Is the encounter with the Shadow, as illustrated by Carl Jung, the same as the Dark night of the Soul?

In answer to Quora question: "Is the encounter with the Shadow, as illustrated by Carl Jung, the same as the Dark night of the Soul?"

The simple answer would be no, they are not the same, even though they may (superficially, at least) seem to share similar characteristics and, potentially, one or two “consequent changes,” which again are more superficially related than substantive. For example, we might say they both involve a “letting go” in some way, but each type of “letting go” has unique and differing qualities. And there are other differences as well. To elaborate….

First, regarding the Shadow, almost everyone has repressed material that they can come to recognize, own and integrate by cultivating self-awareness. And, in general, almost everyone will benefit from this awareness and integration process. Furthermore, the practice is easily learned and practiced – even without a psychotherapist – and, for many people, engaging their Shadow is a spontaneous and natural consequence of their psychosocial development. As an example, our first serious romantic relationships will often disgorge plentiful Shadow material in both parties, which we can then choose to consciously engage, or continue to repress.

The Dark Night, on the other hand, is the result of specific mental, physical, emotional and spiritual disciplines, which few people choose for themselves, and even fewer are able to continue to their ultimate union with the Divine. It has two distinct phases – and transitions within each of those phases – that are sequential in nature and dependent on preceding conditions. It is also less likely (than Shadow work) to occur spontaneously – especially not in its second, more advanced phase, or even in an enduring way (rather than as occasional peak experiences). And lastly, the Dark Night engages spiritual faculties, intuitions and sensitivities that Shadow work generally does not, and its aim is union with God in the fires of Divine love after several components of self are utterly annihilated. Shadow work, though it may engage compassion-for-self and moderate ego-attenuation as engines of healing and transformation, does not quite aim for the same heights, or require the same despairing depths, to be actualized.

Now it could be said that the Dark Night is a kind of spiritual Shadow work in which the repressed understanding of a union with God, an understanding which some might argue could be intuited or "remembered" by our soul, is brought to the surface, accepted, owned and integrated. Jung even wrote about our need to listen to the prompting of our soul, and so he might well agree with this approximation. However, I do not believe he ever equated the two, and most modern Jungian therapists would, I suspect, tend to keep them separate. I also do not think St. John of the Cross would agree that the soul can intuit or anticipate what Divine union really is, and that it therefore could not be “repressed” as other Shadow material is. It would certainly be interesting to hear Jung and St. John of the Cross work this out. For now, from what we have of their writings and can understand from personal experience of each course of practice, encountering the Shadow and the Dark Night of the Soul are, well, as different as night and day.

My 2 cents.


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