“As an adult, you must rediscover the moving power of your life. Tension, a lack of honesty, and a sense of unreality come from following the wrong force in your life.”
~ Joseph Campbell
In Part 1 of this series (LINK), I addressed the problem of wounded male consciousness in our culture and in Part 2 (LINK), I shared a bit about my own journey. Let’s continue that conversation here, focusing on the role of shadow in this pervasive issue of masculine wounding.
Tangled up in the inner relationships each of us has with our inner masculine (Animus) and feminine (Anima) energies, is the shadow-self, the aspects of ourselves which we have denied and repressed because we perceived that they were not acceptable. All people have these inner aspects, and in our culture, it is usual for boys to be taught to deny their Anima and for girls to be taught to deny their Animus. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but they are few; and we are learning to see gender more as a continuum than as two separate poles of man and woman.
This series is about healing masculine consciousness, and the most prevalent aspect of that consciousness which needs to be healed is among men. This is both because men have most of the power in our culture and because this power is based upon a long history, or patriarchy which has oppressed significant portions of the population and continues to do so. At the personal level, it is about men learning to express their feelings honestly and bringing compassion forward as both a desirable and achievable way of being and expressing for men and to men. It is often a misunderstanding of power, love, fear, and compassion which is taught from one generation to the next which not only perpetuates the pain but prevents its healing.
“knowing your power is what creates humility. not knowing your power is what creates insecurity.”
~ nayyirah waheed
When we are insecure about our power, we become dysfunctional. This can take many forms, from withdrawal to violent intimidation to self-harm. Since we tend to drive self-love and compassion out of our boys, denying them the full range of emotional expression, the effects of this shadow run deeply and powerfully in our society. Men become dangerous and/or ineffectual, aggressive and/or depressive, unavailable emotionally, and unable to express humility or vulnerability. This takes a great toll on men, and also on women and everyone who does not reside on far male end of the gender continuum. It is all repressed energies or shadow, and it needs to be revealed and healed.
“Work on your shadow stuff or your shadow stuff will work on you.”
~ Steven Forrest
“The persona aims at perfection. The shadow reminds us we are human.”
~ Daryl Sharp
But this can be dangerous work. Shadow and its attendant processes, projection and denial, are all unconscious, and strongly resist being brought to awareness. Much of the western male persona, the rugged individual, strong and stoic, unfeeling except in victory, withdrawn, competitive, status-seeking, and warrior-like is actually a series of defense mechanisms to keep the shadow self hidden. Since most of our shadow is developed in childhood and the local and general communities are complicit in seeing this repression as valuable, we are not even aware that we have a shadow. Even less do we know its contents. Until we begin to recognize our shadow selves, we cannot begin the process of healing, a process which is always difficult and requires support from others in most cases.
“Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with your shadow. I wish someone had told me that when I was young. It is in facing your conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that you grow up. You actually need to have some problems, enemies, and faults! You will remain largely unconscious as a human being until issues come into your life that you cannot fix or control and something challenges you at your present level of development, forcing you to expand and deepen. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding, that we break into higher levels of consciousness. I doubt whether there is any other way. People who refine this consciousness to a high spiritual state, who learn to name and live with paradoxes, are the people I would call prophetic speakers. We must refine and develop this gift.”
~ Richard Rohr
The masculine energy within us is romantic – it is the initiator energy, the ascendant yearning for fulfillment and experience. The feminine energy is grounded and creative – it is a receptive energy, the horizontal yearning for home and connection. We are all born with these full capacities, and our parents and society go to work to see that we only express one or the other, when human fulfillment requires a balance of both. Very few people in our culture are raised to express a balance of these energies. An absence of seeing the value in such a balance leads to dysfunction in everything from our sexuality (regardless of sexual orientation, a lack of balance will result in sexual dysfunction of one kind or another) to family life to work life to our spirituality. The expression in all of these areas can be atrophied, reckless, or deadly. Unless the shadow issues are revealed, healed, and integrated into a healthy adult consciousness, we are walking wounded – incompletely realized versions of our true selves.
“Man, coming from Unity, is both male and female, and has, within himself, both attributes of reality. In some the male predominates; in others the female. We have two distinct types in man and woman; but they are types of one fundamental principle. There is also an intermediate sex; that is, one in which the two attributes seem to be almost equally balanced. The greatest men and women of the ages have belonged to this type, for it is a more complete balance between the two which are really one.”
~ Ernest Holmes,
The Science of Mind, 1926 Edition (LINK from CSL Asheville)
Aside from it being interesting that the quote above was not included in later editions of the Science of Mind text, the insight expressed by Ernest Holmes here is striking, given the time when it was written. At that point, Jungian psychology was emerging and exploring Anima and Animus, but very few outside the Jungian community in Europe were talking about the value of such a balance of masculine and feminine.
A dear friend of mine who is a gay man told me that when he was a boy and his father took him to the toy store, he wanted to go look at the baby dolls, and his dad wanted him to look at the toys for boys. But his dad let him look at the baby dolls and buy them and essentially made it okay for my friend to be himself in that regard. How rare of a story is this? I was and am heterosexual in my orientation, and my dad and mom (mostly dad – see Part 2 LINK) made sure that I made the “correct” masculine choices. I am actually not sure if that would have been my preference at the time again, the conditioning came so early and was so thorough. And it was supported by the larger community and society – it still is, although change is happening.
What would happen if a parent took their child to a toy store where toys were mixed and not shelved by gender expectations and let the children make their own choices? The answer, whatever it might be individually, would be that children would be freer to express according to their true natures. What we have had up until now is a cultural system designed to rigidly enforce cultural norms of gender identity, one which is deeply ingrained into our unconscious. And, children have no choice but to try and repress aspects of themselves which do not fit in, building shadow-selves which continue to unconsciously act upon them in destructive ways unless they are revealed and healed.
This has a lot to do with why “coming out” as one’s true self is so difficult in our culture – we have to battle our own internal shadows as well as the larger shadows of the culture around us. When I am being more authentic than you are being, the nature of your shadow is to try to repress me if you have the power, so that you will be able to remain comfortable in your own lack of authenticity. It is an automatic response, which we see in ourselves, in parents, coaches, bosses, politicians, etc. It is in everyone as long as that particular aspect is repressed. And, we will keep getting the same results as long as they are rewarded.
Men in our culture carry the burden of needing to be strong and unemotional in the face of all this repression – in fact, they often become its enforcers (as to women in a different way). Here are some of the effects:
In 2018 the American Psychological Association published – the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.
The first report of its kind, the collected research found that quote “traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful”
Written over 13 years and based on 40 years of compiled research – The report lays out some striking mental and physical health disparities between men and women.
Men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide.
And men die from heart disease and cancer — at rates 50% and 80% higher, than women.
Add to this list the huge toll of crimes and violence toward women and children by men, and you have a striking pattern of dysfunction across much of Western society. There is simply no getting around it – wounded people wound themselves and other people. Look at the wounded males in top positions in government, business, education, etc. What we so often see are men who are overcompensating for their shadow selves and sense of inadequacy by seeking power, fortune, and fame – and there is never enough to fill the gaping hole within left by the repression of essential elements of who they really are.
We must heal ourselves before we can properly redesign how we raise our children. This must be a collective effort, beginning with awareness (the #MeToo Movement is an example), however, when there is anger rather than compassion in the awareness process, it can actually have a negative effect on the healing process. Many men today, in response to the groundswell of authentic pain from women are retreating and closing off rather than confronting their own pain and dysfunction. Like an alcoholic is addicted to booze, most men are addicted to the prevailing cultural view of manhood, and their shadow responds to the threat of being revealed by either lashing out or withdrawing. These deeply rooted cultural biases will not simply be shed by telling someone that he (or she) is wrong. A wounded person, when feeling cornered, will not simply acquiesce.
“By and large, the shadow is a hodge-podge of repressed desires and uncivilized impulses. It is possible to become conscious of these, but in the meantime, they are projected onto others. Just as a man may mistake a real woman for the soulmate he yearns for, so he will see his devils, his shadow, in other men. This is responsible for much acrimony in personal relationships. On a collective level it gives rise to political parties, war and the practice of scapegoating.”
~ Daryl Sharp, Jungian analyst, The Survival Papers, p. 82
Our great challenge is to facilitate the healing of the wounded masculine consciousness individually and collectively. This will require the efforts of everyone across the gender spectrum. We are all in need of healing and we all contribute to the collective consciousness of our culture. The anger of those repressed by the patriarchal cultures of western civilization, while justified, will not alone facilitate healing. It must be transmuted into compassion – meaning that it is firmly expressed and dedicated to find a way to reach those in need of healing.
Healing the shadow means to reintegrate the repressed aspects of self into a healthy psyche which has access to the positive aspects of what was repressed. When a man represses his feminine side, he represses his ability to receive, to be creative, to be compassionate, to nurture himself and others. When integrated, the feminine aspect lets a man relax into finding fulfillment in connection and love as opposed to competition and the accumulation of wealth and status. Jung called this process of integration individuation.
“The soft flakes of healing are falling all around you all the time, even on your shadow.”
~ Emma Curtis Hopkins
In Part 4 of this series, I will address how we can facilitate this healing in our spiritual communities. As always, your comments are appreciated in the comments section below. Please share this blog with others who may be interested.
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard