Integrating Our Light and Shadow Sides

 

On a recent trip to Italy, I saw many works of art and was struck by the amount of Trompe L’oeil (a “trick of the eye” style where objects are painted to look real) in the interior design of buildings.

 

Looking closely I could see how important the shading was. On further research, I found out that the use of light and dark in the picture gives the clever perspective of the tromp l’oeil which deceives the viewer, allowing them to see the picture as the artist intended.

 

This led me to think of Carl Gustav Jung, the 20th Century psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and the importance he placed on our “shadow” side: those feelings which we may describe as negative eg jealousy, anger, hate. We are often uncomfortable when we experience these “negative” feelings.

 

Depending on our early childhood experiences eg being brought up in a family where anger was never overtly expressed safely, we may find these “shadow” feelings frightening or uncomfortable, to the extent where we don’t allow ourselves to feel them and so we unconsciously repress them, not liking to think of ourselves having these feelings.

 

Jung saw these shadow feelings as vital to our inner self. They are as important to us as positive feelings and provide us with useful information and signals.

 

It is hard to notice what is going on for us if we are not in touch with our feelings.

 

In the 1970s Eugene T Gendlin developed “Focusing” which is a forerunner of mindfulness and encourages sitting quietly and listening to our bodies – feeling what is going on for us in our bodies. Once we are able to do this in an intentional way we become more in tune with our bodies, as well as our feelings and are able to identify emotions more in our everyday lives.

 

The philosophy behind focusing, like mindfulness, is acceptance and being non-judgmental. Many of us are hard on ourselves. Focusing allows us to just notice what is going on in our body and accept our current state. This is the start of change.

 

As Jung suggested, over 100 years ago, if we accept all of our feelings, both negative and positive and are able to integrate them we are able to reach a better understanding of ourself and can work with all of our feelings for a more healthy life.

 

As the trompe l’oeil needs light and dark to exist as a fully functioning phenomenon -so do we need our shadow and light sides to exist together for the healthiest existence and fulfilling life possible.