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Shadow Work
Shadow Work

Becoming Who You Are with Carl Jung

Monday, September 9, 2019

Shadow Work

Becoming Who You Are
Monday, September 9, 2019

I have learned much from the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung brought together practical theology with good psychology. He surely was no enemy of religion; in fact, I would call him a mystic. Late in his life, when asked if he “believed” in God, Jung said, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” [1]

However, Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity—an unbridgeable gap—between God and the soul by over-emphasizing external rituals and intellectual belief instead of inner experience and inner transformation. He recognized that Christianity had some helpful theology (for Jung, Jesus Christ served as the central archetype revealing “the hidden, unconscious ground-life of every individual,” . . . and representing “the typical dying and self-transforming God” [2]), but it often had poor psychology and anthropology. Jung was disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated. Jung basically said of Christianity: “It’s not working in real life!” [3]

Jung wouldn’t have fit the bill for the classic definition of a saint. He had a number of affairs and for a little while flirted with Nazism. He had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others.

The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. Read that twice! As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.

For Jung, the God archetype is the whole-making function of the soul. It’s that part of you that always wants more, but not in a greedy sense. God is the inner energy within the soul of all things, saying, “Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you—more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.” Jungian analytical psychology calls such growth and becoming “individuation,” which I like to think of as moving toward the life wish instead of the death wish. The life wish teaches us not to fragment, splinter, or split, but to integrate and learn from everything; whereas the ego moves toward constriction and separation or “sin.” The God archetype is quite simply love at work calling us toward ever deeper union with our own True Self, with others, and with God.

In the journey toward psychic wholeness, Jung stressed the necessary role of religion or the God archetype in integrating opposites, [4] including the conscious and the unconscious, the One and the many, good (by embracing it) and evil (by forgiving it), masculine and feminine, the small self and the Big Self. By “Self” with a capital “S,” Jung meant the deepest center of the psyche/soul that is in union with the Divine. And, if I understand him, it is shared! It is one and we are all participants, just as many mystics have asserted. I would call it the True Self, the Christ Self, or if you prefer, the Buddha Self, which has learned to consciously abide in union with the Presence within us (John 14:17).

[1] C. G. Jung as quoted in “The Old Wise Man,” Time, vol. 65, no. 7 (Feb. 14, 1955), 64.

[2] C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, trans. R. F. C. Hull, 2nd ed. (Princeton University Press: 1969), 89.

[3] See C. G. Jung, On Christianity, ed. Murray Stein (Princeton University Press: 1999) for selections from Jung’s writings regarding his relationship to Christianity, his psychological approach to theology, and his interpretation of Christian history.

[4] In Jung’s own words, “All opposites are of God, therefore [individuals] must bend to this burden; and in so doing find that God in . . . ‘oppositeness’ has taken possession of [them], incarnated [Godself] in [them]. [Each person] becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict.” Psychology and Religion, 416.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Lineage” audio recordings, Center for Action and Contemplation,; and

Unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015).

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr
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