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An advertisement not an operator's manual
on 25 July 2005
Your shadow is all of the bits of your psyche you don't like and don't admit to. Most of them are grim but one or two are the nice bits that you can't handle. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away but you do it anyway. This doesn't stop them demanding expression. Because you can't admit to them, you project them onto other people. You're seeing your own shadow when you look at others and so simultaneously fail to see them and yourself clearly. Result: general unhappiness and inauthentic living. The solution is to fess up, embrace all the bits you pretend aren't there, and take control of how you express them. You achieve this through balance and creative synthesis.
So far, so Jung. Unfortunately, this is as far as the author goes in this slim volume. Johnson presents an overview of part of the Jungian process of individuation. It's fine if that's all you want. If, however, you're struggling to integrate your own shadow, this will serve as little more than a theoretical starting point. Never knowingly specific, Johnson examines no case studies but simply floats charming phrases like 'creative synthesis' with no investigation into what these might mean in practice. He's happy to bob along on the surface of psychological abstraction; if you plan to learn to dive, you'll need a different instructor.
This lack of depth isn't necessarily a flaw, although it restricts the usefulness of the book to readers who want to learn a little of the theory of psychic shadows without engaging with their own. Much more off-putting are the numerous references to Christian scripture. These are what Johnson provides instead of case studies, how he exemplifies the principles he's trying to get across. Unlike Jung, though, he often seems not to recognise them as metaphor and mythology. Nor are they always especially relevant to the point at issue; by halfway through the book they felt more opportunistic than enlightening.
If you haven't come across the concept of the shadow self before, this book could interest you. Be warned though - it contains only directions *to* it, not a map *of* it. It's expensive too, for a text that's both physically and metaphorically thin. If you're already struggling with your shadow, better to look for something more direct and personally engaged - Jung himself, or the Taoists for instance. Under those circumstances, Johnson's book seems only frustratingly vague with a bit of sneaky preaching smuggled in.