The Dark Night of the Soul

“there is no…psychic wholeness without imperfection… to round itself out, life… calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the thorn in the flesh is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent.”   (Jung, CW 12, 208)

A confrontation with shadow is the most demanding aspect of psychoanalysis.  We experience the “suffering of our defects” or our shadow by feeling guilty and shameful and fear rejection by others if exposed.  So why would confronting our shadows be so critical?  Jung says we confront our shadows for completeness. A particular self-righteous denial and distorted perceptions of one’s defects tend to poison relationships when one is unable to see their own shadow. The importance of confronting our shadow is that it generates compassion for self and others.   If we can see ourselves as less than perfect we can also accept imperfection in others.  The process of integrating our shadow usually starts by projecting those characteristics on to others.   In other words, you see defects in others before you see them in yourself.  Projecting shadow aspects on to another, results in paranoia, suspiciousness and ultimately a lack of relatedness.  When we withdraw those projections, we start to become aware of the parts of ourselves characterized by distrust, anger, fear and discomfort and are plunged into darkness or the dark night of the soul.

“Black Swan” and “The Wrestler” are two movies that delve into the shadow aspects of their main characters       in very different ways.  Nina, the ballerina in “Black Swan”, is the perfect daughter and technically perfect dancer.  When her shadow, Lily, arrives at the dance company, Nina is exposed to her own defects as projected on to Lily.  Nina is asexual, Lily is very sexual, Nina is technically perfect, Lily dances with soulful abandon, Nina is not curious, Lily asks questions, Nina is frozen by other’s impressions, Lily acts by her own accord.  Nina’s inability to acknowledge the Lily within her, distorts her perceptions of others and she is paranoid and unrelated, fearing everyone in the company wants to steal her role as the Swan Queen.  As Lily ingratiates herself into Nina’s life by showing up at her house, Nina starts to be less perfect and starts to integrate aspects of her shadow (Lily) in to her life and performance.  As this integration starts to occur, Nina is plunged into her dark night of the soul, where the lines of reality and fantasy become blurred.  Has she really killed Lily or not?  Does Nina die at the end or is it the death of her former attitude of perfection?  Psychologically, Nina has suffered the “thorn in the flesh” and her performance was not perfect (she fell) but it was full of heart and soul, which was more complete.

“The Wrestler” depicted Randy the Ram as the good guy and hero in all his wrestling matches and his opponents carried his shadow aspects.  The Ayatollah and Randy’s other opponents were ruthless, immoral, cheaters who would do anything to win.  When Randy was told by his cardiologist that he couldn’t wrestle anymore, he tried to establish his good guy persona in his personal life.  When his stripper love interest, Cassidy, challenged his perception of himself as a potential partner and father to her son, he was not able to look at why he might not be suited to either role or what he might need to change in himself.  He approached his long estranged daughter with heroic efforts but was unable to look at himself as a previously selfish and neglectful father, so he wound up repeating his unconscious and unexamined selfishness and neglect.  His shadow aspects were contradicting who he wanted to see himself as, and who he would like to be in the eyes of others, so he returned to the ring where he could temporarily return to being the good guy rather than look at his short-comings.