Just as the ego represents who we believe we are, the shadow represents who and what we believe we are not. Because shadow is just as important as ego in defining our personalities and boundaries, we adhere to the shadow aspects of ourselves with as much tenacity as that with which we hold to our egos. For most people it is very difficult to experience shadow characteristics as part of ourselves, so we tend to see the characteristics in others close to us, particularly our parent or sibling, relative, acquaintance or workmate, almost always of the same gender. A real giveaway about shadow material is that it nearly always causes irritation when experienced.
Try an experiment on yourself. Think of someone the same sex as you, someone who is really annoying. Write down three or more characteristics of that person, which are particularly obnoxious. Then, absolutely honestly, find times when you have exhibited those same characteristics yourself. Now you are starting to experience your own shadow. You can then take it a step further. Think how those same characteristics, if integrated and civilised, might be useful to you. We may find a person irritating because he or she is too loud and aggressive. Perhaps that is because we ourselves are too mouse-like and retiring, If we accept our own belligerence and transformed it into reasonable assertiveness, life might be easier.
It can be a source of considerable amusement at a party to let someone go on about someone else who irritates him or her. With some patience and detachment, we can then allow our unfortunate raconteur blandly to describe their own shadow, rather like giving us an X-ray of their own personality. This may not be just amusing. It can be an invaluable way of "screening" potential partners. If that wonderful prospective date goes on about someone unpleasant who preoccupies their mind, take care: those characteristics they so abhor will be the cause for much disruption later on.
Jung saw shadow as the face of the unconscious as a whole, mainly because the shadow is the first aspect of the unconscious we ever experience. It can have a child-like aspect to it, mainly because the unconscious characteristics, having never or seldom seen the conscious light of day, have never had the opportunity to be civilised and integrated into personality. But the shadow also contains the potential for strengthening and developing us. We must remember that it contains not only our denied weaknesses, but also our hidden strengths. While these may at first appear dark and forbidding, they may provide us with new ways of living, with a flexibility and resilience that our former virtuous but rigid life patterns failed to provide.
The absolute necessity of integrating as much shadow as possible becomes patently obvious when we consider the alternative. Shadow material, like everything else in the unconscious, sooner or later tends to come up to the surface. If we permit that, we become more three-dimensional people, but if we don?t shadow material will occasionally just take over, and that can lead to embarrassment at least, or maybe disaster. A good fictional example of shadow taking over is Robert Louis Stevenson's story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Here, a clean-living dedicated researcher was suddenly taken over by his evil homicidal shadow with grotesque results. The effects may not need to be so dramatic unless the shadow is savagely suppressed but a true case history may provide an idea. (Identities have been disguised for ethical reasons.)
George was a good hard-working family man, faithful to his wife, and a reliable if stern father to his three kids. He was a non-smoker, seldom drank alcohol, never gambled or got drunk, and was an official at his local church. George was about forty when he turned up one Monday morning with his very worried wife. They said he had gone missing over the weekend, and neither the police nor any of his friends had been able to trace him. George could not remember a single thing since he had been at work the previous Friday. I checked him out and could find nothing wrong with him other than that he seemed very tired. A neurologist tested him comprehensively and could find nothing wrong either. It was totally mystifying. Then, later that month, George's American Express card account arrived. Unfortunately George's wife always opened such accounts, and wow! George had had a weekend the average person could only dream about. He had visited every bar and brothel, every strip club and dive you could possible imagine. No wonder he looked tired. It was difficult to explain to George's wife that he had not lied about his weekend, and that he could not have just "broken out" of his own volition, otherwise he would have taken steps to cover his tracks. No, this was true shadow possession, with every sordid and exciting little escapade accounted for in exact detail. Poor George had spent all his life shoving those shadow bits down until they burst forth with devastating force.
The best way of avoiding such tragic possessions is to be rather more lenient on others and ourselves about aspects of personality and behaviour, which irritate or preoccupy us. Nobody suggests we should all pile into brothels every Friday night - they are probably crowded enough already! However, a less rigid attitude to moral edicts and a closer attention to our needs, whether they be sex, chocolate or any other fallibility would take pressure off those parts of ourselves we keep unconscious.