack of awareness is not inevitable. It is not fate to be unconscious. It is possible for us to become aware of our deep emotions and motivations and the things a that really drive us. This involves the process of becoming conscious of oneself as a unique individual, which Jungians call the process of individuation. Jungian analyst June Singer helps us to understand this process in more detail:

The individualation process moves along two tracks. The first is designed to help people recognize and fulfil their own unique potentials. This involves differentiating the self from the constraints of the conditioning that are imposed by family and other external influences. The second track requires differentiation from one’s environment: one asks, How am I part of that which surrounds me, and how am I different? Put another way, it is the development of an ability to discriminate between the “I” and the “Not I”.

June Singer, Boundaries of the Soul

“I” and “Not I”

Discriminating between the “I” and the “Not I” can be a crucial, life saving thing. This can be particularly true when we go through the crises often associated with major life transitions.

This post is the first in a series examining the importance of self-awareness. I will be specifically looking at what a Jungian depth psychotherapy approach can contribute to our understanding of self awareness. This is a vital topic, if we seek to take ownership and responsibility for our lives. It is also essential to developing a self-compassionate attitude to ourselves and our own precious life journey, a task that is at the heart of Jungian therapeutic work.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Summer, & the Importance of Self Awareness, 2

July 6th, 2015 · importance of self awareness

The season of summer sun may bring home the importance of self-awareness in some ways that are rather different than we might expect.

importance self awareness

In my last post, we saw how the summer solstice is a time that, for many of us, may represents the height of our capacity for consciousness, as embodied in the kind of aliveness that circadian rhythm may allow us to experience at the time of the height of the sun. But there is another aspect to these days after the solstice, and that is that the sun starts to decline, and the days start to become shorter.
What happens to our awareness then?  Can there be anything good that comes out of this?

The Slow Downward Movement

As the maximum power of the sun is symbolic of the maximum extent of the powers of consciousness, so the shortening of the days and the return to darkness can be seen as a move in the direction of the unconscious — the other pole of the human psyche.

Just as it’s inevitable for the seasons to slowly oscillate between light and darkness, so it is that the human psyche oscillates between two different dimensions: the conscious and the unconscious

The sun’s movement mirrors a psychic reality.  At some times we are more aware, more alive, more conscious of who we are, more open to the relatively unknown aspects of the self.  At other times, we lapse more into less conscious ways of functioning, and motives and feelings that are often unknown to the conscious mind can actually affect, or even at times, govern our functioning.

So, we have the conscious and the unconscious dimensions of ourselves.  And the rhythm of the year symbolizes a fundamental dynamic of human awareness: the ebb and flow of the conscious and unconscious portions of the self.  Yet, through using our conscious mind to explore the unknown, perhaps unconscious aspects of ourselves, we can further the process of integration of the conscious and the unconscious self into increased wholeness.

The Nighttime Side of the Psyche

importance of self awareness

As we discussed in the last post, the conscious self can make the grave error of assuming that it’s “the only game in town”.  This is hazardous, though.  If we don’t seek to understand what is motivating us in unconscious ways, we stand a very good chance of finding our lives run by the unacknowleged and unknown parts of the psyche.

Example.  Consider someone who unconsciously always pursues romantic partners who are fundamentally inaccessible.  The individual may continually curse “my rotten luck” in choosing such people, but, in actual fact, they may be choosing such partners precisely because they are inaccessible — and so there is no real risk of trusting them, and therefore being hurt by them, as may have happened in a significant relationship in the past.  This is a dynamic noted by commentators including Jung, Freud and Lacan, among others, as Prof. Ian Parker of Leicester notes.

To function in freedom, in ways that give us what we’re seeking in life, we need to understand the night time side of the psyche: and, we need to integrate it.

Solar Consciousness, Lunar Consciousness

importance self awareness

Sometimes the sun’s bright light is used to symbolize conscious awareness, while the light of the moon represents a softer, more subdued, perhaps more intuitive awareness, that is closer to the unconscious, and incorporates awareness of elements of it.

For the journey toward wholeness, we need the bright light of solar consciouness, but we also need the softer, less rational, less clear-cut consciousness that is symbolized by the light of the moon.

The Importance of Self-Awareness: Bringing Sun and Moon Together

importance self awareness

Rare Photo: The Two Lights Together

We can use our conscious awareness to become aware of our unconscious aspects — what Jung and other psychologists have called “the undiscovered self”.  We can train our consciousness, in its strength to explore and reflect on the unconscious and unknown aspects of ourselves.  In fact, doing so can be one of the greatest adventures in life — and, ultimately, one of the most rewarding.

The importance of self-awareness only becomes more and more apparent as we gradually, increasingly dispose ourselves to it.  In conjunction with growing compassion for ourselves, such self awareness is the heart of the work of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  白士 李 ; Anindo Ghosh ; Ross2085
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Summer, & the Importance of Self Awareness

June 29th, 2015 · importance of self awareness

Here we are at the height of the summer sun; it seems a strange time to reflect on the importance of self awareness, but symbolically, it’s very appropriate.

importance of self awareness

Nordic Summer Solstice Bonfire – “Ligo 2015”

Archetypally, the sun symbolizes conscious awareness, shedding light on things and enabling us to distinguish things and discern what they really are.

Symbolism of the Solstice

The solstice just occured on June 21, the first day of summer, with the sun at its high point in the sky.  The sun’s light is as strong as it gets, and it is the longest day of the year.

In many religious and spiritual traditions, the summer solstice is a high holy day.  Why?

Well, the human organism responds to additional light.  Consequently, midsummer gives many a feeling of physical and emotional empowerment, and increased capacity to start new endeavours, connect with others, explore new frontiers, and to feel the vital importance of self awareness, as it grows.

On the unconscious level where symbols are created, solstice beckons us to use our increased resources to become more conscious, more aware, more fully alive.

Yet, as the ascent of light reaches its maximum, the days slowly get shorter and darker, and we also move toward the decline of the year.

Solstice in Folklore

At summer solstice, the Sun reaches its northern limit.    It’s both the time when the Sun is at maximum intensity, and  when that intensity slowly and subtly begins to decrease.   So, these are two aspects of traditional celebration of the summer solstice.

Traditional cultural practices include round dances and bonfires,  marking the yearly height of the sun’s intensity.  Yet,  in contrast,  it’s also a time of fairies and spirits,  lust and love,  and trickery —  opposites are combined, as Dr. Ismail Wali shows in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.   Our consciousness may be at its most intense at the Solstice,  but it won’t remain so.   We should make hay —  or increase conscious self awareness —  while the sun shines.

importance of self awareness

Seeing Ourselves, Being Ourselves

There are two large errors that consciousness can fall into when it comes to dealing with the unconscious.

The first of these would be arrogance of consciousness, which assumes that conscious will and awareness is all that there is to oneself as a human being. Both recent neuroscience, and insights gained from depth psychotherapy show us that this is a hazardous way to think and act. The analogy I often use is to imagine a flea perched on the top most hair on the head of an enormous bull elephant,  crashing through the bush, and congratulating itself on its marvelous rate of travel. Clearly the flea of consciousness would do well to take better account of the huge forces at work which are not under the control of its will.

The second error is lethargy of consciousness. Here it’s as if the flea, despite every opportunity to understand the elephant simply–doesn’t. Given our gift of consciousness, doesn’t it actually make a lot of sense to know what we can about our unconscious selves, especially when it can have a huge bearing on concerns such as anxiety and depression?

Savour the Gifts of Summer

When summer arrives our conscious powers may well be at their height.  Consider what this consciousness might bring to our journey:


Do you feel clear-sighted at the height of summer?

Is there a special “summer place” where you feel your strongest, best, most relaxed?

If you have the chance to get away this summer, and the chance to rest, recreate and perhaps reflect, please take note: what kind of insights or awarenesses start to come into your life?

Depth psychotherapy stresses the importance of self awareness, and seeks to enable the healing such understanding can bring into the individual’s life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  Kārlis Dambrāns ; Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington ; 
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)




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