Real Vrs Symbolic

In his book Owning Your Own Shadow Robert S. Johnson writes

“The unconscious cannot tell the difference between a ‘real’ act and a symbolic one”

120px-Bild_Weber_KurtThis counterintuitive idea opens up a way forward for working with our Shadow side. It is actually great news if you’re interested in changing your inner world. It means that we can take the opportunity of exploring our shadows in a symbolic way, in an environment where this exploration will not have any consequences in our ‘real’ world. And our unconscious mind will not know the difference. So exploring our shadows in a symbolic environment will actually be real for our unconscious. We can get to know buried parts of ourselves, and integrate them into our ‘real’ lives by examining them in a symbolic way. Just another of the many paradoxes we come across when working with the shadow.

0605-RhiannonIn Shadow Work we provide a safe symbolic environment in which you can explore parts of yourself which you have buried or forgotten. You can examine a belief you hold, or a way you behave in the ‘real’ world that is troubling for you. Yet you can do this in the symbolic environment of Shadow Work, where you are fully supported and facilitated in a way that is safe for you, led by your choice in any moment. The exploration process is symbolic, so it has no consequences in your ordinary world. Yet it is real to your unconscious, and feels very real to you as you experience it. You have an experience of coming to know and understand your shadow sides – they can come out in to the light and be heard and appreciated. As your shadows come out in to the light they can ‘make mistakes’ and no one will get hurt. They can learn how to ‘be’ out in the world, and to take their place in your life in a safe way. So you learn about a part of yourself, heal and integrate it, and bring it back into your life in an appropriate way, without damage to your life, or to anyone in your life.

If we do this work we integrate our shadows and become conscious of them. This means that we now have choice as to how we live them out. We have this choice because we know these parts of ourselves, and can now intelligently facilitate their manifestation in our lives. This saves us from pushing our shadows onto those around us. We are able to protect our environment from our more harmful impulses, and to find the silver lining in these shadow sides of ourselves.


To finish with some final words from Robert Johnson:

“Yet I have the devil’s own price to pay if I leave the shadow in the unconscious and do nothing intelligent about it. If I do not redress that imbalance quickly, I will soon be rude to someone, turn up a thoroughly nasty side of my character, or fall into a depression. The shadow will claim its dues in some form, intelligent or stupid.”


For further information about Healing The Shadow including details of individual sessions, group workshops, couple’s work and therapists trainings visit Marianne’s Website

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