Connie Zweig, Ph.D., is a Jungian-oriented therapist and the founder of the Center for Shadow-work and Spiritual Counseling. Known as “the shadow expert,” she has written three books on shadow-work, including Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (with Jeremiah Abrams), Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul (with Dr. Steve Wolf), and The Holy Longing: Spiritual Yearning and Its Shadow Side. She and Wolf have developed techniques for drawing the shadow into the light so that clients can understand how and why their shadows have developed, what are the unmet needs or unfilled aspirations the shadow represents, and how clients can address those needs and aspirations more directly, thereby freeing themselves from self-sabotage.
With more than twenty-five years in private practice, Dr. Zweig counsels couples and individuals locally in Los Angeles and internationally via Skype. She also does dream work with clients, particularly around issues of blocked creativity. As a meditation instructor for forty years and a lifelong student of the mystic traditions, she is also available for spiritual counseling with people of all spiritual paths.
She spoke with The MOON by phone from her home in Topanga Canyon, outside of Los Angeles.
The MOON: What is “the shadow”?
Zweig: The shadow is what psychologists refer to as the personal unconscious. It’s the part of us that’s a blind spot, outside of our awareness. It’s elusive. When we catch a glimpse of it, it runs away again. It contains all of the qualities, attributes, feelings and abilities that we were not allowed to develop and that became taboo to us. So it might include our anger, our artistic abilities, our addictive tendencies, our sorrow. It can contain any traits or capacities that were repressed when we were children. They don’t vanish or disappear, however; they are stored in our bodyminds and become our shadows. We don’t have the freedom to express these traits or qualities or to live them out because we don’t even know that they’re there.
The MOON: So how do we engage them, or work with them, if we can’t see them; if we don’t know they’re there?
Zweig: Shadow material tends to leak out, and sometimes it erupts. Sometimes it leaks out in our humor—a joke, or a snarky comment, that has meanness, or superiority in it. Sometimes it erupts in rage. Sometimes it erupts in tears that seem to come out of nowhere. At midlife it might come out in feelings of regret that we haven’t lived our authentic life; we’ve lived someone else’s choices for us. That’s because if we choose conformity in life a lot of stuff gets buried in our shadow—hidden from our awareness. So in midlife, you see people blow up their marriages, walk away from their jobs, throw their lives into complete disarray so that they can live out those qualities that were buried before.
The shadow also comes out in projection. For example, we see someone we intensely dislike. We think she looks slutty, but it’s because our own sense of sexuality is repressed. We rail against homosexuality, because we’re not willing to face our own homosexual impulses. Or we find a man bossy and overbearing because our own sense of power is repressed. We project qualities onto other people and see them as outside of ourselves. That’s one way of detecting our own shadow—by looking at our projections onto others.
The shadow often shows up in our relationships. We might marry someone who carries qualities that are repressed in us. We might have repetitive fights with our partners about these things because we’re encountering our own shadow material in our partner.
You meet the shadow when your unconscious mind sabotages your conscious intentions. You know that the shadow has appeared when you feel angry, powerless, invisible, envious, greedy, anxious, depressed, or out of control, and you say or do something impulsive or self-destructive, then feel guilty or ashamed afterward. At those times, you are meeting an unacceptable part of yourself.
Another way you can meet the shadow is through negative feedback from others who serve as your mirror. They might say something like, “This is the third time you’ve arrived late without calling.” Their feedback is telling you there’s a part of your personality that is hidden from you, but it’s leaking out, and others are calling your attention to it.
The MOON: We’ve often heard that those qualities we object to in another are those that we’ve repressed in ourselves. But if we don’t like a quality—even in ourselves—doesn’t it make sense that we’d also find it objectionable in another?
Zweig: Yes, but the question to ask yourself is, “Why am I so antagonistic to this behavior—in myself or another?” Usually it’s because we learned to disown a similar part of ourselves very early on. It’s the force of our repression that gives an objectionable behavior such a charge when we see it in another. If it’s just a casual preference—I prefer baseball over basketball, for example—it won’t carry so much energy, as in “I can’t stand basketball! I can’t even stand to hear it broadcast!” which might indicate we’ve got an association of basketball with something objectionable in our past. Once we understand why we’re reacting so hostilely to something as mundane as basketball, our reaction will probably lose a lot—if not all—of its intensity. We might still prefer baseball, but basketball won’t trigger such a strong emotional reaction.
I’m currently counseling a couple whose members are almost complete opposites. She’s like a princess and wants to be treated so that she feels precious. To her that means spending money on her, going to expensive hotels, buying her gifts. That’s how she feels loved. He, however, is kind of a hippie. He’d rather go camping than stay in a hotel; he doesn’t want to spend money on fancy restaurants, excess consumption, or other superficial things. So they’re really opposites in their values. Yet they’re incredibly attracted to each other because each one of them is carrying the disowned side of the other’s psyche. It’s very mysterious, the way the shadow leads us to our physical and emotional attractions to other people. But part of the mystery is that the other person is living out qualities that are buried in us. It doesn’t mean we should be with that person; it doesn’t mean we can be compatible. But in some cases, when you form a relationship like that, it can be a really broadening and deepening experience if you willingly take on sharing the values of the other person.
For example, I’m seeing another woman who has led a very independent, unconventional life. She was committed to being single until she recently married a man who’d had a long previous marriage with children. At first she wanted nothing to do with raising a family, but she has since stepped into the role of wife and stepmother and she’s really enjoying all of the aspects of domestic life that she’d previously rejected.
The MOON: So it’s a matter of choice. If you choose to engage repressed aspects of yourself—your shadow—you might develop new capacities. But I’m curious about the couple that is so incompatible. Can that marriage be saved?