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Vol 37 No 4


Brian Lewis

Philip Malone MSC

Liz Hepburn IBVM

Tom Ryan SM

Neil Pembroke

Bruce Duncan CSsR

John Ryan


Kevin Mark


Jung and the moral self


THE EMINENT Swiss analyst, Carl Jung, was initially a disciple of Sigmund Freud. However, Jung found himself unable to accept his mentor’s approach to important psychoanalytic areas such as the interpretation of dreams and the role of sexuality. Eventually he decided on a parting of the ways and developed his own approach to psychotherapy, which he called analytical psychology. In his writings, the question of the moral life is prominent. Indeed, ‘the science of psychology for Jung becomes a moral science that undergirds a moral practice’ (Browning, 1987, p. 167). I will be arguing that his suggestion that we must be both kind to ourselves (self-acceptance) and hard on ourselves (self-reformation) is expressive of the paradoxical nature of the process that all persons who are serious about the moral life must enter into.

All of us have a ‘dark side’. It is that area of our personality that is characterised by morally inadequate traits and tendencies. Jung calls this side the shadow, and he is very aware of the importance of facing it. That which gets repressed has a way of being projected onto others. When this happens, our moral inadequacies appear on the face of the other. The shadow is made up primarily of what Jung calls ‘inferiorities’. These ‘inferiorities’, Jung (1978) says, have an ‘emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality’ (p. 8). Here, then, is the danger associated with the shadow. A person can become a passive victim of his unconscious emotional life. ‘Salvation’ comes through self-awareness. But of course this dark self is exceedingly difficult to get in touch with. To acknowledge our inferiorities is to experience a heavy assault on our self-esteem.

Consequently, the shadow self is very often disowned. And when it is disowned, it is projected onto others. ‘Projections change the world into the replica of one’s unknown face’ (Jung, 1978, p. 9). In times gone by, the projection was aimed at the person of the Devil, but when most people became happy to consign him to the realm of mythology, human targets were established. Jung (1971) puts it this way:
The meeting with ourselves is one of the more unpleasant things that may be avoided as long as we possess living symbolic figures into which everything unknown in ourselves is projected. The figure of the devil, in particular, is a most valuable possession and a great convenience, for as long as he goes about outside in the form of a roaring lion we know where the evil lurks: in that incarnate Old Harry where it has been in this or that form since primeval times. With the rise of consciousness since the Middle Ages he has been considerably reduced in stature, but in his stead there are human beings to whom we gratefully surrender our shadows. With what pleasure, for instance, we read newspaper reports of crime! A bona fide criminal becomes a popular figure because he unburdens in no small degree the conscience of his fellow men, for now they know once more where the evil is to be found (pp. 238-239).

Given that facing our inferior selves causes us so much pain, it’s not surprising that many of us find ourselves disowning those selves. John Bradshaw is a psychotherapist who works with the problem of shame. Bradshaw (1988) observes that shame, in its toxic form, is the all-pervading belief that one is inferior, inadequate, fundamentally flawed (see also Capps, 1993; Pattison, 2000).

Metaphors that are commonly used to describe the experience are defilement, pollution, and stain. The shame-prone person finds it particularly difficult to face up to her failings. She will tend to cast off her inferiorities so that she will not have to face them and the deep emotional distress associated with that. Bradshaw’s strategy involves helping the shame-prone person to bring her disowned parts back into the life of the self.

While I will need to challenge Bradshaw’s view that all of our selves are ‘okay’, I do find his strategies for integrating disowned selves quite helpful (Bradshaw 1988, p. 148ff). I’ll present just two of these (the others involve dream work and would involve us in technicalities beyond the scope of this essay). The first is called ‘Making Peace with all your Villagers’. The starting point in this strategy is calling to mind all the people that you dislike (the person you have the strongest negative feelings about goes to the top of the list). Then you attempt to identify the reprehensible traits in each person. Now you ask yourself: What is the one trait that brings out feelings of righteousness and goodness most strongly in me? The final step is to choose the one most despicable trait for each person. Bradshaw (1988) supplies an example:
• Joe Slunk—grandiose egomaniac;
• Gwendella Farboduster—aggressive and rude;
• Maximillian Quartz—hypocrite (pretends to help people; does it for money);
• Farquahr Evenhouser—uses Christian facade to cover-up phoniness;
• Rothghar Pieopia—a wimp; has no mind of his own. (p. 148.)

Bradshaw suggests that each of these personality traits represents a disowned self. Here he is working with Jung’s shadow theory. Not wanting to integrate a particular ‘energy pattern’ into your Self, he says, you externalize it. That is, the disowned personality trait is projected; your shadow shows up in ‘the five most hated’ list.

These people on the list can, however, become your teachers. Bradshaw suggests that we engage these people in a dialogue. You can question each person directly: ‘How do you see life, relationships, God’? Through this conversation you will be able to look at selves that you are ‘overidentified’ with. The result, says Bradshaw (1988), will be very positive: ‘You may be surprised at the new energy you receive from this exercise. You are bringing a part of you out of hiding and secrecy. You are turning your shadow into light’ (p. 149). The question is: What do you do with the ‘part’ when it is in the light? I suggest that when the part or self is acknowledged not only does it need love and acceptance, it also needs reformation. This will be discussed more fully below.

The second and final strategy of Bradshaw’s that we will look at (based on work by leading family therapist, Virginia Satir) is called ‘The Parts Party’. Here he does acknowledge the need for modifying selves that are hindering a person. A theatrical setting is used here. You are invited to imagine yourself presenting a ‘review’ of your sub-selves. You begin by thinking of a part of yourself that you really like, and then you connect it with a famous person who will enter the stage. ‘I like my humor’, says Bradshaw, ‘and I see Johnny Carson walk out.’ And as your famous person walks out, you hear the applause. Now this exercise is repeated four times so that you now have five famous people out on stage in celebration of your positive side. But there is, of course, a shadow to deal with. So you invite five people out representing sub-selves you dislike. And as you do, you hear a loud boo from the imaginary audience. Now comes the healing action within this ‘Parts Party’:
[I]magine that a wise and beautiful person walks to the center of the stage. This person can look like an old man with a beard or a radiant youth like Jesus or a warm nurturing mother or whatever…Just let your wise person appear…Then see her walking off the stage and coming to get you…As she approaches, notice whatever strikes you about her…Then hear her invite you to come up on the stage and review your many parts. Walk around each person who represents a part of you; look her in the face. How does each part help you? How does each part hinder or limit you, especially your undesirable parts? What can you learn from your undesirable parts? What can they teach you? Now imagine they are all interacting. Imagine them at a table discussing a problem. Think of a current problem you have. What does your humor say about that? How is that helpful? How does it hinder you? How does your disorganization help you? What would happen if you simply didn’t have this part? What would you lose? How would you like to change the part you want to reject? Modify that part in the way it would be more beneficial…How does it feel to modify that part?…Now go around and repeat that procedure with every single part. Modify it until it feels right for you. Then walk up to each part and imagine that part melting into you. Do this until you are alone on the stage with your wise person. Hear the wise person tell you that this is the theater of your life. (Bradshaw, 1988, pp. 150-151.)

Exercises such as these can be most helpful in the task of claiming back disowned selves. But in encountering approaches such as these, orientated as they are to boosting self-acceptance and self-esteem, I find myself wondering whether sufficient emphasis is given to the moral dimension in the life of the community of the Self. Certainly Jung (1978) was keenly aware of the need for such an emphasis:
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance (p. 8).

Bradshaw seems not to have this same depth of insight. It is true that he identifies in his exercises morally inadequate characters. It is also true that he refers to the need to modify sub-selves that may be hindering us. But at the same time he can happily embrace the guiding principle advocated by Stone and Winkelman (1985):
[A]ll of our parts are okay. Nothing could be more affirming and less shaming. Every aspect of every person is crucial for wholeness and completeness. There is no law which says that one part is better than another part. Our consciousness with its many selves needs to operate on principles of social equality and democracy [emphasis in the original].

Is it really true to say that all our sub-selves are ‘okay’? Surely if a person has a dark self which is hurting those around her (and ultimately herself) that is not okay. Committed as we are to neighbour-love, the heart of the Christian moral life, we are obliged to attend to the shadow side and its dangerous possibilities.

Part of the reason for Bradshaw’s confused thinking, I contend, is a tendency to lump all of our sub-selves in the one basket. In order to bring some clarity to the situation, I propose three places in which we can locate the variety of selves that we all live with: competence, spirituality, and personality. This list is not intended to be exhaustive; however, it will suffice to indicate the process of distinguishing morally relevant selves from morally neutral ones.

Competence, firstly, refers to talents, abilities and achievements. We all have our strengths, and we all struggle in certain areas. Some of us are great with language, but anything to do with mathematics—or even more frightening, computers—leaves us feeling totally incompetent. Others of us revel in figures and problem-solving, but unravel when we are anywhere near a kitchen. Still others excel on the sports field and are good with most intellectual tasks, but are all ‘fingers and thumbs’ when it comes to home maintenance. So there are mathematical selves, computer selves, linguistic selves, culinary selves, sporting selves, and ‘handy’ selves—to nominate just a few areas in which some people are particularly competent. Clearly, we are here in an area that is morally neutral. If I burn the roast I have not committed a moral transgression. The fact that I can never remember my eight times table should not be counted against me as sin. We all have our areas of gifting, and we all have areas that are weak. There is no question of interpreting this fact in a moral context.

The second category, spirituality, is also morally neutral. We all express our spiritual self differently. There are any number of styles and techniques advocated by those who specialise in the area of spirituality. Some of these we will connect strongly with, and others hardly at all. Here there needs to be, in Bradshaw’s terminology, a ‘principle of social equality’. It is not a matter of identifying ‘the higher way’, but rather of finding a way that is personally meaningful and helpful. The expression that I give to my spiritual self is neither better nor worse than yours; it is simply different. To be sure, I can be lazy and undisciplined in my spiritual life. At that point a moral concern seems to arise. But the lack of discipline is almost certainly a factor in other areas of my life. That is, it is a personality trait and we have entered our third and final area.

Under the rubric of personality I include the traits, attitudes and behaviours which are defining of one’s personhood. There are introverts and extroverts, passive aggressives and active aggressives, optimists and pessimists, liberals and conservatives, the patient and the impatient, the hard-working and the slothful, the rash and the prudent, the intimate and the distant, the passionate and the ‘cool’, the self-aware and the unaware, and so on.

Personality traits become especially important in the context of relationships. Our style of relating is determined by our personality. Factors such as the way we deal with anger, our capacity for openness and honesty, our negotiating style, the level of our self-esteem, and our capacity for intimacy are highly significant in the context of interpersonal life. It will be evident that in discussing personality traits and relationality we have entered a morally relevant zone. Our personal failings cause harm to relationships and to the people involved in those relationships. To acknowledge those sub-selves which wreak havoc in our relationships and to take action on them is a moral imperative.

Let me illustrate our discussion through personal experience. Jim was a prominent co-leader in a faith community I worked in. He had many admirable qualities. He was hard-working, intelligent, perceptive, reliable, a good listener, and had a strong faith. But most of us on the leadership team found Jim almost impossible to work with. I believe that the problems we encountered had their source in the expression of two selves within Jim: a perfectionist self and a controlling self. ‘Perfectionist Jim’ had to have every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. If we set up a new programme in the congregation, Jim would want a manual covering every possible issue and outlining every conceivable area of responsibility, every conceivable task. He would seek to generate forms for participants to fill in so that every move made could be duly noted and recorded. Jim’s preference would be for ten three-hour training sessions for leaders in the programme. ‘If we are going to run this programme’, Jim would say, ‘we’re going to do it right.’ ‘Well, yes, Jim, we want to do it right, but isn’t this just a bit excessive?’

At that point Jim’s controlling self would rise up. He could not accept the possibility that any other view was valid. We were simply being ‘slap-happy’ and it was up to him to make sure that things were done properly. He would go on the offensive and seek to control others through aggression. There were enough leaders prepared to agree in order to save themselves from a tongue-lashing that his strategy was most often a successful one. So we lived with the huge manual, the endless forms, and the unrealistic expectations on leaders.

Finding the situation intolerable, I spoke long and hard with Jim on a number of occasions. Looking back on the frustration of not being heard, Jung’s words have never sounded more true: Recognising the shadow ‘is an essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.’ Yes, Carl, I did meet with large amounts of resistance! In Jim’s eyes, he was responsible and conscientious, and everyone else was lazy and sloppy. One evening at an informal service of worship the strength of Jim’s resistance was brought home to me in a most forceful way. In reflecting on the scripture passage, I asked the group to reflect on what trust meant for them. Jim responded with this comment: ‘I trust no one because everyone lets you down. I have come to trust only God.’

It is not surprising that there is a tendency to resist facing the shadow. In a theological frame of reference, it can be related to the struggle between our frail self and our higher self that is open to the Holy Spirit (Rms 8 and Gal 5). The Spirit is moving us to face our moral inadequacy, but our sinful side would rather believe that there isn’t a problem. On the psychological level, it is connected to our unwillingness to leave the comfort of observation and enter a zone that is ‘mucky’.

We do not acknowledge our shadow from a safe perch in an observer’s chair. It means to be pitched into the muck, coming up covered in it, stinking of it, smeared in our eyes so we cannot see clearly. That is the shadow (Ulanov, 1999, p. 50).

Christians need to be prepared to get mucky. When we distinguish morally relevant from morally neutral selves, I believe that we see the importance of not only accepting inferiorities, but also of keeping them in check. Jung’s approach embraces both these functions. He acknowledges quite strongly the importance of self-love, but at the same time he advocates correction of failings that are hurting self, others, and ultimately the society. When he speaks of the pressing need for a gracious relationship with self, he starts on the same foot as Bradshaw and all those who practice psychotherapy. But his approach has another side to it. He is able to embrace the paradox of self-care and self-challenge. Let’s begin, though, with his eloquent appeal for self-love:
In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself—that these are within me, and that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then? Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is then no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us ‘Raca,’ and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world, we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this dispicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed (Jung, 1971, pp. 239-240).

There is indeed a tendency in some Christians, perhaps many, to be much more gracious in accepting others than in accepting themselves. The damage to emotional and spiritual well-being is severe. Non-acceptance of self also subverts, Jung (1971, p. 249) observes, the intention to follow Christ’s command to love others. It is impossible to love one’s neighbour if one does not love oneself.

Jung, however, does not advocate the uni-dimensional approach of Bradshaw. There is a greater depth, much more subtlety, I think, in his way of handling the shadow. Jung believes that in the end self-care and self-challenge could be held together. The astute interpreter of Jungian thought, James Hillman, picks up on this need to apply paradoxical thinking to the moral problem of the unconscious:
Thus is cure a paradox, requiring two incommensurables: the moral recognition that these parts of me are burdensome and intolerable and must change, and the loving laughing acceptance which takes them just as they are, joyfully, forever. One both tries hard and lets go, both judges harshly and joins gladly. Western moralism and Eastern abandon: each holds only one side of the truth (Hillman, 1987, p. 77).

When it comes to morally relevant selves, Jung advocates a ‘trying hard’ as well as a ‘letting go’. It is important to face one’s shadow side because only in this way does one have a chance to reform it.

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected (Jung, 1971, p. 240).

Let me attempt to draw the threads of our discussion together. We live in a culture that is increasingly saturated with the therapeutic worldview. There is today an intense awareness of the destructive power of self-attack and self-doubt. As a consequence, the message of love of self and personal empowerment that has been a cornerstone of the therapeutic movement for decades has been taken to heart. John Bradshaw is blinkered by the message and promotes the notion that all our sub-selves are okay. I have argued that while Carl Jung is certainly aware of the need for self-love, he demonstrates a mature approach to the moral life of the self. He recognises that when it comes to morally relevant selves, a paradoxical approach is required. We must begin with a laughing, loving acceptance of our inferiorities, but we need also to bring down the hand of judgement. To simply say that all our selves are okay is ultimately a failure in moral seriousness.

Rev. Dr. Neil Pembroke is lecturer in Psychology and Religion at the University of Queensland and an ordained minister in the Uniting Church in Australia.

Bradshaw, J (1988), Healing the Shame that Binds You, Deerfield Beach: Health Communications.
Browning, D (1987), Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies, Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Capps, D (1993), The Depleted Self, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Hillman, J (1987), Insearch, Dallas: Spring Publications.
Jung, CG (1971), Psychological Reflections, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Jung, CG (1978), Aion, Princeton University Press.
Pattison, S (2000), Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology, Cambridge University Press.
Stone, H and Winkelman, S (1985), Embracing Ourselves, Marina de Rey: Devoiss & Co.
Ulanov, AB (1999), Religion and the Spiritual in Carl Jung, Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press.