Making friends with the dark


In the universe as we know it, darkness is the default and light intervenes. For most of us, we think of the darkness as a fearful place, where the unknown resides and our greatest demons are repressed. We go to great lengths to avoid facing it, dealing with it by filling our world with light, with distraction, with noise because the alternative feels too dangerous and unfamiliar. The truth is, we all have a dark side to our personality – a shadow. It exists behind us at all times and follows us into our daily lives. The question is, how do we live most effectively with it?

Owning our personal power

The shadow is a psychological phrase, that speaks to all the things we cannot see in ourselves. It consists of human emotions such as rage, greed, desire and the need for power. Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves and refuse to acknowledge, we project onto others. When we choose to explore in this darkness, the outcome is greater authenticity, creativity and self-awareness.

“Unless we do conscious work on it, the shadow is almost always projected: that is, it is neatly laid on someone or something else so we do not have to take responsibility for it.”

Robert Johnson.

The Shadow at work

In a business setting, the shadow consists of activities and arrangements not written down, not identified or managed in decision-making forums; it includes information absent from company documents, and organisational charts – all of which can make or break a business. We refer to the shadow as the covert, undiscussed, and undiscussable. This side of business is not always negative, is rarely confronted and resists detailed description – but we know where to find shadow-side behaviour:

– the informal meetings at the coffee machine

– rumours and whispers

– special favours, political manoeuvrings, favouritism

– patronage

– undiscussed firings and promotions

– curious omissions and commissions that have social consequences

These powerful undercurrents drive and influence organizations much more than the written rules. Discovering our shadow side, however, gives us remarkable opportunities for growth and development, all of which lie within leaderships’ ability.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

C G Jung

A clearer perception

Our defence mechanisms are designed to keep our shadows bottled-up and out of view; because of this, making friends with our shadow takes inner work and the ability to self-assess. This inner work – reflecting and shedding light on our darker self, equips us with a clearer lens with which to view the world.

For leaders, this means developing their wisdom to be able to distinguish between company-enhancing and limiting shadow-side arrangements and activities. This calls for them to broaden awareness of their own, and their employee’s needs. By understanding the undercurrents of the organisational ecosystem they will become agile enough to cut through the noise and solve problems more efficiently. Ultimately, embracing this perspective creates a more productive and healthy organisational culture. By owning our personal power and doing our part in improving our own well-being, we create a ripple of change that has far-reaching potential, not just for the entire organisation, but for society as a whole.

What are you doing to confront your shadows and those in your business?