Iron John Chapter 06 Towards an understanding of Shadow.

Shadow. Towards an understanding of Shadow.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. Carl Jung.

The concept of the Shadow, as I will try to present it here is initially quite simple. I have written this for those who have perhaps never heard the word “shadow” used in a psychological way before.  Starting off simply we will dive into the depths of what Shadow might be. It is easy to be overwhelmed by this subject, so I will try to keep it simple. Also, “Shadow” as a word has some limitations towards understanding what we are talking about. We have cultural and unconscious bias around the word Shadow and our projections on it. I will unpack this in the conclusion so we don’t go down a separate rabbit hole.

The difficulties of the word  “Shadow” in our Jeadau/Christian/Muslim culture. A Calvinistic heritage.

The Calvinist idea associated Black and darkness with evil. Laurens van der Post noted that the issue around apartheid would never be resolved because the church had confused the color black with evil. The word Shadow suffers from the same prejudice, it is almost impossible for us to separate the word shadow from darkness, and by extension evil.

The simple explanation of shadow is a person standing facing the sun the shadow is always by definition behind the body unseen. as the sun climbs to its highest point the shadow becomes shorter and shorter until it disappears almost totally. The risk here is making a metaphor do too much work is that it breaks down. The sunlit part is what we aspire to and what we are able to show in public which is acceptable. The midday position is either that we are in total denial of our shadow,( we just don’t see it) or we don’t have a shadow which means we have reached full individuation as Carl Jung would call it, Christ consciousness and all the other spiritual labels.

As this site is primarily about stories and storytelling, I also want to lay out how stories assist us in recovering Shadow material without triggering the trauma that caused the shadow to be created in the first place and how that is tied to soul retrieval, another name for the same thing.

I have used the word Soul retrieval here. I see our psychology, our psyche made up of three main energies or forces.

    1. The status quo, which is the belief system we live in and agree to be acceptable at all levels of life. (the real world)
    2. The Ego, whose primary directive is “Keep safe stay alive!” as well as who we think we are. Another version of “Keep safe stay alive!)
    3. Soul. The most slippery of the three aspects from our material world of the status quo. Soul is the sum of all the energies and experiences we brought into this incarnation and Soul is the thing that attributes meaning to events. Soul does not die with the body it exists in another dimension called eternity in the storytelling tradition.

Ego is the result of conforming to the status quo “to be accepted” what we cut away from ourselves to be accepted went and lived in Soul to await the redemptive moment.

This is the theme of many stories such as Iron John where at 7 years our Golden ball rolled into the Wildman’s cage. The rest of the story describes the process of getting our Golden ball back.

“Down the rabbit hole with Alice.” Alice in Wonderland. And “Through the Looking Glass.”

By Lewis Carrol. Both of these stories are different expressions of the depth of the human psyche and what’s down there in metaphor. Both of these stories describe what we may find when we plumb the depths of the human psyche. (See below)

While I have laid out some of the geographies of the human psyche and its shadow components, I have only offered one solution here. The solutions, the way back, need a chapter all of their own. The solutions are contained in metaphor in The Iron John Story.   Other solutions will be better placed in a separate chapter.

A little poem to speed us on our way.


Rumi > “I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside.”

Shadow has a special relationship to Soul and through Soul to death.

This image is from The Blue beard story, the doorway of death.

The doorway of death in the time of COVID-19.

In the Lakota-Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered most Wakan (Wakan is god’s name in the Lakota tradition), most holy. There’s a sense that when someone is struck by the sudden lightning of loss, he or she stands on the threshold of the spirit world. The prayers of those who grieve are considered especially strong, and it is proper to ask them for their help.

You might recall what it’s like to be with someone who has grieved deeply. The person has no layer of protection, nothing left to defend. The mystery is looking out through that person’s eyes. For the time being, he or she has accepted the reality of loss and has stopped clinging to the past or grasping at the future. In other words, the timeless and the groundless.

Shadow like Soul is always knocking on the door of consciousness for entry.

Maturity it seems is to find what you lost as a child and regain it.

Much of what I have written here I have taken from Robert Bly’s book “The Little Book on the Human Shadow” HarperCollins ISBN:9780061971174.  I have used this because this is the most accessible account I have come across of how Shadow is formed and I invite you to read the original. There is also a Kindle version. In his book, his concept, his metaphor for the Shadow was  “The long bag we drag behind us”. That the split-off parts of the psyche go into the bag and slowly regress. We drag this ever-growing bag around with us metaphorically which is just exhausting. In his book, his concept, his metaphor for the Shadow was  “The long bag we drag behind us”. That the split-off parts of the psyche go into the bag and slowly regress. We drag this ever-growing bag around with us metaphorically which is just emotionally and physically exhausting. Also, we lose the word “Shadow” and its connotations of darkness and blackness.

Also, both Robert Bly and I have used Melanie Klein’s work of childhood developmental stages which she discovered through Play Therapy. As these issues are preverbal, she developed a play-based system to allow the child to express what they experienced in early childhood. I have also drawn on the work of Alice Miller “The Drama of the gifted child.” 

Stan Groff’s work also contributes to our experiences in the womb. He describes the four pre-birth matrixes. He made these experiences accessible through Holographic breathwork. I will give an account of my own experience with this process later. 

I have also drawn on the Waldorf educational system and my own understanding as my four children progressed through that system. 

Down the rabbit hole of early childhood development. 

At the very formation of Ego our psychic (mental) health depends on protecting the emerging Ego. Splitting off parts of our psyche when threatened is a defense mechanism the Ego uses to protect itself we have come to call this expulsion (from paradise) of Soul material the Shadow or “the long Bag we drag behind us”. That expelled material lives in our unconscious and seems to slowly regress the longer it remains un-assimilated and may even become hostile to us.

Shadow is a defense mechanism created to protect the Ego from being overwhelmed by the demands placed upon it and to resolve the double binds of life. “Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t”. This came about because as a helpless infant we very quickly learned what pleased our parents, especially our primary caregiver, our mother. In this way, we willingly began to repress or split-off parts of ourselves to please and repress that which didn’t please. To be acceptable, to be liked.

Acceptability is still a huge driver of behaviour, even in adulthood. We will lie and be deceitful to be liked and we will deny large parts of ourselves and our actions when we feel the sting of displeasure and judgments. Especially such accusations as “You’re a racist” “You have offended me” and all the other politically correct-speak. Faced with the accusations we backpedal and lie “It wasn’t me” “Oh no I quite agree with you.”


Splitting off parts of ourselves is therefore a defence mechanism used by the developing Ego to prevent being overwhelmed by demands of the status quo, (mother, parents) to be accepted. That split off part goes and lives in the “enormous forest” of the psyche, labeled Shadow. Or as Robert Bly puts it in “The long bag we drag behind us.”

In the Iron John story much was made of losing the Golden Ball. The whole release of the Wildman was to retrieve the Golden Ball, and was then never mentioned again directly. Why? because the whole of the rest of the story is about retrieving that Golden ball and the Mystical Marriage it refers to at the wedding of redemption at the end of the story.

The way the splits takes place looks something like this. 

  1. “It’s not so bad”. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.
  2. If you don’t like it, I’ll lie about it, especially to myself so as to be accepted.
  3. Reaction formation. “I really, really, really, love ………” To be acceptable, to be part of the crowd.
  4. Displacement. “The shame tank” My boss yells at me, I yell at my wife, she yells at the kids, they kick the dog, the dog bites the cat and so on.
  5. Projection “It’s not me it’s you”
  6. “Ok, I’ll talk about food instead of sex.” It’s still a double entendre
  7. I’m not good at sport so I’ll be really good at studying and get high marks. So, people will be misdirected away from my lack of physical abilities.”
  8. I want to be the Bully. I gave away my center to you and accept yours as better than mine so its mine now also.

Why did this splitting happen? In order to please our parents above all, Our parents wanted a nice boy or a nice girl. This means they wanted us to be socially acceptable and to be successful in the world. After all the children’s behaviour and successes reflect on the parents, as do their failures and rejection. If the parents are successful in this endeavour, we become popular and people will want to be around us, and many of life’s doors of life open for us. When parenting is not successful, people stay away and doors remain closed to us, alienating us from our community.

Incarnating into a family, is like a scuba diver choosing a place to dive. Families are like that; families have history and expectations. Expectations around roles within the family dynamic, gender roles, career roles, religious roles, community roles, and cultural roles, national roles, even planetary roles. Each of these roles has requirements, and like the type of diving gear we chose, restricts our expression, focusing our activities in a certain direction. In my opinion, this planning is done by Soul agreement before incarnating.

The expectations of Parents, Culture, Religion, Language, Country, the Status Quo.

Helicopter Parents. Perhaps we have heard the phrase where the parents are over-invested in the child and don’t give them space to breath and discover who they are for themselves.

Conscious Initiation work and Rites of Passage work.  Allowing this self-discovery is hugely important for the feeling of wellbeing for the child and the adult. This self-discovery is the essence of initiation and Rite of passagework.

The Big NO. The terrible two’s. This is a time in our development where we meet a huge number of restrictions. The small child is extremely tactile and wants to touch everything and put things in its mouth to see if it’s edible. The child is now mobile and can stand and reach up to things on the bottom shelf, or coffee table. Tablecloths are seen as a ladder to a higher dimension. Climbing up the curtains and sitting on the curtain rail is not unknown. The parents are now in a constant battle to keep the child safe and to limit breakages so what the exploring child hears are a series of restrictive “NO don’t put that in your mouth”, “NO don’t touch that”, “No don’t twist the cat’s tail”. And so on. The child learns not to explore, not to test, not to touch, not to complain.

Testing, touching, exploring, complaining gets split off and goes in the bag into shadow. Sometimes the best part of us is lost for ever, or at best 30 years. Once gone, its really hard to get them back.

Parenting in our age. Our understanding of child-rearing is abusive to young children and just plain wrong. So, what’s the alternative for overwhelmed, working parents?

  • Alternative parenting systems, where the child is at the center and not the needs and drives of the parents, expectations of curriculum and a disconnected education system.
  • Allowing the child to be a child and play. Play is the work of children.
  • Good boundaries for the parents.
  • Other coping skills besides shouting and physical punishment.
  • Coping skills to deal with passive-aggressive behaviour.

Passive-aggressive behaviour. Passive-aggressive behaviour is a sign that Ego boundaries have been trampled without agreement. “Do it” “Why” “Because I say so”  “I don’t have time to argue, get in the car now, get dressed, eat your breakfast/ dinner. Put your shoes on” Taken to extremes, the Will forces within the child are wounded and create Mr/s last-minute .com. That curled lip, and surly expression (I think teenagers practice that look in front of the mirror). The slamming of doors and thumping around the house. Parents are a trial and an embarrassment. The whole world is against them. Or to put it another way, parents -agents of the status quo denigrate their world and make only our world as having value. It’s an either or situation.

Strong-Willed Children There are exceptions to the rule. There are those children who succeed despite their parents and the strictures of the status quo. They refuse to be restricted and follow their own path, without good mentoring by the elders and mentors, not by the parents. This can lead the child into difficulties with the status quo.

Hothouse parents. Parents who have an agenda for the child irrespective of the child’s wishes or natural inclinations. Parents who drive their children to fulfil their own unmet needs. Whether it be through sport, academics, art, dance – the list is endless.

The trampling of the child’s boundaries.   In the above examples, we can see that the child’s boundaries are not respected, and the child becomes subservient to firstly the wishes of the parents and later to the status quo. Later on, the child and the adult he/she becomes will suffer from a wounded Will.

This trampling of a child’s boundaries is child abuse. The sovereignty of the child is removed, denied, and made inconsequential. When the child has no boundaries against adults, adults can do what they like. If we want to deal with the scourge of Gender-based violence (GBV) we must first respect the growing child’s boundaries. Both boys and girls. This lack of boundaries makes the children easy targets for sexual predators.

Then there is the primal meal. The child is dished up a plate of food. There are all sorts of rules and admonishments around food. “Eat what’s on your plate” “There are Ethiopians who would kill for that.” “You’re not leaving the table ‘till the plate is clean.” “Even if you gag you will eat that I’m not throwing away good food.” And so on, and boundaries are once again being trampled.

When children won’t sleep through the night or eat. Sleeping “through” is another one. The self-help books and experts seem to be totally anti-child and pro parents and the expectations of the status quo. These require rested parents to do a day’s work, irrespective of the demands of what’s happening at home, especially for single parents. So, what do we do? We put the child in a separate room and let them scream until they learn that no comfort is coming. An act of cruelty.

For those young parents reading this, there is an excellent book by Jean Liedloff “. The Continuum Concept”,  Available on Amazon. Here are some exserts from the book about early childhood experiences from the child’s point of view.

  • Traumatic separation from his mother at birth due to medical intervention and placement in maternity wards, in physical isolation except for the sound of other crying new-born’s, 
  • Male babies further traumatized by medically unnecessary circumcision surgery.
  • At home, sleeping alone and isolated, often after “crying himself to sleep”.
  • Scheduled feeding, with his natural nursing impulses, often ignored or “pacified”.
  • Being excluded and separated from normal adult activities, relegated for hours on end to a nursery, crib or playpen where he is inadequately stimulated by toys and other inanimate objects.
  • Caregivers often ignoring, discouraging, belittling or even punishing him when he cries or otherwise signals his needs; or else responding with excessive concern and anxiety, making him the center of attention.
  • Sensing (and conforming to) his caregivers’ expectations that he is incapable of self-preservation, is innately antisocial, and cannot learn correct behaviour without strict controls, threats, and a variety of manipulative “parenting techniques” that undermine his exquisitely evolved learning process.

“Evolution has not prepared the human infant for this kind of experience. He cannot comprehend why his desperate cries for the fulfilment of his innate expectations go unanswered, and he develops a sense of wrongness and shame about himself and his desires….

If, however, his continuum expectations are fulfilled — precisely at first, with more variation possible as he matures — he will exhibit a natural state of self-assuredness, well-being and joy. Infants whose continuum needs are fulfilled during the early, in-arms phase grow up to have greater self-esteem and become more independent than those whose cries go unanswered for fear of “spoiling” them or making them too dependent.”

The result of no Boundaries. Ego has a particularly important function in our lives. Ego creates the boundary of who we are. Where do I stop and where do you begin? This is so important in mature relationships. A person with wounded boundaries is dangerous and chameleon-like and will agree with whatever the last speaker says. As with any Kingdom, there are warriors who are gatekeepers and patrol boundaries to keep the Psyche of the kingdom safe. When this is not present and /or wounded, we become psychotic, overwhelmed by outside stimuli against which we have no boundaries.

Two symptoms of this are:

  • Self-mutilation and cutting
  • A death wish.

Self-mutilation and cutting.

There are insects that break off their own legs, so birds won’t eat them. Apparently, birds won’t eat a mutilated insect. When children do this it’s easier to mutilate themselves than have somebody else do it emotionally. Often, we will put ourselves down rather than have somebody else do it, somehow, it’s easier and to be self-effacing is seen as a virtue. When the feeling goes into the bag, when we disassociate from the world, there are no feelings.

Dissociation: Cutting is a way of feeling something through the body. Sex is another way we can feel. An orgasm is a physical response, an endorphin rush that it’s easy to get addicted to. That’s why so many men masturbate to porn, to feel something, to release anxiety. Some of the drivers of GBV are buried in this behaviour.  There is a story that describes this situation called “The Moon Palace”

The Death wish. High-risk behaviour is sometimes an attempt to feel fear. Sometimes the Soul is saying that you need to die to who you were, to become who you can be. Due to the lack of availability of Elders and mentoring, this death wish gets mis-translated into high-risk behaviour and risking taking. The feeling is not asking for death but rather transformation. The difficulty is in taking things literally instead of metaphorically

Wounded Will. This phrase is not a concept the status quo understands, nether does our educational systems and many motivational speakers. However, as can be seen from what I’ve written above, trampling the child’s boundaries can result in a wounded will. Some of the symptoms of a wounded will are: –

  • Procrastination
  • Being habitually late
  • Perpetually losing keys and other stuff
  • Doing everything at the very last minute. Mr/s last
  • Not completing tasks and assignments on time
  • Waiting until after the deadline and expecting other people to rally round and get it done
  • Borrowing the will of the deadline to get things done, then not giving the task due care
  • Tasks that looks like a teenager’s homework, (I’d really rather be playing computer games)

If this is you the reader, help is at hand, through practicing small acts of Will repeatedly, the Will forces can be rebuilt.  This takes time and self-love, not criticisms of failures. Good if you can do this work in a group such as an M.K.P. I-group. Or any other group. This is a work of fellowship for support and encouragement. A good question to ask is. is this behaviour a pattern? If it is then the behaviour is trying to tell you something. A lesson the “Flying Geese”, can teach us, honking to each other to encourage each other.

See Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles book “Gung HO!” The one-minute manager. Google Gung HO! To see more on the lessons of flying Geese.

Mary Oliver Wild Geese With apologies. 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, (in South Africa read Hadeda)

high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the Hadeda , harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Our private lives, and the life of our nation are being driven by compulsions we don’t understand. An understanding of Shadow can tell us why and how to move towards wholeness. Heal ourselves. Heal the nation. Here is one version of the bag we drag behind us. Father Christmas bag of goodies. (If you’r good)

The Bag is a metaphor for the container of the split off parts of ourselves “The Shadow.” This bag, this Shadow, is the same as the Golden Ball in the Iron John story.

How to tell what’s in the bag. It’s really simple it’s what we criticize in others. “It’s all the Government’s fault!” “Did you see what she did or said”. “Well at least we don’t do that”. Statements prefaced with the names of “Giants.” “Should, must, ought to, have to, always, never, somebody, nobody, everybody” all of those collective statements. All in the bag. Our energy is bound up in the bag with anger, hatred, envy, disappointment, betrayal, fear and depression. (see “Giant” stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and “The half Giantess”)

The Golden bag. There is no doubt that some of our best bits went into the bag. We have this wonderful image of the wise Elder bring us back gifts from the bag every Christmas. He even stands next to the world tree a symbol of the Axis Mundi

My own story of retrieving some of what was in my bag. The story of the lead ball. When I was about seven years old my mother sent me to boarding school to keep me safe from my stepfather. He had lost his son in a car crash and couldn’t understand how his son could have been taken away and hers remained. My presence just reminded him of that all the time so out of fear for my safety, it was off to boarding school for me. At boarding school, I had a recurring nightmare of being chased by a huge lead ball which threatened to roll over me a squash me flat. I used to get out of bed after this dream and stand beside the bed so I couldn’t go back to sleep and dream it again.

Over time the dream stopped, twenty years later I was doing some holographic breathwork workshops (Stan Groff’s work) In this model one enters an altered state of consciousness through deep breathing to very loud music over a period of about two hours. The music runs up the Chakras from base Chakras to end at head Chakra.

In this process and in this state of altered consciousness, usually the four different birth matrixes come up. The idea is whatever comes up breath into it. When we are threatened, we hold our breath and lock the event into our bodies. This process of breathing into the event releases the locked trauma from our bodies.

In My dream. I began to see the lead ball again chasing me down the road again. I began serious breathing into that image. The ball started to pulse to my breathing and glowing red in the middle. As the image became more defined, I could see it was a small child in utero inside the lead ball, though this process I was able to draw the child into myself. It was quite a reunion with a huge release of energy and a feeling of wellbeing. What was chasing me was my own split-off parts wanting to reunite with me. A unique experience.




Further down the academic rabbit hole A different rabbit hole.

For a more academic understanding of what’s down the rabbit hole.









The label “Shadow” was first coined by Carl Jung. He used this shadow image to explain the sunlit part of us versus the parts of ourselves we don’t see, the shadow that falls behind us. We don’t see because we are looking towards the lit parts of ourselves. The ironic thing is that everybody else sees our shadow very clearly, except those who are in love with us. Love in this case is often blind. “Only a mother could love you” We observe our friend’s patterns of behaviour, recognise them, comment on them to each other and smile wryly when our friend indignantly deny our all too keen observations or accuse us or others of the same behaviour.

Shadow is one of Carl Jung’s most useful terms for part of the human psyche. “The dark, unlit, and repressed side of the Ego complex”.

Emma Louise Von Frans, a contemporary of Jung stated that this is only partly true, “lest we get caught up in the negative connotation of the image” “the shadow is simply a “mythological” name for all that is within me that I cannot directly know.” Which I will attempt to unpack below.

Splitting off parts of ourselves as a defense mechanism. (Creating Shadow)

What are defense mechanisms? “These are coping techniques that are adopted by the subconscious mind to deal with and lessen the intensity of stimuli that present themselves as unpleasant, threatening, and unwanted. Without these, our mental health would be severely compromised.”

McLeod, S. A. (2019, April 10). Defense mechanisms. Simply Psychology.

We use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from being overwhelmed by trauma. Also, from feelings of anxiety and guilt which arise when we feel threatened. The withdrawal of love and acceptance can be very threatening for a small child. Or because being acceptable demands we cut off parts of our self. Ego demands life and therefore acceptability at all costs.

Defense mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings (i.e., anxiety) or make good things feel better for the individual.

Protection from trauma. People who have been in an accident can lose their memory of the event, the same with sexual or abusive trauma, violence, and war situations. PTSD is a symptom of this.

Ego-defence mechanisms are natural and normal.  When they get out of proportion (i.e., used with frequency, become a pattern), neuroses develop, such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria. Identifying a behaviour as a pattern is an identifier of Shadow. The pattern is trying to communicate something to us about what is in the shadow.


Here is a little story that explains a version of Projection.

A farmer was ploughing his field and was almost finished when the plough hit a rock and broke. Wanting to get to planting without delay the farmer saw the plough was not repairable without going on a long journey to town. Ok what to do? Ah. His neighbour has a plough. Maybe he would lend it to me. So, off he set to his neighbour’s house, quite a drive. On the way, he’s thinking, what if he won’t lend it to me? Hmm. Maybe he would hire it to me, ok that would be ok. I’d pay R 100 to borrow it, what if he wants R 200? No that ok I’d pay R200, By the time he gets to his neighbour he is very angry, having worked himself up to a R 1000 for the plough. He knocked on the door. His neighbour answers with a smile. The farmer in his fantasy anger snaps at his bewildered neighbour “If you think I’m going to pay R 2000 to borrow your fucken’ plough you’ve got another thing coming!”

Our projections often create our reality. Like the farmer, we create our own reality through our belief systems. We have a cliché about “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy” We create our experience through our expectations. If we believe all women are bad drivers and we see any woman driving, we will find something bad in their driving. If we believe all men are bastards and we watchmen, eventually they will do something to deserve the label bastard. And so, the projection is fulfilled and reinforced against any evidence to the contrary. In star wars Luke‘s failure to lift the X wing out of the swamp. Luke says to Yoda “I didn’t think it was possible” Yoda’s response is “That’s why you failed.” Often, we don’t attempt something because we are convinced of its failure even before we start. We are really surprised and even jealous when somebody else does it in a really simple way. They weren’t limited by our belief system.

Sometimes this is the cause of resentment towards leaders, They stood up, took the risk, and did something we know we could have done but didn’t. They weren’t anything special and didn’t do anything special, except the one thing we couldn’t do. Stand up.

Consensus reality and the “Flat worlders” Consensus reality is not a good basis for facts. A short time ago it was agreed that the world was flat and the center of the solar system. Like the story of “The King’s New Clothes” as long as we all agree with the projection, we are all safe. If somebody disagrees then there is trouble, usually for the one that disagrees. Consensus reality is the status quo and drives much of our lives.

When Euclid started out to measure Hades, A Poem by  Harry Martinson 

When Euclid started out to measure Hades

He found it had neither depth nor height.

Demons flatter than stingrays

Swept above the plains of death…….

There were only waves, no hills, no chasms or valleys.

Only lines, parallel happenings, angles lying prone.

Demons shot along like elliptical plates:

They covered an endless field in Hades as though with moving dragon scales

Victims of flat evil,

With no comfort from a high place

Or support from a low place.

Burial mounds are flattened by forgetfulness.  

By Harry Martinson 

Women complain that men, in general, project their whole feminine side onto women. A man falls in love with a woman and projects has Feminine side onto her and vice versa, she projects her masculine side onto him. The man withdraws his projection of the Feminine from his mother, transfers some of his projection onto the woman, and marries her, has children, he may rediscover the part of his feminine side in caring for his children. However, if he can’t withdraw his projection from his mother, or is not aware of his projection, his mother will always be in his home. This is why Mother and Fathers-in-law have such a bad reputation. See lizard in the Fire Story which describes this dilemma beautifully.

Men complain that women project their whole masculine side onto a man. If the tire goes flat on the car it’s the man’s fault and he needs to fix it. Often the kids hear as a threat from the mother “just you wait ’til your father gets home”. He must run the chequebook, make sure there is enough money, and so on. We are talking stereotypes here and huge generalisations and yet parts of this remain true. The new bride must also withdraw her projections of her tyrant from her father and give them to her husband. Otherwise, the father-in-law is always in the house, in the relationship.

Who’s in the Wedding Car? As the bride and groom leave the church there are unseen guests present in the car. The Tyrant of the wife is given to the groom by the bride’s father, a secret meeting in the garage perhaps. That is where it happened for me. My father-in-law told me “Sarah is no good with money, you’ll have to watch her, or she’ll spend all your money”. (Sarah is my wife of 37 years and no it’s not true.)

My mother came all the way from Australia to South Africa for our wedding. The night before the wedding my mother told my wife “Sam is just like his father; he’ll lead you a merry dance with other women, maybe you should think again.”

So, the wedding car was quite full of my father’s infidelity and her father’s lack of confidence in her financial ability.

This, of course, is total projection but as usual, has some truth in it as well.

Projection: The upside. If our belief systems are positive and life-affirming and uplifting in nature, then that is what we will experience. “Act as if” and all the self-help books rely on this fact. If the projection is a construct of the intellect and we forget to keep it stoked the projection collapses and we are back in the old pattern.

“You’re projecting” as an accusation. Somehow there is an assumption that projections are “bad” However, in order to retrieve content from the bag, it needs to first make an appearance outside the bag and outside ourselves, so we can see it. Only then can the integration process take place. I need to see my shadow in you first, you are my mirror. Its is what makes human relations so trick and fraught with angst.

Office politics and a good deal of our conversation is made up of “He said” “She said” mostly projections and communication from bits of our Shadow trying to reunite with us. A wild idea yes?


Because we are constantly creating our own reality a great part of our world experience is due to our projection, so yes, we are always projecting. This is why foreign travel is so revealing because we can experience different projection around the same issues in different countries and cultures.

Projection as the 1st step in Shadow retrieval. 

The value of projection is that we first see our Shadow content in other people outside of ourselves first. In this way “Before you stands your teacher is accurate.” We first meet parts of our Shadow in other people. Begin a conversation when we are offended and charged by other people’s comments (an emotional response) then our shadow is trying to communicate with us here.

Denial. We have already seen that sometimes our shame is so great that we have no choice but to lie about it. We simply flat out deny it. “Not me! I didn’t do that”. Like the child with chocolate all around their mouth, when asked about who ate the missing cake “No it wasn’t me”

The other way we deny stuff is with procrastination. We know the car needs petrol, but we just don’t put it in. Then when we run out of petrol, we say to ourselves “I should have listened to that voice” It seems to me that we do this all the time. I do it often. “Have you done that?” (actually, I haven’t done it) “Oh yes”! Then we quickly do it after having lied about it.

Then we wonder why we had to lie about it. Our agreement went in the bag, keeping our word is in the bag. We cannot deal with any more shame, so we must lie about it rather than admit to the fault.

The destructiveness of denial. Once we have denied our own Soul to be accepted by our parents, peers, community, and the status quo, we can deny anything. The plight of the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the “other” in all its forms. This denial of Soul enables us to war, kill and maim without feeling anything for the “other” Anything different from us becomes an enemy and we feel we are totally justified in the way we acted. At a time when gender-based violence (GBV), is a pandemic,  if we want to resolve that violence at its root cause, we have to do the inner child work of Soul retrieval, “Go with the Wildman and retrieve our Golden Ball of the “Iron John story”.  So we can feel again and make connections with the “other” again. In M.K.P. and may other indigenous cultures make the connection between ourselves and everything else by the phrase “Aho all my relations”. Repression of these feelings and connections as another form of Ego defense.

Repression. In a way we have already discussed repression in, Chapters 01 and 03 of “Iron John” story and Chapter1 of the “Half Giantess” We willingly amputate part of ourselves to be accepted. We constantly edit and censor our conversation because we fear not being accepted. We fear giving offense of revealing too much of ourselves and opening ourselves to ridicule. Another form of non-acceptance.

Withholding. Is another form of repression. When we have talents that we carry for the rest of the world and we keep them hidden either because we don’t believe what we have has value or because we have been wounded. We say “fuck you I’ll keep what I know to myself”.

Identification with the Aggressor

This is part of repression “If you can’t beat them join them”.

It involves the victim adopting the behaviour of a person who is more powerful and hostile towards them and so become an ally of the aggressor to avoid conflict and anxiety..

By internalising the behaviour of the aggressor, the ‘victim’ hopes to avoid abuse, as the aggressor may begin to feel an emotional connection with the victim which leads to feelings of empathy.

An extreme example of this is the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages establish an emotional bond with their captor(s) and take on their behaviours.

Patty Hearst was abused and raped by her captors, yet she joined their Symbionese Liberation Army and even took part in one of their bank robberies.  At her trial, she was acquitted because she was a victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Teenagers and young adults do this when they give up rebellion and “join the other side”, the status quo, becoming indentured members of community. They give up their previously held passionate anti-establishment views to be acceptable.

Sublimation the diversion of the energy of a sexual or other biological impulse from its immediate goal to one of a more acceptable social, moral, or aesthetic nature or use.

In a way this can lead to overcompensation. One of the great ones I have observed is sublimating sexual energy into discussions around food, diets and healthy eating. Or drinking and drug taking into religion.

Overcompensation.  Alfred Adler was responsible for introducing the term ‘overcompensation’ in his work ‘Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Physical Compensation’ (1907). He said that ‘if people feel inferior and weak in one area, they try to compensate for it somewhere else ‘. 

Overcompensation taking Sublimated energy taken to extremes

Overcompensation occurs when people overachieve in one area to make up for shortcomings in another aspect of life. Under compensation, on the other hand, can happen when people deal with such shortcomings by becoming overly dependent on others.

Our actions, behaviour, and speech (and by extension, our personality) are influenced not only by our conscious mind (that which we see and hear), but also by the effect that these varied stimuli have on our subconscious and unconscious mind. Thus, our behaviour has many layers to it and the observable behaviour (that which we can overtly observe) is backed by several experiences, and defence mechanisms. There is an adage that says “you can never process by behaviour”

According to Adler, the propagator of this theory, compensation, and by extension, overcompensation find its roots in childhood. Psychologically, a person cannot deal with the feelings of being inferior or inadequate, and therefore he needs to feel good about himself to redeem himself in his own eyes and that of the world. Driven by this need, he sets about finding something that he can excel at, and when he does, his inadequacies become overshadowed.

The downside of overcompensating. even though it works to overshadow inadequacies and highlight achievements. It is a great dark magician offering misdirection. By overcompensation. Overcompensation can prove to be very detrimental to one’s psyche. How? Because this defense mechanism could be undertaken with the objective of dominating and controlling others and exerting one’s superiority over them. Hence, it is not driven by the objective of excelling to feel good about oneself but doing so to put others down.

There is a bird called a Kiewiet or Plover, who lays its eggs on the ground. If anyone approaches the eggs the Kiewiet  drags one wing on the ground and cries out so you think they are wounded, drawing you away from the eggs. When you are a safe distance from the eggs they just fly away. By making noise and seeming wounded they draw our attention away from their nest. So too, overcompensation draws attention away from our inferior function. A form of misdirection.

Reaction Formation see also Identification with aggressor.

Another form of misdirection

Reaction formation label for a defense mechanism in which a person goes beyond denial and behaves in the opposite way to which he or she thinks or feels.

Mis-direction behaviours are adopted to overcompensate for the anxiety a person feels regarding their socially unacceptable unconscious thoughts or emotions. Usually, a reaction formation is marked by exaggerated behaviour, such as showiness and compulsiveness, bigger than life. At some level, we feel that the person is not being authentic even if we can’t put our finger on exactly why. Politicians would be a great example, we know much of what they promise is inauthentic.

By using this self misdirection, the inner critic is satisfied while keeping the ego in ignorance of the true motives.

Freud claimed that men who are prejudiced against homosexuals are making a defense against their own homosexual feelings by adopting a harsh anti-homosexual attitude that helps convince themselves of their heterosexuality. Certainly “poofter” (Aussie slang term for a gay man) bashing was a national sport in Australia as I grew up (50 years ago). To accuse somebody of being gay was a fighting offense. And yet as young testosterone-filled boys everyone I knew indulged secretly in male on male sex in their teens. Certainly, there was a conspiracy of silence around this and any thought of homosexuality would be vehemently denied.

Lastly on this miss-direction (reaction formation) issue is the self-permission given for inmates of jail to attack and beat up pedophiles. Why are pedophiles such targets and why is there such hatred for them as opposed to murderers and embezzlers? These are the same people who mug and steal from anybody, women, and children included. These are the same men who beat up their wives and children so why the almost exclusive hatred for Paedophiles? Could part of the reason be that we are all child-abusers in the sense that we banished and abused our own inner child it fit in with the status quo? Because of our own unconscious guilt and denial we have to prove to ourselves that, that’s not us.

What happens when the Mythology is faulty.

The difficulties as “Shadow” as a word in our Jeadau/Christian/Muslim culture. A Calvinistic heritage.

The Calvinist idea associated Black and darkness with evil. Laurens van der Post noted that the issue around apartheid would never be resolved because the church had confused the color black with evil. The word Shadow suffers from the same prejudice, it is almost impossible for us to separate the word shadow from darkness, and by extension evil.

Continued in the next Chapter  O  King ship, for a deeper understanding kingship

2 thoughts on “Iron John Chapter 06 Towards an understanding of Shadow.

  • 27 Sep 2020 at 8:55 pm

    Hi Sam,
    Great mapping of the concept of The Shadow. I’ve picked up several aspects of mine here, thanks. It feels comprehensive. It could serve as a map for those of us searching for self completion.

  • 30 Dec 2020 at 6:30 pm

    Tһanks designed for sharing such a good idea, poѕt is gⲟod,
    thats why i havе read it fully


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