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How We Contribute to the Collective Shadow

Whenever a group, society or nation strongly believes in its own moral righteousness, superiority or entitlement, the collective shadow is present. Shadow traits, usually undesirable ones, based upon race, culture, politics, religion or other qualities are disowned by a collective mass of one group and are placed onto another group or population. This communal phenomenon can exist from small groups (e.g., sports team or church) to an entire country.

Collective projections establish an ‘us-them’ split. Suspicion and hatred of the other group (‘them’) may soon follow. This is how select populations are made into enemies or scapegoats. When truly destructive and emotionally volatile shadow material is placed onto a group or nation, civil and world wars are formed. Jung called these forms of the collective unconscious ‘psychic epidemics.’

However, groups or nations are not all good or all bad. For example, many Canadians feel proud about our reputation as peacekeepers and human rights upholders. However, we have our shadow of aboriginal residential schools, homelessness and environmental disregard among others. 

Awareness of the contents of your own shadow is vital to understanding and weakening collective forces. Jung said, “The psychology of the individual is reflected in the psychology of the nation. What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual continues to do it, the nation will do likewise. Only a change in the attitude of the individual can initiate a change in the psychology of the nation.”

When you take back projected shadow material, as Jung stated, you are “now unable to say they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought …. Such a person knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, then he has done something real for the world.” What a tremendous challenge to address. 

Begin by noticing your use of the words ‘they’ or ‘them.’ What attitude do you hold as you talk about ‘them’? What specific traits are you attributing to this specific group? Take ownership of the traits – they are yours. Look at groups or organizations you are associated with and reflect upon the degree of superiority each directly or indirectly encompasses. What is the superiority about and over whom is it applied?  

Stigmatizing, stereotyping and blaming are also signs of shadow projection and derive from underlying fears. What traits do you avoid or have issues with that are placed onto others; for example, addiction, poverty, mental illness or same-sex relationships? 

When you take an honest look at your shadow projections, more light enters the world. The microcosm of the individual affects the macrocosm of society. You contribute not only to your own consciousness, but also to the collective unconscious and have, as Jung stated, “succeeded in removing an infinitesimal part of the unsolved gigantic problems of our day.”  Where will you begin?

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.