I am self-soothing in a cafe with a mug of tea, having stumbled out of a taxi, my ears ringing from a power-hose of invectives. On reflection, I can see that the rage wasn’t directed at me. Despite there being only two of us in the conversation, I was relegated to the role of audience as my taxi driver railed against Brexit, road planners, “imposter MPs”, Uber and everything else that has inconvenienced his life.
It started when we found the access to Liverpool Street blocked by roadworks. Conversationally, I pointed out that London seemed to have a lot of repairs going on.
“I’ll tell you now, mate, I want a f*$@%!^9 war! I want a f*$@%!^9 uprising. Those f*$@%!^9 politicians are sat over there, f*$@%!^9 scratching themselves while this f*$@%!^9 city falls a-f*$@%!^9-part ………”. And so it escalated.
It would seem I’d paddled into deeper waters.
Had I not been compiling a list of escape routes, I might have paused to acknowledge his gift for swearing; he could turn nouns into adjectives producing an impressive tirade of curses from a single breath. As he tapped into his rage, I become invisible.
I knew from our initial exchange that he had a pleasant professional personality; the model of London chirpiness. I soon discovered, that underneath, as he’d watched faceless bureaucrats weaken his ability to do his job, erode his income, lengthen his work day, “under-regulate” the competition and allow the congestion to thicken, he had filled a dam with resentment.
Once I was out of the firing line, I understood that what he was really trying to do was to be whole. The gulf between his social mask and his actual experience had widened and the feelings of dissonance and dis-ease were overwhelming. His outburst was an attempt to reassemble, become one person, express his whole truth.
We live in a world where social adaptation is required. We create a personality to handle it (from the Latin persona meaning mask). It’s a device to gain approval from our parents and acceptance from our peers. It submits to cultural norms, it forms agreements to “keep the peace”, it garners favour and success. The Jungian psychotherapist, John Sanford called it our idealised ego. We are happy for it to be seen. It is our pride position
When we create a pride position, we automatically create a shame position. We suppress the degenerate traits that others would reject. They are hidden in the shadow. In the dark, dank recesses of our minds, they become fetid and rotten but they remain alive and energetic, pulsing negativity into our lives. They nag us about our incompleteness. They remind us that they belong and won’t be ignored.
I have known a few high functioning alcoholics. They are clever at disguising their alcohol intake but I can usually tell when they have had a drink. They change posture in the conversation. They care less for my experience of them or my views. Normal social boundaries are stretched. They are more relaxed with their criticisms, more expressive with their negative emotions. It feels like a strange spirit has entered them.
I also feel their hunger to achieve this state. I wonder if at the root of all addiction is the longing to be whole. We get drunk, high and over-medicated to mollify our vigilant outer shell so that we can access the denied impulses beneath. We want to connect to an “uncompromised me” and have it express itself cathartically to the world.
Carl Jung says that 90% of the shadow is “pure gold.” By that, he means that our rotten bits are only rotten because of how we judged them. Had we not “dualised” ourselves into good and bad, we would have found purpose and virtue in every bit of our character. This is hopeful but the road back to wholeness is not easy. We don’t just find the PIN and bippity bobbity boo our psychic junk yard turns into Oz. It takes hard work and courage, over a lifetime, to reclaim the parts of ourselves we dumped. But we start. We admit the shadow trait; we face the shame and we hold it till we know its essential purpose for our life. It’s as easy and difficult as that.
In a world of increasing social taboos and litigious workplaces we are required to make our game-face fit. If this diminishes abuse, prejudice, bullying and discrimination, I’m all for it. But how do we take care of the shadow in this world? Where do we go to explore our inner fears and rage? How do we prevent a massive stinking landfill of collective shadow from destroying our society until the only safe place to interact is in the disembodied sterility of the internet? Are we destined to become increasingly alienated from the parts of us that make us feel alive?
More than ever, we must make room to contemplate. Mindfulness, meditation, prayer, coaching, dialogue and therapy are more essential today than ever before. Noticing the part we play in our dysfunctions, taking responsibility, reframing the shadow expression of others as a quest for wholeness, talking things out, reflecting on our hidden motivations; these are all good and necessary.
Jung asserts that if we want to diminish the collective shadow in the world, the most effective thing we can do is withdraw our own contribution from it.
Now that I’ve finished my tea and had time to reflect and make meaning of the incident, I like my foul-mouthed taxi driver a little more. I like to think that he encountered me as a safe place to express his shadow. I got to experience a man struggling to join his cheerful, London-loving, chatty-cabby persona with his anxious, frustrated, helpless shadow. I saw his struggle for wholeness and I saw myself.
And my hope for him is that the f*$@%!^9 t#@?% running this f*$@%!^9 freak show will let him get on and do his f*$@%!^9 job.