Some people handle mistakes by convincing themselves that whatever happened wasn’t their fault, blaming others, or trying to forget about the situation altogether. The desire to ignore our faults and mistakes is strong because society teaches us to reject rather than embrace certain negative qualities. However, ignoring our mistakes can make things more difficult in the long run because if we do not learn from our mistakes, we may end up repeating them.
"Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. We meet our dark side, accept it for what it is, and we learn to use its powerful energies in productive ways. The Shadow knows why good people sometimes do "bad" things."
from "Romancing the Shadow," by Connie Zwieg, PhD., and Steve Wolf, PhD.
What is the Shadow?
Jung believed that tremendous potential for self growth is contained within the shadow, and he advocated learning to integrate any negative or shadow qualities into your conscious personality/psyche. While this process can be different for everyone, it generally means actively examining your negative qualities and accepting them so that you are comfortable with all the parts of yourself. It doesn’t mean constantly getting down on yourself about your faults. It means finding compassion and acceptance for both the negative and positive aspects of self, and structuring your life accordingly.
Let me provide a concrete example. Lets say you keep experiencing fear of abandonment and that you tend to be clingy in relationships. It is foolish to assume that a quality like being clingy is objectively negative; it just needs to be brought into balance within the self. The positive aspect of this trait is loyalty after all. You begin to think about where these feeling might come from. You consciously decide to acknowledge these behaviors and claim them as an important part of your self. Once you understand and accept this aspect of your personality, you can work with it so that it causes you less trouble. You can communicate your limitations to your partner, or if you are single, you can select a partner who doesn't mind spending a lot of time together, and so forth.
Integrating your shadow means asking “what can the darker side of myself show or teach me?” It takes courage and some work to do this. To this end, I have developed a quiz which I use myself, called the Knowing Yourself Better questionnaire. I have shared this free resource with you on Common Sense Ethics. I hope that you will find it as useful as I have!
Please note that the Knowing Yourself Better Questionnaire is for people who want to learn more about themselves and take responsibility their thoughts, emotions, and actions. The questionnaire is a tool for learning and personal growth. It is not a substitute for therapy, especially for seriously disturbed or depressed individuals. Therapy, especially talk or integral methods, can be immensely helpful for some people, but it’s a personal choice which I’m not advocating for one way or another.
For example, when I was younger, some of my own negative qualities included being self absorbed, irresponsible and dishonest. When I was in college, I rented a house with a group of friends. We each would pay our share of the utility bill. Once when the bill came due, I didn’t have the money to pay it immediately. When my paycheck finally came in, I was busy and self absorbed, and I procrastinated more until the bill was late. My roommates asked if I had paid the bill, and I lied and said that I had in order to avoid trouble. Of course, when they found out that I hadn’t paid it yet, and they weren’t very happy. My actions also detracted from how they perceived my character.
I still remember this story because I had to acknowledge my own negative qualities which got me into the situation. Rather than make excuses about how I was too busy, I had to look at myself and accept the fact that I was being self absorbed, irresponsible, and dishonest. When I did that, I learned from my mistake, and this is not a problem that I would ever have now. I am responsible about bills and pay them as soon as possible. If there ever comes a time that that I can’t pay a bill immediately, I will be straightforward about it with my husband before it becomes a problem. I take responsibility for my actions and I never lie to avoid trouble. Lying for any reason is unethical and assassinates your character. Including lying to yourself.
Doing the work of integrating your negative qualities with your conscious personality generally results in greater personal integrity. The word integrity means virtue; the state of being whole. Think about that for a second. If you are whole, you are not divided within yourself. You cannot be bribed or coerced into doing something which would compromise your integrity. You cannot be manipulated as easily. When you truly and honestly know yourself, including all of your limitations and negative qualities, you will not let your own subconscious motivators drive you into making poor moral choices which conflict with your beliefs and cause discord and problems in your life.
There is an important element of self discipline involved in the process of unfolding the shadow. While the process starts with doing the inner work necessary to acquire greater self knowledge, it ends with responsibility and self discipline. You must know your limitations and abilities, and you must apply constant effort. If you forget what you have learned, you may slip back into the same old unconscious patterns of behavior. There is constant upkeep involved in developing and maintaining a strong, well integrated character. With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility.