Fences on the prairies are most often not too substantial – an occasional post and three widely spaced wires. yet for their flimsiness, they are effective in keeping one in or out according to the intention of the fence builder. Well, sort of effective. The truth is if I want to get to the other side of the fence all I have to do is to hold the top wire down and step over; or, I could separate two wired and slip through the larger opening. The fence does work for the most part as a rancher can keep his cattle from wandering off a certain piece of land into valuable crop land. In certain circumstances an electric wire is also strung along the posts in order to better contain the cattle and even horses. However, small animals ignore the fence as do deer. It’s as if the fence doesn’t even exist. The fence is more of a psychological barrier than it is a physical barrier.
We build fences in our heads as well trying to keep our secrets safe from others. We even build fences within to hide stuff from ourselves. We bury the dark things we want to deny under layer upon layer of barbed wire, behind high solid walls that are layers deep. But for all of our efforts, the hidden finds ways to slip out unknown to our conscious ego. Often we don’t even realise that something has slipped out. It is only when others around us question our statements or actions that we find ourselves first denying doing these things and then wondering “Where did that come from?”
For the most part, the walls are thick enough, high enough that we can spend almost a lifetime believing the hidden, contained stuff doesn’t even exist. But, the shadow can only be contained so much. The pressure builds and things begin to leak out. The first place these aspects of the shadow show up is in our dreams. Jungian analysts and other therapy models use dream work as a way to have us discover not only the nasty dark stuff but also the hidden treasures that we pushed away because they got in the way of our being in the world in a way we thought was safest and best. But dreams aren’t the only escape route taken by the shadow.
If one looks at one’s relationships, one sees shadow projected onto others. Our responses to others are often triggered by what the self sees as its shadow. Imagine the confusion that others face when they are held in too high or too low esteem given the circumstances of engagement. A man treats a woman as a goddess and places her on a pedestal. It is a position that no mortal woman can hold for too long before getting angry as the pedestal doesn’t give her needed freedom to be herself. A man treats another woman as an evil witch though having no basis in the objective world for so treating her. In both situations, the man is projecting his repressed anima, his soul both dark side and light side onto others, others who are just as human, just as flawed and perfect as the man unconsciously projecting his inner, hidden and contained complexes.
The higher and thicker the walls of containment, the bigger the explosion and disruption of our outer life. The work of therapy is to begin discovering the fences and carefully taking them down so that the stuff contained can make its appearance in a safer environment. Making its appearance, aspects of the shadow, the unconscious can be integrated into a healthier version of self.