It’s October. The leaves are falling, the weather is getting colder, and the world is turning inward.
Here in the Netherlands, we are already in the season of darkness, as the rain falls almost daily, and night comes much quicker these last few weeks. This time of year has me reflecting on the shadow, a natural response to the darkness and turning inward.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the shadow of my home, the United States.
This shadow has clearly come to the surface of the psyche of the United States in recent years, and I’m certainly not the first to notice. If you search Google for “America’s Shadow,” you’ll find books about the dark nature of far-right politics, a speech by Deepak Chopra about the shadow of Donald Trump, podcasts, news media articles, and academic research papers suggesting that the rise of the political shadow is the beginning of the end.
As a depth psychotherapist, the concept of shadow is quite familiar to me. Many of my colleagues agree with the liberal stance that Donald Trump himself is the archetype of the shadow of America: that his narcissism, self-importance, impatience, racism, and greed represent all of the hidden aspects of the United States that lie under an illusion of freedom, inclusivity, and democracy.
These things may be true, but I think we need to dig deeper.
It’s time to take a step back from fighting and look inside ourselves. I mean, we’re fighting over which political party is less sensitive (as if politics are about sensitivity), and we’ve pimped out our personal moral value systems to the political agenda. Republicans think protestors should be run over, and Democrats celebrate Trump’s illness.
As I know the shadow to be the unconscious, unwanted aspect of a person or collective (specifically dark impulses), I have to say we are all in it.
Let’s take racism. Consider the fact that most of the liberal white population had no idea they were racist until George Floyd hit the news. Yet, we point the finger at our president and his followers. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most revered anti-racist leaders in history, claimed that our complacency is the biggest problem of racism. But it hurts to admit that.
I’m not saying we should not hold people who behave badly accountable for their behavior. I believe that Donald Trump has behaved badly and should be held accountable. I also believe that many other politicians on both sides of the party line have behaved badly and should also be held accountable. Most of all, I believe that every single one of us has behaved badly in some way and that we should first hold ourselves accountable. We are human, and we are fallible.
There should be no shame in admitting we’ve behaved badly and then correcting our behavior, but what I continue to see in the collective actually looks like a range of children from toddler to teenager who do not know how to, or worse, do not want to take the high road. Instead, we want to project our bad behavior and blame the other, and it’s gotten us into quite a mess.
Americans are as free to be racist or anti-racist as they are to be Catholic or Protestant. Americans are also free to be neutral, or “color-blind” if they wish. We can choose to support gun laws or gun freedoms. We can teach love or fear to our children in the privacy of our own homes.
With these freedoms comes a risk that we choose leadership for the country that does not reflect what we believe to be good behavior. For some of us, this is the current reality, and the level of fear and disdain for the people who chose to support this particular candidate is destroying us.
I suspect things would look similar if the other candidate had won in 2016. Judge the politicians—they have asked to be put in that position. But please, can we pause before we judge one another so harshly?
I’ve been working with my own and other people’s shadow personality aspects as a professional for 15 years. You could say my master’s degree is in shadow work. It’s my job (and my passion) to dig around in people’s psyches to help them heal and become the best version of themselves they can be.
What I’m about to say may not exactly be popular. That’s okay. I’m more interested in inviting people into a process of curiosity than pleasing them.
It’s fine to call out Donald Trump as a shadow character in our country. It’s clear to see that whether he’s a white supremacist or not, he has roused the attention and action of white supremacist leaders and groups in America.
We have seen the worst in our people in the last four years since he was elected into office. But we are all at fault. Some of us were too complacent to vote. Many of us who did vote started behaving badly toward those who supported him before the first election even happened. We have been operating out of our own shadows and projecting all of our own bad behavior onto “them.” All of us (save for very few) have done this—including me.
If we become aware of these disowned parts of ourselves, we can heal our dark impulses and reclaim our repressed talents and gifts. We can stop projecting our fear, power, or expectation onto others. We can handle triggers without emotional explosion or collapse. We call them triggers—let that sink in for a moment. Pull the trigger and yell at a Democratic sheeple for being duped. Pull the trigger and call that Republican a misogynist for being conservative.
I want to share a personal story.
At one point, I unconsciously gave my power away to a completely abusive narcissist. When I became aware of the dynamic, it took some work to get him out and reclaim my power. Within a year, I turned around and gave my power away to another man. This one happened to be kind, generous, and loving, but I’m now reaching down into the back of that dark closet of my shadow and trying to pull my power out so I can restore it to myself.
The point is, whether you think of Trump as a monster or a savior and whether you think of Biden as a saint or an Alzheimer’s patient, both sides are accusing the other side of being stupid enough to be duped by a master manipulator. And perhaps we’re both right. But let’s take this a step further.
If I—a highly educated, compassionate, depth psychotherapist who constantly seeks to be conscious of my patterns and to examine my shadow—could willfully give my power away to an abusive narcissist without awareness that I was doing so, why wouldn’t at least half the American population be capable of doing the same? And if I could then turn around and give my power away to a well-meaning, kind, and caring man, why wouldn’t the other half of Americans also be capable of that? The answer is, we are all capable, and we are seeing it happen with everyone who is blindly following candidate or party lines to the polls. We project our personal power onto opposing candidates, and then we hate each other for doing the same thing.
Liberals that I know seem flabbergasted and cannot understand how anyone could support Donald Trump. But I understand it because I supported a man who was just like him. I made excuses to myself and others, I suppressed information to live under my selected perception of an abusive narcissist, and I made him fit my narrative until I became conscious. I am far from alone.
Trump supporters cannot understand how anyone could be ignorant enough to miss the deception of the Democratic Party, who claims to want to help all people but in reality steals from us to line their own pockets. I understand that one too because that also happened to me in my relationship.
I’m trying to imagine what my life would be like if the people who loved me had yelled, “You must be a racist! You must hate women! Just look at how he treats women!” or “How could you be so stupid? Didn’t you know he would take the money and run?!”
But despite seeing my ex’s true colors, nobody, not my Democrat friends or my Republican family, judged me like that. Instead, when I was ready, they asked, “How can we help you get your power back?” They approached the entire story with compassionate acceptance. They would not have made the choice to support this relationship for me, but they understood it was my choice and gave me the freedom to make it.
I can’t help but wonder why we can’t do the same in our great country right now. If we are to continue to accuse the “other” side of being our shadow, let us first own the shadow behavior we are carrying and projecting onto them.
You might argue that we have much more at stake with our country’s leadership than with my experience with an ex-partner, and I would agree. I ask you to consider that we will not achieve any desirable result by continuing to shame and belittle those we perceive to be our opposition. The only way we can restore a nation to greatness is to each commit to the individual work of reclaiming the lost parts of ourselves so that we become a nation that has a majority made up of empowered, wise, and compassionate beings.
We must take the time to heal ourselves on the run. To those who suggest we have no time to mourn because we must rise, I suggest that we figure out how to support each other in healing as we rise. If we become warriors without engaging our own healing work, we simply add to the destructive forces that are shaped when a broken person rises to power.
Unhealed warriors become bullies.
If we are honest, many of us have become this already. Let’s not anymore. Let’s become the gentle warriors of our own healing, take back our power, and create instead of destroy.
We are all capable of projecting our power or our powerlessness and our blame and recklessness onto others. Blame Donald Trump, and feel powerless to do anything when Ruth Bader Ginsberg passes on. I know we did this collectively. I am part of that pack that declared, “we’re screwed.” But are we? Or do we have the ability to pull our own power out of the shadows of our unconscious and own it so that we don’t have to lose it to others?
It’s time to own where we’ve contributed to this destructive behavior and begin our inner reparations for violating our values. It’s time to restore compassion and understanding to those who support something we fear. It’s time to come together as a collective and restore what is beautiful in our nation.