top of page

A Trigger May Lead to the Shadow in the Self


Richard Barwell

Road Sign for Pidley in Cambridgshire, Home of the Mountain Rescue Team

Jung wanted people to find their own way….I have recently discovered what seems like a helpful psychic factor connected to the shadow, which we can talk easily about in others : ‘Ah’, we may say to a troubled friend, ‘that is just your shadow’ – as if that solves anything or makes some profound or useful statement .

The shadow is an important structural element in the human psyche and we can so easily be enveloped by it and under its influence even become clinically depressed. For Jungians it is a valuable archetype which is not just intellectually recognised but viscerally felt, were it not for that it would be easy to defend against or recover from.

This is what was suddenly born in upon me. There is, if you like, the great shadow itself and there is the event which wakes it. I have come to see that event as the trigger. This great structural archetype usually lies dormant like a sleeping lion but something like a little chance starts him up. This may just be an apparently insignificant moment, almost like any other but actually quite different: it may just be a brief sensation like a sudden tone or a sound of an old familiar voice, or a smell of a childhood home or some other reminder of the personal past which has lain quiet until roused.

But it can be far deeper and harder to identify, coming from what Jung referred to as the impersonal or collective unconscious. It may be so deep that it may take years to unearth what has touched our feeling and has ‘triggered’ an unrecognisable primordial image or archetype into life within us and be so powerful as to appear to overwhelm us. This trigger may be small but if we stop a moment it can enable us to ask ourselves ‘what has it activated in us, and why?’

Let us say we catch sight of a child crying in the street as we pass by and as the day wears on we are overwhelmed by sadness, so we think back to that little figure and we ask: ‘what has that momentary glimpse touched in me?’ Was I like that as a child or is it rather the thought of the mass of refugee children and how powerless we feel to help?

You can easily build your own story from that example and come to a private event in your own childhood or somehow connect even more deeply to our inheritance as people and who knows where that may lead?

Some sixty years ago I glimpsed a legless man swinging along on his arms and bottom with the stumps of his legs in the air in front of him in a crowded street in Sri Lanka. I was being driven in a Cadillac.

If you have a Shadow story to share, please do so below.

Thank you for your feedback. Your message has been sent.

bottom of page