John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

The Shadow Exercise

jung the shadow

"Think of someone you know whom you don't like very much. Maybe you even hate this person. On a piece of paper, write down a description of that person. Write down what it is about this individual's personality that you don't like. Be as specific as you can."

When everyone in the class is finished writing, I tell them to draw a box around what they have written - and at the top of the box write "IS THIS MY SHADOW?"

"Consider this," I tell them. "What you have written down is some hidden part of yourself - some part that you have suppressed or hidden. It is what Jung would call your SHADOW. Maybe it's a part of you that you fear, can't accept, or hate for some reason. Maybe it's a part of you that needs to be expressed or developed in some way. Maybe you even secretly wish you could be something like that person whom you hate."

Invariably, the students' reactions to this idea are mixed. Some immediately see the connection; some immediately reject the idea. When I ask the class how many of them have friends or romantic partners who fit the description of the "hated" person, many are surprised to see that this is indeed the case. The exercise always leads to interesting discussions about how we project suppressed parts of ourselves onto others, and about why we sometimes choose these "hated" people for our close relationships.

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