Watch your toddlers closely. The moment I am about to describe will come, then pass quickly. You don’t want to miss it. It’s a life-defining moment. A moment in which your child’s true nature is briefly revealed to you. Will they stay? Will they run? Will they laugh? Will they cry? Will they put up their dukes and punch wildly at the air? The moment I am referring to is the moment your toddler first notices his or her own shadow.
In Jungian psychology the shadow refers to the dark side of the human unconscious. Basically, Jung thought there were various themes or stories common to everyone regardless of where we live. He referred to these themes as archetypes. Common archetypes include the universal themes of “the mother”, “the father”, “the wise old man”, “the persona”, “the self”, and “the shadow” (amongst others). While “the self” represents both the conscious and unconscious parts of an individual (i.e. one’s whole being), “the shadow” lurks in the unconscious mind and holds onto repressed thoughts, instincts, desires, and weaknesses. Jung thought that people sometimes deny “the shadow” in themselves and by doing so they project their shortcomings onto others [referenced from here].
Physically speaking, a shadow is merely an area that the sun is unable to light due to an object in its way. The result is a darkened spot in the same shape as the object blocking the light.
While physically seeing your shadow for the first time is different from peering into the dark side of oneself, the fright one experiences when encountering either shadow for the first time is comparable. Imagine for a moment how scary it must be for a small child to notice a black blob attached to his feet – clinging there and refusing to let go – mocking his every move through imitation – chasing after him when he runs away.
My Son’s First Encounter With His Shadow:
My wife and I were puzzled as to why our son had stopped dead in his tracks.
“No, no, no, no!” he yelled.
“Come on, son, time to go.”
He looked at the sidewalk.
“Is he yelling at us or at the sidewalk?”
“Definitely the sidewalk. I think he’s scared of the cracks. Here, son, let’s step over the cracks together.”
He refused my hand, then turned around to walk in the other direction, stepping on cracks in the process.
“It’s not the cracks.”
“Definitely not the cracks.”
He turned back.
“Nooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooo! Noooooooooooooo!”
He stomped his feet on the sidewalk. He shook a foot in the air.
“I think he just discovered his shadow.”
“He definitely discovered his shadow.”
He kept fighting and yelling for some time – he fought with every bit of passion he had in his little body.
“Son, that’s your shadow. Look – mommy and daddy have shadows too.”
I reached down and touched my shadow.
He reached down and touched his shadow.
He walked with us after that – crouching down every few minutes to touch his new best friend.
My Evaluation Of My Son’s First Encounter With His Shadow:
I’m proud of the way my son greeted his shadow. He was initially passionate and unwilling accept this extension of himself. His rage surrounded the intruder like white blood cells fighting off an infection. Once he had more information, however, he welcomed his shadow with open arms. I hope the same will be true when he first encounters “the shadow” inside.