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Law 9: Confront Your Dark Side (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 9: Confront Your Dark Side (The Laws of Human Nature) 1
Kennedy-Nixon Debate

The Law of Repression

People are not what they seem. Beneath their polite exterior is a dark side filled with insecurities and aggressive, selfish impulses that are repressed and carefully concealed.

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was a man who publicly valued the ideals of hard work, ambition and resilience. He set an example for others and was able to win the affection of his family and his community. He was a rational, articulate speaker and a formidable debate opponent. He was also affectionate and humorous.

To many, he was a hero, and during his career he made several political comebacks. When people thought that his career was over because of a bad defeat, or because he made a speech that exuded self-pity – as the press declared, he surprised them by coming back stronger a few years later. When his opponents wrote him off, he reappeared more integrated and competent. Across time many of his positive qualities were displayed to the public, he was a man of the people, he was a patriot and it was hard not to consider him a model politician. 

First, there was criticism targeted at him and his administration concerning the war with Vietnam. This created many political rivalries for him that would end up being consequential. The most dramatic shift occurred after Watergate, his name would never be cleared after it, his reputation would be forever tarnished. In his effort to frame a staunch opponent of his, Nixon revealed his dark side, his shadow. 

He had spent so many years building his reputation and trying to show people he was not who they thought he was, but after the scandal, his political career was unsalvageable, and people’s suspicions were confirmed.

Nixon was a needy child, desperate for attention. He cried often and when his mother had to leave him for months to attend to his brothers, he felt abandoned. With time he tried to exude the opposite traits to those of the abandoned child, he wanted to show everyone that he didn’t depend on others for validation, that he was tough and confident. 

Signs of the Shadow

Carl Jung’s work on the shadow teaches us that when we try so hard to repress the darker parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of, they will manifest in ways that are out of our control. Greene highlights the different ways in which this happens. 

If someone exhibits contradictory behavior, that is, they say that they are highly disciplined and in control, but their behavior suggests that they are significantly lacking in this department, the shadow is in play. 

If someone had a sudden outburst of anger or emotion that is uncharacteristic of them – it is a sign of a repressed self that is aching to get out. 

If someone appears too perfect, preaching the ideals of purity and love and openness so strongly, you can be sure that what they really want is for people to be dependent on them, and the dictum “anything goes” surely applies but as long as it is on their terms.

If someone is too one sided, it suggests that they are trying very hard to hide away their fragile self. 

The man who wants to appear vigorous and masculine and boasts about his exploits and accomplishments with women and work is really presenting a facade to conceal the deeper, feminine feelings of vulnerability and compassion. He is repressing a tender side that he is deeply ashamed of. 

The person who constantly wants to demonstrate his intelligence and competence as if he was putting up a show wants to conceal his insecurity about his capabilities. 

The person who appears too friendly and nice, who leaves a positive impression on everyone they encounter, secretly harbors ambitions for power. The nice exterior can be misleading, and you can spot this type by how often they show signs of passive aggression. Look out for biting remarks that appear out of nowhere, or harsh criticisms of others. They may be nice to you when they are dishing out this criticism, but when they are with others, it is likely that you are the subject of scorn.

The shadow is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a natural part of who we are, and it is what makes us competent, interesting and different. But to avoid the repercussions of the shadow, we must learn to acknowledge it and to find ways to channel it in a healthy way rather than allow it to dominate our lives in ways we are oblivious of. 

Discovering the Shadow

Keep a dream diary.

Record the contents of your dreams, especially the general mood and feeling of them, don’t pay so much attention to the symbolism. 

When socializing with people, don’t be afraid to show your dark side. When we are young, our parents try to mold us into perfect little angels because our behavior in public affects their reputation. They will try to control our aggression and ambition. When we grow older, we carry these inhibitions with us, and this is part of the reason the shadow grows. The more we deny its presence, the more it will make itself conscious.

We should feel okay about displaying signs of ambition and aggression in public, it is not wrong to do so, it is human. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think and feel. 

Channel your dark side through creative works.

Authors like Dostoevsky manifested their shadows in their work and produced beautiful pieces of literature that will be cherished for countless generations.

The shadow is an endless source of inspiration and insight – it is what stops you from living a bland, uninteresting life. But you must learn to listen to it, you must acknowledge it and learn how to master it.

Do not fall for simplistic narratives, understand the complexity and multi dimensionality of human beings. What appears clear and obvious to you, a pleasant smile, a gentle remark is never plainly so. Learn to become a student of the human mind and decipher the hidden messages that are being presented. And learn to do the same to yourself. Try to recognize repressed feelings that you may have or pay attention to the ways that you may be trying to overcompensate for something you are ashamed of.

By knowing your shadow, you can make it a powerful ally.

Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.

Carl Jung                             

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"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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