Winter – Season of Shadows

This winter, we are forced into hibernation due to a national UK lockdown, with no prospect of it lifting until spring. We can’t sleep it off like the bears, we’ve got to keep going, but in a much reduced way, mostly indoors. Or completely indoors if, like me, you have had to endure self-isolation – then the meagre freedoms offered by lockdown can be a release.

Winter is traditionally a busy time in the recruitment industry when people are most likely to seek out new professional opportunities. Perhaps the slower pace enables us to reflect on our goals and ambitions. But this is winter like no other, and we are being challenged in ways we could not have imagined a year ago. What comfort can the season of Shadows bring us in these difficult times?

On the winter solstice, our noontime Shadow is the longest it will be all year. Carl Jung explored the notion of the Shadow in his theory of archetypes. He describes archetypes as our psychological inheritance: unlearned and universal, they serve as a template for how to be human. Although the number of archetypes is potentially limitless, there are six major archetypes, one of which is the Shadow. Jung explains that the Shadow archetype exists in all people, of all cultures, and resides in our ‘collective unconscious’, a universal ‘database’, consisting of all human experience and knowledge. On an individual level, archetypes exist in our unconscious mind and serve as a means of helping us to decipher and understand our instinctive behavior. Jung believed they represented basic human motivations and personalities.

Often described as the dark side of the psyche, the Shadow archetype represents chaos, wildness, and the unknown. Jung’s concept of the Shadow Self seems to resonate with the darkness of winter. As we hunker down at home, cut off from the customary distractions of social life, we may become more aware of conflicts, some new and some which may have been avoided in the past, coming to the surface and threatening our mental well-being. Jung would describe this as being confronted with our Shadow, which contains those aspects of ourselves and our lives which we prefer not to shine a light on. When they demand our attention, there is work to be done in order to resolve the mental anguish this can cause.

But how do we listen to our Shadow in a safe and healing way? When initially confronted, our first impulse is to reject the information the Shadow is imparting to us. This, ultimately, leads to us projecting these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts onto others. In a lockdown, our convenient targets are reduced – those we live with are most at risk to projections – but online avenues are open: it has been suggested that internet trolls are projecting their own baggage onto convenient targets like celebrities. This behavior leads us nowhere, apart from a vicious cycle of rejection-projection which resolves nothing and potentially destroys our relationships. Jung reminds us: “Things that annoy us about other people tell us something about ourselves.”

The Shadow will remind us of our past failures and regrets, which we often want to leave behind us. This may include anger about indecisiveness which led to a lost opportunity, which still resonates painfully. But ignoring the Shadow can be perilous: Jung points out that bringing our ShadowSelf into awareness provides the route to mental well-being and positive growth. The more we silence the Shadow, the more it will ultimately control us:  “Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one has always a chance to correct it.” Carl Jung.

Perhaps the comfort we can take from Jung’s powerful ideas is that we are not alone in our distress – the Shadow will come to all of us, although individual battles may have to be fought alone, others are facing their battles too. The idea of the collective unconscious allows us to experience solidarity with our fellow humans. As we live in the Shadow of the pandemic, what messages is that Shadow communicating to us, which we may want to resist? Encroaching with impunity upon the natural world, we can no longer ignore the warnings, and turn our backs on our collective responsibility for our planet.  If we listen, we can emerge united and stronger, with greater compassion for ourselves and others.

At Disruptive Hiring, we are passionate about people. We understand and we listen. We know how to help both clients and candidates get the best out of their interactions. Time is a precious resource and the use of implicit and explicit language can ensure it is not wasted. Importantly, it’s a win-win situation. The business wins, the client wins, and we win. If you would like to hear more about the Disruptive Executive Hiring then please feel free to reach out to us at info@disruptivehiring.com

Dryden, W. (2007) Dryden’s Handbook of Individual Therapy, (5th Ed) Sage

Stevens A. (2015) Living Archetypes: The selected works of Anthony Stevens. Oxon: Routledge

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