Did your Shadow Make Valentine's Day Disappointing?

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

Shortly after New Year's Day, the advertisements for Valentine’s Day start; everything from florists to jewelers to fancy chocolates. For many, dinner reservations and a creative gift are attempts at rekindling love. When all is said and done, relationships tend to go back to their normal state after a few days. Unfortunately, the best gifts or dinner reservations, while romantic, will not compensate for unresolved wounds and the way they impact relationships. The better gift might be to work on your shadow: the hidden part of the self.

Carl Jung spoke of the difference between the “persona” and the “shadow”. The persona is the self we want people, especially our significant other, to see. When two people first fall in love, they frequently fall in love with each other’s persona; the person who is articulate, good looking, a good listener, etc. Under the persona lurks the shadow, which is the part of us (frequently unconscious) that we don’t want seen; the abandonment issues that generate anxiety, the terror that causes us to push people away, the entitlement, etc. This theme frequently appears in great literature and movies: a dark side of the self emerges that creates surprise. Dostoyevsky's fascinating novel, The Double, plays with this theme as the protagonist struggles with his “double” - aspects of the self he didn’t recognize as him that destroy his life. To know the shadow and integrate it is to live life and relationships more fully and healthily.

Consider the following examples:

Intimacy grows when we take the risk to be open and vulnerable, dropping our defenses, and begin to talk about our insecurities, our deep wounds, and our fears. All the creative gifts in the world will not compensate for truly knowing ourselves and our partners, both persona and shadow. Mature relationships are built on honest communication with self and partner, vulnerability, and deep empathy; these result in fully being seen and known.