Owning your own shadow : understanding the dark side of the psyche

by Robert A. Johnson

Book, 1993



Call number


Call number



[San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

Original publication date


Physical description

x, 118 p.; 21 cm

Local notes

A bestselling author shows how we can reclaim and make peace with the "shadow" side of our personality. Exploring our need to own our own shadow, this book guides the reader through an exploration of the shadow - what it is, how it originates and how it interacts and is made through the process of acculturation. The author argues that until we accept our shadow, we cannot be balanced or whole.

User reviews

LibraryThing member D_Eligh
My first reaction to this book was that it oversimplified. But perhaps its purpose really is to make a very complicated concept accessable to a large number of people. Johnson is no doubt Christian- and Western-centric, and he lets that slip in a few places, which undermines his message. That being
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said, there are quite a few true gems of insight here, and it's well worth the read.
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LibraryThing member Mary_Overton
loc. 315: “Jung used to say that we can be grateful for our enemies, for their darkness allows us to escape our own.
“Heaping abuse [on those who abuse us] does great damage - not only to others but to us as well, for as we project our shadow we give away an essential ingredient of our own
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psychology. We need to connect with this dark side for our own development, and we have no business flinging it at others, trying to palm off these awkward and unwanted feelings. The difficulty is that most of us live in an intricate web of shadow exchange that robs both parties of their potential wholeness. The shadow also contains a good deal of energy, and it is the cornerstone of our vitality. A very cultured individual with an equally strong shadow has a great deal of personal power. William Blake spoke about the need to reconcile these two parts of the self. He said we should go to heaven for form and to hell for energy - and marry the two. When we can face our inner heaven and our inner hell, this is the highest form of creativity.”

loc 333: “Goethe’s FAUST, perhaps the greatest example in literature of the meeting of ego and shadow, is about a pale, dried-up professor who has come to the point of suicide because of the unlivable distance between his ego and his shadow … Faust meets his equally impossible shadow, Mephistopheles, who appears as his lordship, the devil. The explosion of energy at the meeting is extreme. Yet they persevere and their long, vivid story is our best instruction in the reception of ego and shadow.”

loc 366: a lengthy quote from Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest Jack Sanford:
“The ego is … primarily engaged in its own defense and the furtherance of its own ambitions. Everything that interferes with it must be repressed. the [repressed] elements … become the shadow. Often these are basically positive qualities.
“There are, in my view, two ‘shadows”: (1) the dark side of the ego, which is careful hidden from itself and which the ego will not acknowledge unless forced to by life’s difficulties, and (2) that which has been repressed in us lest it interfere with our egocentricity and, however devilish it may seem, is basically connected to the Self.
“In a showdown God [Self] favors the shadow over the ego, for the shadow, with all of its dangerousness, is closer to the center and more genuine.”
Hence the maddening preference shown to the prodigal son while the dutiful son is sidelined … excellently expressed in Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
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LibraryThing member JudyCroome
An easy-to-read introduction to shadow work with three sections: The Shadow (what the shadow is), Romantic Love as Shadow (how we project our shadow onto others) and The Mandorla (finding the balance between our shadow and our light).

Despite the simple style there were some deeply profound
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insights throughout the book:

Pg 21: "The high creativity of our modern society can be maintained only if we recognise the shadow that accompanies it and pay out that shadow in an intelligent way ... it is possible to live one's ideals, do one's best, be courteous, do well at work, and live a decent civilised life if we ritually acknowledge this other dimension of reality. The unconscious cannot tell the difference between a 'real' act and a symbolic one."

Johnson takes this idea further on Pg 52 when he says, "a symbolic or ceremonial experience is real and affects one as much as an actual event."

And on Pg 117, Johnson emphasises the importance of our individual journey into the underworld of our shadow when he says, “…to balance out our cultural indoctrination, we need to do our shadow work on a daily basis…we contribute less to the general darkness of the world and do not add to the collective strife … we prepare the way for … that high vision of beauty and wholeness that is the great prize of human consciousness.”

In overcoming cultural indoctrination (highlighted by modern movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter) Johnson points out on Pg 36/37 that "…to refuse another's shadow, you don't fight back, but like a good matador you just let the bull go by...you can refuse a shadow projection and stop the endless cycle of revenge if you have your own shadow under conscious control. To be in the presence of another's shadow and not reply is nothing short of genius. No one has the right to dump his shadow on you, and you have the right to self-protection."

Particularly appropriate for the age of celebrity worship was this quote on Pg 42-45: "Our hero-worshipping capacity is pure shadow ... puzzling capacity of projecting our best qualities ... people are as frightened of their capacity for nobility as of their darkest sides."

An important theme throughout [book:Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche|18923731] is embracing the opposites withing our psyche, that is, the light and the shadow, the dualities within ourselves to find an inner unity or balance which allows us to easily live with the paradoxes that life presents:

Pg 55 "Our fate can truly be altered if we have the courage to embrace the opposites."

Pg 86-93 "To transform an opposition into paradox is to allow both sides of an issue, both pairs of opposites, to exits in equal dignity or worth...this is not a compromise, but a depth of understanding that puts life into perspective...heroism today could be redefined for our time as the ability to stand paradox...the ego can do no more; it must wait for that which is greater than itself."

I knew of mandalas, but Johnson introduced me to the mandorla, a beautiful concept from medieval Christianity:

Pg 98-104 “…signifies nothing less than the overlap of opposites …the mandorla instructs us how to engage in reconciliation … the mandorla is the place of poetry. It is the duty of the true poet to take the fragmented world that we find ourselves in and to make unity of it … we feel there is safety and sureness in our fractured world, and the poet has given us the gift of synthesis.” When my husband died, my world was indeed fractured and I tried to make sense of his senseless death through my poetry in DROP BY DROP(poems of loss) [Aztar Press, 2020].

Finally, Johnson talks of finding the Divine through an exploration of our inner shadow:

Pg 107-118 “…whenever you have a clash of opposites in your being and neither will give way to the other, you can be certain that God is present … the conflict-without-resolution is a direct experience of God …our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the lace where light and dark begin to touch (the mandorla) is where miracles arise.

Although this book is short, it’s a powerful read for anyone wanting to find peace in our time. Johnson says, "People often asked Dr. Jung, 'Will we make it?' referring to the cataclysm of our time. He always replied, 'If enough people will do their inner work.'"[Pg 113]

Reading this book has encouraged me to continue on my sometimes terrifying, sometimes exhilarating quest through the underworld of my own psyche.
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