Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some Thoughts about Persona, Shadow, and Animus

Jung speaks often of a consciousness "contaminated with unconscious contents. " I think he means that we have unconscious scripts, ideas, images, that affect our vision. What we see is often distorted by what we are looking through. It is as if we all wear eyeglasses that alter our perceptions—for better or worse. Is there something like an objective reality? Is it possible to view people and events with a measure of clarity? Who can say that his/her vision is the correct one? Often, it is in this realm that might does indeed make right. The ones who write the history books tell us how it was, but do they know how it was?
I think there is a way that every dream takes some piece of heretofore contamination out of our field of consciousness and shows it to us. Before the dream, the contamination was simply part of our way of perceiving the world. After the dream, has something changed?
In the myth retold in the slender volume, DESCENT TO THE GODDESS, Inanna has to abandon her queenly garments and descend to the underworld for the funeral of Ereshkigal’s husband. I think we can do a translation of that drama into some Jungian theory. Jung’s notion is that as long as the ego is identified with the persona (Inanna in her finery), then the shadow and the animus are bound together in the unconscious (Ereshkigal married to Gugalanna). Being unconscious, shadow and animus are then seen only in projection. The shadow is some hated, envied, or otherwise powerful person who draws the ego’s projection. The animus is a male figure who carries the projections of a woman's unrealized masculine potentiality. Often the animus is an idealized figure, but he can just as easily be seen as demonic or oppressive. The common denominator for both shadow and animus projections is energy; the projection carriers for each carry a lot of energy for the ego. Often, once the projections are withdrawn, the ego is left in wonderment when she relates with the real human being who was previously the projection carrier. What was the big deal?
I think it is often the case that when shadow and animus get together (as, say, might be dramatized in a dream), the ego is left in a bereft feeling place. The parental complexes play a huge role in the overall psychic setup because the way the budding ego develops a really fine persona (and often identifies with it) is by pleasing the parents, the primary authorities for consciousness. Of course, the finer the persona, the more outer worldly success is guaranteed. At midlife when the inner world makes itself felt, as it often does, the battle is engaged. You can see how devastating it is for one to have to sacrifice one's identity with the persona (and often how costly!).
You can also see how difficult it is to own for oneself the qualities one has projected. The distasteful, hateful ones that we have to accept with the attendant humbling. And the positive, attractive ones that we have to accept and take responsibility for. I am the one who does these terrible things that I find so unacceptable. I am the one with these potentialities that I have to work like crazy to develop and put to use. Much easier that I let someone be my bad guy and someone do all those marvelous things I so admire.

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