We Are All Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Embracing the Shadow Self In Law and Life
The title of this blog may seem a little ‘dark’ or may lead you to think about all the lawyer jokes you have heard in your life or career. The fact is, if you read this to conclusion, this blog is as much about finding the light within than exploring the dark side of law or lawyers. As Carl Jung himself once said, “To confront a person with their shadow is to show them their light.” This writing is about healthy integration and acknowledgment of the ‘shadow’ that exists in all of us. Dr. Carl Gustav Jung wrote extensively about The Shadow which stated simply it is the inferior being in all of us in that it wants to do all those things that we do not allow ourselves to do, or in that we don’t want to be. It is the Mr. Hyde in relation to the Dr. Jekyll. The Shadow is not only about not doing something but is about all the impulsive and ill considered deeds. For example, before you have time to think about it, a nasty remark slips out, leaving one confronted with something not really intended. The Shadow is all those desires and emotions that are incompatible with many norms of society and generally our ideal personality. It is all we are ashamed of and that which we do not wish to be.
In law, we have standards to adhere to from governing bodies, the firms and entities we work for, and our own self-imposed standards which were learned from our parents or incorporated from our environments. It is mandated that we will not violate certain standards or risk punishment. There are certainly displays of Shadow Self which do not necessarily lead to adverse consequences in our careers, but ultimately may be the kind that insult our souls and certainly others. Either way, the point is this, the more the Shadow in all of us is ignored or repressed, the bigger it becomes! The Shadow, then, becomes quite hostile when it is not understood or is neglected. How then do we understand this Shadow and deal with it productively in law and life?
It is easiest for us to see the Shadows in others. We all know when we see something that we believe to be abberant, impolite or just plain awful. It is only, if we dare, we know the Shadow within ourselves. As Jung himself wrote, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” That which we see in others generally exists in ourselves. To put the metaphorical mirror in front of your own nose is not what comes naturally to most people. In fact, in law, the culture is blame and rightful projection. It is the oppesite of looking within on its face. So, I say to you here, the journey of self-awareness is a bold one when it comes to what we know as lawyers. Beginning within with honest reflection and assessment is the start and this in turn leads to a healthy acknowledgment of all we can’t admit to others or display in public.
Lawyers not unlike any other person really, are not encouraged to say they have a ‘dark side.’ The fact is, this is a big mistake from the perspective of psychological health and functioning, as the reality is we all have feelings and urges which if repressed rather than seen for what they are, may be expressed in ways that are harmful to self, career and the profession. Further, to the extent we are taught that the Shadow is not an opponent, but rather a part of ourselves that needs to be taken in and shown compassion, control ,and guidance, we can be further assured that we can be highly self-aware and conscious beings in terms of all of our actions and behaviors. This act of acknowledgement and taking very personal responsibility for all of that which we are is one of the most powerful and positive things we can do for ourselves as lawyers and as humans.
I will end with a quote from Jung which is, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Or as Liz Green has written, “The Shadow is both the awful thing that needs redemption, and the suffering redeemer who can provide it.” I hope this encourages you to do honest and open self assessment and take that which is hidden in darkness into your conscious awareness that is your light.
Pam Olsen is a practicing lawyer for over 23 years and has an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling. Pam is also an ICF Certified Coach and brings her love of psychospirituality and unique process work to lawyers and those in the legal profession who want to undertake self-assessment and live more fully as human beings within their profession.