Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jean Adeler - Shadow in Integral Theory and Practice

A second article on the shadow from last week's new posts at Integral World.

I tend to strongly disagree with her assertion that shadow is not a thing or a feeling but is, rather, a thought. Having done a couple of decades of shadow work, both in therapy and on my own, I would argue that shadow contains emotions, thoughts, and even whole subpersonalities (often exiled child parts).

She argues that parts in shadow communicate through language, which necessarily means thoughts. True but partial. Not all shadow aspects can communicate with language - some communicate through psychosomatic illness (somatoform disorders). Some communicate only through somatic sensations. For wounding that occurs at pre-verbal stages, there can be no language for the part to tell it's story.

Her training in NLP has clearly biased her toward working only with conventional self-stages, while neglecting pre-conventional and, likely, post-conventional self-stages. Too bad.

Jean Adeler, Ph.D., writes on the interconnectedness of language and consciousness. She has also reinterpreted the Enneagram of personality as a structural model, Enneagram 2.0. See her website at After becoming immersed in consciousness studies, she created Psychotropology, which is a method for interpreting psychological structures and psychological discourse. Psychotropology is one of the tools that helped her develop Enneagram 2.0. She is a Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and is certified by Robert McDonald as a Destination Coach.

Shadow in Integral Theory and Practice

Jean Adeler

My contrary understanding of shadow is that it is neither thing nor feeling.

Integrating shadow, a widespread psychological therapy, is one of the four essential integral practices enumerated by Ken Wilber et al. in their book, Integral Life Practice.[1] The other three main targets of integral practice are body, mind, and spirit. The authors note that shadow work is generally omitted from other programs of transformation and warn that, without shadow work, “the transformative process tends not to stick.”

Accepting the essential nature of shadow work, we should then ensure that we make our understanding of the concept of shadow as accurate as is necessary in order that it be useful.

Integral Life Practice (ILP) presents a summary view of shadow that in many ways is good enough for the author's purposes. Yet there are a couple of potential errors that I think are worth considering.

First, what is shadow? ILP doesn't credit Jung, but the authors are probably borrowing their ideas about shadow from the heirs and popularizers of Jungian analytic psychology, so I'll start there. For Jung, shadow is one of a variety of archetypes, which are “patterns of psychic energy originating in the collective unconscious.”[2] ILP doesn't identify the collective unconscious as the source of shadow, but neither do most Jungians emphasize that distinction, as far as I can tell. Jung himself talked about shadow and archetypes in ways that may give the impression that they are formations of the individual psyche.

So I guess we'll all take a pass on that one. Perhaps it goes without saying that individual shadow crops up with some assistance from the collective.

My real issue with the integralists (and many Jungians) is that they seem to treat shadow as either a thing—an entity—or a feeling. Here are some of the ways ILP references shadow:

  • the shadow [my emphasis]
  • “the 'dark side' of the psyche—those aspects of ourselves that we've split off, rejected, denied, hidden from ourselves, projected onto others, or otherwise disowned” (p. 41) [my emphasis]
  • “the 'repressed unconscious'” (p. 41)
  • “repressed unconscious drives, feelings, needs, and potentials” (p. 43)
  • something that can be contacted (p. 44)
  • a feeling, such as anger (p. 44)
  • a quality (p. 45)
  • “the split-off self” (p. 46)
  • desire or drive (p. 47)
  • “little renegade splinters of our personality running around in our unconscious … alienated 'others'” (p. 49)

My contrary understanding of shadow is that it is neither thing nor feeling.

To support the suggestion that shadow is not a thing, I turn again to Jung. Jung did not see archetypes essentially as things. According to Carol Schreier Rupprecht, writing in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism,[3] Jung

modified and extended his concept over the many decades of his professional life, often insisting that “archetype” named a process, a perspective, and not a content, although this flexibility was lost through the codifying, nominalizing tendencies of his followers.

As a form of archetype, shadow is “a process, a perspective, and not a content.” On the other hand, some of the characterizations of shadow in ILP, such as “the shadow,” “dark side,” “split-off self,” and “others,” are of the shadow as entities. I don't know whether the authors would agree, but I do not believe that “Tony” in their third example has an image of a monster residing full-time, year-round in his mind. I would think that this shadow figure was simply a vehicle he produced during a certain period of his life to represent his dream thoughts.

I readily admit that treating shadows as anthropomorphized entities is a useful shorthand, even if it is a fiction, and that we may not want to dispense with the idea of shadow-things altogether. Dreams as well as waking life are full of archetypal representations of thoughts, and making therapeutic use of such representations is time-honored psychological practice. ILPs 3-2-1 process for integrating shadow is a case in point. The authors present this simple yet profound method for recognizing and owning shadow through creating an image of a problem and holding an imaginary dialogue with it.

But even if we decline to reject the idea of shadow-things and continue to find it useful, there is one other aspect of ILP's shadow theory that I find more troubling. That is the assumption that shadow is made up of feelings.

Recall that ILP characterizes shadow as the “repressed unconscious.” It then goes on to summarize Freud's contribution to this subject as follows: “unacceptable drives and feelings are repressed from conscious awareness, where they surreptitiously shape your life” [sic] (p. 42). Freud probably said something like this somewhere in his vast and somewhat self-contradictory writings. But the overall substance of his thinking on this topic is this: it is always a thought (“ideational representative” of the drive) that is repressed, never a feeling, or affect.[4]

Else what would be the “mechanism” by which a feeling persisted in mind as an unconscious shadow? Thoughts can be held in memory because language and the structures of discourse make it possible. Has anybody proved that feelings can be so held? Certainly, the part of emotion that consists of thinking can be retained in mind over time and repressed, but can the same be said of the part that consists of bodily response?

Many today speak and write as if affect could be repressed, so the integralists aren't alone in this belief. But is it a useful belief? think that treating shadow as thought instead of feeling produces more and better information.
Read the whole article.

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