“I find epidemics, natural catastrophes, sunken ships, destroyed cities, terrible wild animals, famine, lack of love in men and fear, whole mountains of fear”, wrote Jung in his “Red Book.”
The psychoanalyst was going through a particularly turbulent period of his life. The news of the impending World War I shocked him deeply. In fact, they came at a particularly difficult time in his life, just when Jung had broken his relationship with Freud, who was not only his mentor but also a great friend.
That was, therefore, a stage of profound disorientation and inner insecurity for Jung. To this was added his work in one of the Swiss camps where sick and wounded soldiers were sheltered during the war. In those fields Jung lived closely the erroneusly called “Spanish flu” that hung over Europe.
That dark and tumultuous era would have a profound impact on his life. But Jung didn’t let it fall on deaf ears. He took advantage of it to carry out a deep work of introspection from which he emerged strengthened and with the firm conviction that we can overcome adversity through individuation.
He thought that to heal our traumas we must raise awareness of our shadows and fears, so that we reach a more integrated and stronger “ego”. “When the most intense conflicts are overcome, they leave a feeling of security and tranquility that is not easily disturbed”, according to Jung. That is the prize.
The shadows that emerge in adversity
When adversity knocks on our door, it usually turns our world upside down. Its unpredictability share strikes us further, causing our mental balance to falter. In the blink of an eye we can run out of handles. Adversity can take us off the cardinal points that up to that moment not only gave our life meaning, but also indicated, roughly, how we should behave.
In these circumstances everything is very difficult for us. And in that state, that fluctuates between bewilderment for what happened and anxiety for what will happen, we can make decisions that we later regret, show attitudes or behaviors that we don’t feel particularly proud of later, fall apart and hit bottom emotionally, discover weaknesses and fears that we did not know see shadows that we would have preferred to remain hidden.
In fact, many times what prevents us from completely overcoming adversity is not the traumatic event itself, but what has brought out of us, that part that is filled with regrets, blames and recriminations. The part that wonders what would have happened if we had made another decision. If we had acted differently. If we had anticipated …
Accept and recognize the darkness that inhabits each one
Jung believed that we have a tendency to hide traits that we don’t like or that are not socially acceptable. As a result, we fragment and develop a dislocated psyche that becomes fertile ground in which problems like anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder grow.
Denying our shadows not only prevents us from recognizing and accepting our entirety, but it also becomes a recurring trap. Jung thought that “Those who learn nothing of the unpleasant facts of their lives, force the cosmic consciousness to reproduce them as many times as necessary to learn what the drama of what happened teaches. What you deny subdues you. What you accept transforms you”.
In other words, we stumble on the same stone so many times because our behaviors and decisions always lead us to it. We cannot expect different results if we always do the same thing the same way, paraphrasing Einstein. Therefore, until we change, we will be stuck in the loop that has generated adversity.
But “We cannot change anything, unless we accept it […] It is much better to take things as they come, with patience and fairness”, as Jung warned. Closing your eyes to reality, pretending that it is not happening, is a maladaptive strategy, as maladaptive as denying the part of us that we do not like.
For this reason, the radical acceptance of reality and that darker part of each one is an essential condition for continuing to advance, turn the page or close chapters of our lives. It is not about passive acceptance, unconditional surrender or resignation, but rather about taking note to restructure our world.
The key to accepting our shadows and a reality we are not comfortable with, is to get rid of value judgments, to stop thinking that darkness is negative or bad.
Jung proposes a different perspective. He states that “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious […] Even a happy life is not feasible without a measure of darkness, and the word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced with sadness.”
In fact, he believed that shadows have enormous power that we can use to grow as people, as long as we are able to integrate them into our “ego”. The acceptance of the shadow allows us to become more balanced and self-aware, so that we will be much better prepared to face adversity.
For this, we need to understand that adversity does not automatically become an epiphany, it only gives us the opportunity to grow through suffering. If we really want. Difficult situations allow us to test our strengths, expand our limits and, of course, discover unknown or under-explored personal facets.
But “All change must begin in the individual himself. No one can afford to look around and wait for others to do for us what is our responsibility”, wrote Jung. Therefore, we have two options: to become victims of circumstances or go beyond adversity to develop a new level of self-knowledge.