I re-watched Fight Club the other day. It’s one of my favorite movies. For me, it never gets old. I also think it paints a beautiful picture of the importance of owning your own shadow.
The shadow was a concept popularized by Carl Jung. The basic idea is that as we grow up, we learn that certain parts of ourselves are considered ‘good.’ These parts get rewarded and celebrated, and we try to show those things more and more. Maybe it’s our intelligence, our athleticism, or being a ‘good boy/girl.’ We try to put these parts of ourselves on display as much as possible.
On the other hand, we learn that other parts of ourselves are considered ‘bad.’ These parts get punished and criticized, and we try to hide those things as much as we can. Maybe it’s our playfulness, our sadness, our anger, or our sexuality. We try to push these parts of ourselves down, or perhaps deny that they even exist.
The parts of ourselves that we hide, repress, and deny make up our shadow. We ignore them, and we might think they are gone for good, but they aren’t. Like trying to hold a beach ball under the water, the more we try to hide, repress, and deny our shadow, the more likely it is to come out sideways. Maybe you have seen this in your own life, through raging anger that seemed to come out of nowhere, or an affair. The shadow can be a scary thing when it is unleashed.
In the movie Fight Club, Edward Norton’s character is completely unaware of his shadow. On one level, his character lives a perfect life. He has a decent job, makes a decent living, and has a decent condo filled with a lot of decent things. He is successful, at least according to society.
But it turns out everything isn’t okay. First of all, his character can’t sleep. Because of his insomnia, he lives his live in a fog, never fully awake and never fully asleep. Ultimately, Norton creates an alter ego—Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Tyler represents all of Norton’s repressed and pent-up desires. Tyler put it this way: All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.
Tyler represented Norton’s shadow. And Tyler just about killed him.
I think it is incredibly important to own and acknowledge all parts of ourselves—including our shadow. It is important to take the things that we actively repress, hide, and deny, and put those things out on the table. It’s important to be honest about our shadow, and see if there is a way we can integrate our shadow into our lives, so that we can live out of our full self.
Discussion: What parts of yourself do you hide, repress, and deny? What would it look like to be honest about your shadow, and try to integrate it into your identity?