Shadows and self awareness

shadows 1 sized


“You have a problem” “The people at work know it, your spouse knows it, your mother-in-law knows it. I’ll bet even your neighbor knows it.” “The problem is that you don’t know it.” ~ Arbinger Institute in “Leadership and Self-Deception

Carryover …a bit more nuance

Truth is where we left off last week… well, small-t truth. I needed a bit more space to better consider the truth topic so I’m beginning right there this week. It will serve as nice segue to taking up our ‘shadows’ theme.

All truth is contextual. That is a sturdy piece of wisdom and at the heart of good postmodern thought. However, extreme postmodernist thought overreached from there, e.g., to “no Truth!” Now, to be fair, this overreach was energized by a passion for justice.

So, society’s leading edge (naïve Green [FS]) professed that “There is no Truth” (here). This was a power play to discount and discard all (other) meta-narratives—e.g., a narrative frame within which to discuss Reality; an opening to a universal set of relationships; overarching, universal Truth. Now, granted, all truth is contextual, however, some contexts are universal. For instance, it’s a universal Truth that an individual perspective of reality is partial, limited by location and subjectively. For this reason, human beings—and their more inclusive descriptions of reality—are necessarily relational. For instance, participation in the body of Christ is a way that we grow closer to reality, but I digress.




What is ‘true’

I’ll suggest that the expression, ‘objective truth,’ conflates the categories. These are of a piece and so we avoid this conflation by simply differentiating truth from what is true. Truth relates directly to thoughts and feelings—an interior (subjective) viewpoint/perspective. What is true relates directly to surfaces—an exterior (objective), material correlate. So, we have an internal, subjective truth, and an external, objective, what’s true, two sides of the same coin.

Facts of daily, ordinary life are not (a quantum problem) like Schrödinger’s cat. Our incomplete, subjective truth does not discount the reality of what is objectively true. Even if, for whatever reason, we’re unable to perceive what is true about a fact in question, that does not diminish the reality of what is objectively true regarding that fact.

For instance, our subjective truth may be we are not certain regarding the number of bushels of corn grown in the Midwest two seasons ago. We could argue we believe it was a bumper crop or that the crop was a bust. Our uncertainty does not mean that no such true fact exists. It surely exists even if it cannot be determined with our existing information. We need to remember, too, that relationship and dialog puts the problem of shifting scientific paradigms in check with regard to objective facts as well.

Science provides the best access to what is objectively true (objective claims). Dialog [discourse, theology, philosophy, literature] provides the best access to subjective truth (subjective claims). Dialog liberates facts from the mono-logical flatland of scientific materialism. Dialog allows what is true (as best we can discern it at any given time) to be seen in interdependent relationship with truth. Dialog opens the possibility of communal, inter-subjective truth. Dialog recognizes truth and what is true are intrinsically linked, that is, of a piece. When inter-subjective truth claims intersect and harmonize with objective fact claims, we call the result: factual integrity. This is required for society to share a common set of facts. Through dialog, sturdy, objective facts are now secured within an integral relationship with inter-subjective truth.

Predictably, the shadows we all carry interfere with our ability to discern facts. Our shadows often vector our perception of facts. Again, dialog is the organic correction.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ~ C.G. Jung


magic mirror sized


Magic mirror won’t you tell me please
Do I see myself in anyone I meet?
Magic mirror if we only could
Try to see ourselves as others really would

~ Leon Russell

Art was my first encounter with the idea of personal shadows and projection. Leon Russell thoughtfully treated these dynamics in his 1972 song, “Magic Mirror (here).” The first tool I encountered that works therapeutically with our personal shadows was the Johari Window. Why ‘Johari?’ Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham were the two psychologists who innovated the model in 1955. Simple, yet elegant, and well worth your time to reflect upon. As we all have spinach in our teeth, figuratively speaking, the diagram clearly illustrates why we all need others to help us grow. Johari window illustrated:


JoHari Window meme


“Leadership and Self-Deception” (here)  by the Arbinger Institute is the most accessible approach I have discovered to understanding how our shadows unconsciously drive our perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors.

“Philosophers call it self-deception.” “…we have a less technical name for it—we call it ‘being in the box.’ In our way of talking, when we’re self-deceived, we’re ‘in the box.'” “…in a box—cutoff, closed up, blind.” ~ Arbinger Institute


in the box


The whole truth

“In him there is no darkness at all.” However, in G-d’s infinite, overflowing love, outpouring in the creation of existence, our form—and the infinite nuance of our dimensionality—is expressed and known in the interplay of both light and shadow. My background in B&W photography led me to an early spiritual appropriation of the visual artist’s appreciation of light and shadow to bring dimensionality. It’s been an opening for me to see the inseparable nature of light and shadow in humans—they give each other being. Artists name this characteristic of manifest existence: chiaroscuro.


Chiaroscuro by Karsten Seiferlin

Chiaroscuro and genuine human dimensionality

Friar Richard Rohr writes about a spirituality for the second half of life. This is no chronological matter, there’s no age requirement, and there’s really no guarantees one will ever grow past low-level spirituality. However, in ‘second half spirituality,’  instead of ‘getting in the box,’ we resist projecting our shadows. We learn to hold our stuff and not try to pass it off on someone else. This brings forth our genuine humanness. It opens the possibility of truly healing and actually becoming more fully human; moving beyond mere conforming to religious/institutional fiat/regulation and toward real transformation [cf. Romans 12.2]. Concerning living out second half of life spirituality (here), Friar Rohr writes:

“You are strong enough now to hold together contradictions in yourself, others, and the universe. And you can do so with compassion, forgiveness, and patience.”


Levels of shadows


spiral 2 sized


Spiral Dynamics is a developmental anthropology that ranks human value sets. This is extraordinarily helpful in charting and supporting human growth pathways. Yes, naïve Green [FS] has great difficulty with this because of its deeply held, but misguided commitment: ‘all hierarchies are bad.’ Tossing the baby with the bathwater, e.g., good growth hierarchies get discarded with bad dominator hierarchies—like sexism, patriarchy, classism, ethnic supremacy, etc. Clare Graves’ spiral describes how human values transcend to higher levels.

Wait. Hold it. Even allowing for hierarchies, how do we, and on what authority do we, discern if one “level” is “higher” than another with regard to two sets of human values? We will pick up with that question in the next blog in this series.

Next week, “Who’s higher than whom?” [publishing August 12]. Please continue the conversation this week, and stay tuned.

Note: This shadow dynamic not only operates psychologically (personally), it also operates in social/political dynamics (example here). Subsequent blog pieces here will address how institutions and systems possess and express shadows that adversely effect society, groups and individuals. I’ll unpack it in a later blog post but for now here’s a meme that describes a naïve expression of a very (lethal) destructive merit values-set shadow:

Orange Shadows


Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

social media share tools meme

SD Worldview Color Key




4 thoughts on “Shadows and self awareness

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