I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
Robert Louis Stevenson
In her delightful book poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words,* a collection of vignettes each followed by a generous helping of poetry prompts, Susan Wooldridge suggests “listening to our shadow.” She cites Carl Jung as saying that in the normal course of development, a child of about six will split off the side of herself that is not approved of by the outside world and suppress it, and this becomes the shadow self.
*[NY: Clarkson Potter, Inc., 1996]
Jung’s concept is much more complex than this, but I went back to Jung and it made my head spin, so we’re going to wing it. Typically or stereotypically, the side split off is the fanciful, adventurous, independent, creative self which we often call our “inner child.” There are other sorts of scenarios and resulting shadows. The obedient “good child” may have a “wicked” shadow. The abused, violent, ultimately criminal child may have a conscience (“good child”) which has been so completely repressed, it isn’t even available to the conscious mind.