I love Stranger Things, partly for its ’80s nostalgia, its heart, and the friendships.
Earlier in life, and especially in my late teens and twenties, I used to see any and all stories from a Jungian filter. I would see them as a dream with all parts mirroring parts of me and their dynamics mirroring dynamics in me, and then take the opportunity to find it in myself.
I find I don’t do that so much anymore. I mostly just enjoy the story.
But sometimes, it comes up again. For instance, how do stories depict the shadow – the parts of us that don’t fit our conscious or desired self-image?
In Stranger Things, it’s quite polarized and a kind of a caricature. The shadow is just about as terrible as you can imagine, and there is no chance of dialog or reasoning. If we meet something like that in waking life, we’ll likely have to deal with it more or less as they do.
It’s different with our own shadow. We can certainly perceive and fight with some shadow material the way they do in these types of stories, and it’s exhausting.
The only real resolution is to befriend what’s in our shadow, what has been neglected, ignored, pushed away, denied, and so on.
Some stories show that way of dealing with shadow material, and perhaps especially fairy tales and some mythology.
I have been looking for stories that depict a healthy, wise, and mature way of dealing with the shadow. One of the first contemporary ones I found was Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver. Here, the main characters capture a dangerous dragon, put it in a cage so it can’t harm anyone, and through that containment, it turns into a golden wisdom dragon.
If they had killed it, they would never have know what it could be. And if they had let it be free, it would have continued to harm people. Instead, they contained it and let it live – and, to their surprise, transform.
I don’t know if Michael Ende was familiar with and influenced by Jung, but I think it’s almost certain. The story shows, in a simplified way, a mature way of dealing with shadow material.
We don’t need to try to eliminate or escape it, and if we try we may find it doesn’t work. Instead, we can meet it and metaphorically restrain it so it can’t do so much harm. In reality, we find a more conscious way of relating to it so we are less likely to be caught in it and our reaction to it. And by this discipline – meeting and relating to it more intentionally – the shadow material can become a golden wisdom dragon. It becomes a source of healing, maturing, and perhaps even some wisdom.
The shadow is not one monolithic thing. There are a lot of different qualities and characteristics in the shadow of our conscious self-image. And although there is a general way to approach it, we’ll also need to adjust our approach depending on the person, situation, and what’s coming up.
What’s in the shadow colors our perception, thoughts, emotions, and life. As long as we haven’t befriended it, it will run us. When it is triggered, we either get caught up in it and live from it, or we are caught up in and live from our reaction to it, or both. And this will keep going on until we befriend it.
How can we befriend it? I have written about it in many other articles so won’t go into it much here. We can do explicit shadow work and inquiry, notice and allow it when it’s here, do heart-centered practices with it, dialog with it, and so on.
And when we befriend it and get to know it, we find the gifts it has for us. We find a missing piece of ourselves. We expand our repertoire in how we can be and are in the world. We become a little more healed and whole as a human being.
There is something fitting in using stories from our culture as a mirror for our own shadow. What we see as a desirable personality comes largely from our culture, which means that what goes into our shadow will also largely reflect our culture. And the darkness of the shadow depends on the strength of our ideals, which also reflects our culture.