There is a sad truth in this world that no human being has ever been spared bitterness in life. It comes and manifests upon us involuntarily and we have no choice but to allow the experience of the ultimate truth to sink into our soul and spread into our flesh and bones; to live is to suffer. The guarantee of life is nothing but pain. Arguing that the world would be a better place to live if only pain was not a part of the straining experience of living is not the point of this article and frankly, life would not be better without pain. Pain acts as the channel through which we traverse the darkened course of life while it simultaneously acquaints us with the possibility of spiritual revelation and catharsis that can help transcend human existence. However, we human beings are under the impression that we are so defenseless against pain that we move to great lengths to create distractions, perceptions, notions, and ideas that many of which are built on the false premise of an untroubled and omniscient human existence. Indeed, the ego is that part within us that tries to protect us from pain. In a sense, it leads us to make simplified assumptions about the complicated facets of life and deters us from experiencing the dark aspects of our personality that are lurking in the background of our story.
Harr J. Alter Ego Painting. Saatchi Art. (1)
The ego, inherent in the human psyche, stops us from exploring the shadowy pieces of our personality and the substance of our being. For this reason, the death of the ego has been the object of discussion for many psychologists and psychiatrists, but the psychoanalyst who coined this term and introduced the loss of the ego to the domain of science was Carl Jung. According to Jung, the ego can transform into a vehicle that clouds our consciousness and diverts us from seeing the evil we might inflict on ourselves or others (Diamond, 2021). (1) It is that hidden part within us that nurtures the instinctual behaviors prevailing in the animalistic realm like sexual desires. It is that part within us that “admits into consciousness only those thoughts that conform to our (positive) self-image" and that is why many people are having difficulty acknowledging that they have been in the wrong (Lebowe, 2020). (2) The idea that people have latent fears and desires which oftentimes dictate their choices and actions can be a very frightening realization to the human being. Carl Jung has decided to name this part of the ego that carries the fears and the catastrophic mechanics of the brain as the “Shadow”, a poetic form that is used both in literature and art nowadays to describe the mental limitations of humans. (2)
Isak, G. The Shadow and the Self [Digital Photograph].Behance. (2)
The “Shadow” which is deemed to be the source of human evil does not only restrain itself to the individual, but it can extend to the collective as well. To be more specific, the shadow can be engaged by cults, religious perceptions, organizations, governments, and many other facets of society. Destructive conceptions as nationalism, racism, violence, prejudice, and wars sprung from the dark depths of the “Shadow”, the part in which the world is viewed through very narrow lens that only manage to appease the human ego in the face of the unknown. What happens, in this case, is that while all people hold the Shadow in their psyche, very few are aware of its presence and choose to willfully confront the mental challenges it offers. When we choose to deny the existence of the Shadow, we tend to adopt the defense mechanism that Nietzche named “projection”. When we repress the Shadow that lies within us or refusing to acknowledge it as part of our own, we tend to project the negative emotions of the Shadow to fellow human beings. In other words, we are casting our shadow onto others due to our inability to deal with the pain that follows in examining our fears (Perry). (3) According to the clinical psychologist Stephen Diamond: “The Shadow is most destructive, insidious, and dangerous when habitually repressed and projected, manifesting in myriad psychological disturbances, ranging from neurosis to psychosis, irrational interpersonal hostility, and even cataclysmic international clashes”. (2) Hence, the harm and turmoil the Shadow can induce to the individual as well as to society makes imperative the destruction of the Shadow or else the death of the ego.
But how do we generate the dissolution of the ego and experience the rebirth of the self? By encountering the Shadow of our soul and assimilating it to the identity of being human. Only by accepting its existence and exploring our internal conflicts, can we destroy the ego and the shadow that cause the illusions of our reality. (3) Grieving our imperfections and understanding our inability to experience the world with clarity can shatter the claustrophobic walls of the ego and lead us closer to the discovery of truth. Governing many constitutions, concepts of racism, sexism, nationalism, terrorism and fanaticism can now become destructive notions that the ego fabricates to tranquilize the narcotic effect of fear.
Kim, D. (2016). Moonassi: Embraceable You. [Digital Illustration]. Yatzer
To conclude, by realizing that the Shadow of the ego is a deeply intrinsic piece of the human psyche that all people carry and keep buried deep within them, we understand that human beings become enslaved to their fears and hence mentally limited. The only way to break free from the strings of the Shadow is to simply allow the terrifying experience of facing your fears to come to you and embrace the distorted view of reality.
Diamond, Stephen A. (2021). Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: What Is the Shadow? Understanding the "Dark Side" of our Psyche. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/202101/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-what-is-the-shadow
Lebowe, J. (2020, February 24). Ego Death: Everything You Should Know. DoubleBlind. https://doubleblindmag.com/ego-death/
Perry, C. The Shadow. The Society of Analytical Psychology: Jungian Analysis and Psychotherapy.https://www.thesap.org.uk/resources/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/the-shadow/
Harr J. Alter Ego Painting. Saatchi Art. https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Alter-Ego/1244495/6269679/view?epik=dj0yJnU9UmxZOHVzV1VObDFIM0EzWXVjblNIM2FvYWtwTDlucUQmcD0wJm49M1hwZGp4ZGRrdjNfTXV0SkJlOHJkZyZ0PUFBQUFBR0Y4SDhr
Isak, G. The Shadow and the Self [Digital Photograph].Behance. https://www.behance.net/gallery/30661271/The-Shadow-and-the-Self
Kim, D. (2016). Moonassi: Embraceable You. [Digital Illustration]. Yatzer. https://www.yatzer.com/agenda/events/moonassi-embraceable-you