In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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John Sanford is a Jungian analyst and Episcopalian priest in San Diego, California, who has taken on the questions of evil in two books: Evil, The Shadow Side of Reality and The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde: A New Look At The Nature Of Human Evil (Harper & Row). In the latter, Sanford addresses the questions of psychological guilt and responsibility in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novelette, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, which remains a classic and popular study of human evil as expressed in the modern Western psyche. Sanford’s conclusion is one that is only slowly dawning in our society: that the staging of sanctimony is rehearsed in the devil’s workshop.
In his small but comfortable consulting studio (“this funny little room where I do this strange work”), Sanford readily confesses that he’s a “P.K.” — preacher’s kid — and then some. Not only was his father an Episcopalian priest, but so were his grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers on both sides of the family. His mother was also a religious writer and faith-healer of some repute. With this kind of family background — plus the fact that he liked his parents pretty well — it seemed natural and inevitable that Sanford would enter theological school after graduating in philosophy from Kenyon College in Ohio. But after two years in seminary, “you might say my unconscious rebelled against me,” Sanford recalls, and this initiated a journey of self-discovery that led him from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, where he met both his wife and the noted analyst Fritz Kunkel. The year was 1952; Sanford was twenty-two. After a year of analysis with Kunkel, Sanford returned to Cambridge to complete graduate school and become ordained as an Episcopalian priest.
Sanford went back to California and served churches both in Los Angeles and San Diego during the next two decades; he became a licensed family counselor and was active as a pastoral psychologist. In 1956, when Kunkel died, Sanford deepened his study of Jungian analytical psychology. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, brought an expanded view of the human personality to the modern depth psychology founded by Freud, defining the personality’s “shadow” as a repository of repressed energy. The answer to human evil, he suggested, is to reclaim the shadow rather than to reject it. In the process we become “individuated,” or whole.
Sanford wrote his first book, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language, while studying at the Jung Institute in Zurich in 1962, and a few years later completed The Kingdom Within: The Inner Meaning Of Jesus’ Sayings. By 1974 he had decided that his work should no longer be confined to a church environment, and he entered private practice as a Jungian analyst, while continuing to develop his interests in philosophy and history. He has also continued to write: his most successful book was Invisible Partners: How The Male And Female In Each Of Us Affects Our Relationships. As a psychological counselor with a strong religious background, Sanford demonstrates that the science of the mind is not incompatible with the spiritual search. In fact, he maintains, we need them working together before we can hope to understand the subtle and paradoxical messages of the human shadow.
— D. Patrick Miller
THE SUN: Stevenson’s Jekyll-and-Hyde metaphor has been such a powerful one for our society that I wonder if it marked a turning point for modern civilization — where our collective shadow entered a new phase, or became more identifiable. Do you think Stevenson recognized that our inner split was becoming more dramatic — or did he just pick up on the same old human story?
SANFORD: I think it’s probably the same old human story. I read a tremendous amount of history, which makes one realize that things have always been dreadful. If you ever conclude that we live in the worst of all possible ages, you can check the history books and find that’s probably not the case. People have always done horrible things to each other; I don’t think the human race today is better or worse than in previous eras.
I think Stevenson just jumped the gun on Freud by about a decade. His story is a psychological jewel, and while almost everyone has heard of Jekyll and Hyde, very few people have actually read the novelette. The popularizations of Jekyll and Hyde definitely lost a lot of the finer points of the original. It’s full of subtle psychological insights that lead me to regard Stevenson as a genius. He really recognized the shadow first, and essentially grasped the whole of depth psychology. He based the story on a dream, you know; he dreamt the most important scenes.
THE SUN: A striking factor of the Jekyll and Hyde story is the relative absence of a feminine element. What is the relationship of this to the increasing power of Jekyll’s dark side?
SANFORD: In Jungian parlance, the anima doesn’t have much of an influence in Stevenson’s story; you would say the same about a man whose dreams had a similar absence of feminine figures. That means that Dr. Jekyll had great difficulty in building a bridge between the opposite sides of his character. There’s no reconciling figure who can do the paradoxical work of unifying opposites. Things are too starkly one way or the other, good or bad. You can apply that metaphor culturally, too, and see how the lack of the feminine element drives us toward these extremes. That was particularly true in the nineteenth century.
THE SUN: Jung once said, “I would rather be whole than good,” a statement that would probably mystify or disturb many people. Why do most people fail to recognize the relationship between evil and excessive “goodness”?
SANFORD: This is really the problem of the ego and the shadow, a problem that’s most sharply discernible in the Christian tradition. In the Bible the differences between good and evil are sharply drawn: there’s God, who is good, and the Devil, who is evil. God desires human beings to be good, and evil is punished. The New Testament point of view is that if an individual gives in to evil and does evil things, then the soul is corrupted and destroyed; that is, a negative psychological process sets in. So there’s always held up to the Christian the goal or model of “being a good person,” and there’s something to be said for that.
But originally the Christian tradition recognized that one carries the opposite within oneself. St. Paul said, “For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” That’s the statement of a depth psychologist; he knew he had the shadow, and he thought only God could save him from such a condition. But knowing what his condition was sort of held things together.
Later, that in-depth perspective was lost and people simply felt compelled to identify with being good, or at least the pretense of being good. Doing that, you will quickly lose contact with the shadow. Also, somewhere along the line — it became obvious by the Middle Ages — the church made a very bad mistake. Now not only were some actions evil, but fantasies were evil, too. You were a bad person simply by having fantasies about evil; adultery was a sin, and thinking about adultery was a sin, too. Both had to be confessed and forgiven.
As a result, people began to deny and repress their fantasy life, and the shadow was driven even further underground. The split became greater.
THE SUN: Did this process parallel the loss of the feminine element?
SANFORD: Yes, I would say so. In feminine reality, contrasts are not so sharply seen and drawn. The masculine element sees things in bright sunlight; this is this and that is that. The feminine is like seeing in the moonlight; things kind of blend together, and they’re not so distinct from one another. The whole matter of the shadow is very subtle and complex; it’s not nearly as simple as the subject of good-and-evil may appear to be.
So the feminine element would have mitigated this complete split of the shadow and the ego. Early on, the church was the leader in a sort of feminist movement, but it later became quite patriarchal. The ego and the shadow became progressively farther apart, setting the stage for the Jekyll-and-Hyde phenomenon. If you study Christian history, you see the development quite clearly. Those people who professed to be doing very good things were leading the Inquisition, for instance.
Christians have no exclusive ownership of the shadow, of course. Everybody does horrible things. But the split is drawn quite starkly in the Christian tradition. The good thing that came out of all this was the return of depth psychology. Even though the church attempted to ban fantasies, it was obviously aware of the interior life, and has always valued introspection.
THE SUN: I grew up around religious fundamentalists, and I always noticed a kind of uprightness about them — as if they were literally trying not to have certain things enter their minds, much less be expressed openly. The internal split seems to require a great amount of energy to maintain.
SANFORD: That’s right, and it doesn’t result in a really good person. Striving for a pure goodness results in a pose or a self-deception about goodness. It develops a persona — a face of goodness put on over the ego. Dr. Jekyll had a very big persona, and he believed in it completely, but he was never really a very good man. The connection between Jekyll and Hyde was Jekyll’s secret yearning to be Hyde — but he never wanted to give up the face he had put on to society, and to himself. When he came up with the drug that changed him into his shadow, he thought he had the ideal answer. But then his own yearning to be Hyde took him over.
Here it’s important to understand the crucial difference between the shadow and what’s genuinely evil. As Fritz Kunkel once said, the secret is that the ego is the devil — not the shadow. He believed there is evil beyond the ego — an archetypal evil — but for most people, it’s the ego that’s really the problem.
The Jungian definition of the shadow was put well by Edward C. Whitmont, a New York analyst, who said that the shadow is “everything that has been rejected during the development of the personality because it did not fit into the ego ideal.” If you were raised a Christian with the ego ideal of being loving, morally upright, kind, and generous, then you’d have to repress any qualities you found in yourself that were antithetical to the ideal: anger, selfishness, crazy sexual fantasies, and so on. All these qualities that you split off would become the secondary personality called the shadow. And if that secondary personality became sufficiently isolated, you would become what’s known as a multiple personality.
In every multiple personality case, you can always clearly identify the shadow. It’s not always evil — it’s just different than the ego. Jung said the truth of the matter is that the shadow is ninety percent pure gold. Whatever has been repressed holds a tremendous amount of energy, with a great positive potential. So the shadow, no matter how troublesome it may be, is not intrinsically evil. The ego, in its refusal of insight and its refusal to accept the entire personality, contributes much more to evil than the shadow.
THE SUN: So the shadow gets a bad rap because the ego projects its own evil onto it.
SANFORD: Exactly. If you go back to that psychological document we call the New Testament, you’ll find that it says the devil is “the father of lies.” Now the shadow never lies; it’s the ego that lies about its real motives. That’s why successful psychotherapy, and any genuine religious conversion, requires absolute honesty about oneself.
THE SUN: The Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz wrote: “The shadow plunges man into the immediacy of situations here and now, and thus creates the real biography of the human being, who is always inclined to assume he is only what he thinks he is. It is the biography created by the shadow that counts.” This passage made me think about our society’s tendency to become disillusioned with our politicians — because the biography they hand us while they’re campaigning is never the biography that counts.
SANFORD: The biography that the politician wants us to have — which has often been created by public relations people — is the persona, the mask. It’s what hides the politician’s true reality. But I think we can live with that reality pretty well, if we’re allowed to. Owning up to the shadow is not nearly as damaging in the long run as denying it. What ruined Gary Hart, for instance, was not that he had affairs, but that he continued to lie about it when the truth was evident. Personally, that made me feel he simply wasn’t too bright.
We certainly live in an era when elections are won and lost on the strength of the persona. Reagan is the example par excellence, because we know he never took a step or said a word that wasn’t staged. I’m much more comfortable with President Bush, whether or not I approve of what he says, because I get the feeling that at least he’s there — the real man is talking.
I think we were probably a little better in touch with politicians as real people in the days of whistlestop campaigning. The way that electronic media enhances the persona shows a monstrous side of our technology — it’s very dangerous.
THE SUN: The shadow certainly seems very present in our entertainment media these days — from Stephen King and Clive Barker stories, to horror films, to the overt satanism of some heavy-metal rock bands. I wonder if all this means we’re moving toward recognition of the shadow — and integration — or are we just going down the tubes, as some social critics and censors seem to think?
SANFORD: The question is when we cross the line from the shadow, which is a difficult but still human element, into the truly demonic. This brings up the matter of archetypal evil — is there a devil who’s beyond the human ego? The Christians were not the only ones who worried about the devil, by the way — the early Persians thought about a divine agency that produced evil.
The holocaust of Nazi Germany and the pogroms of Stalin were not results of the individual human shadow. There, I think, we’re looking at an agency of evil in the collective psyche that is truly sinister, and that we do need to fear. A lot of people would deny that such evil exists, saying that all murderers are made by unfortunate childhoods and parental abuse. But my own feeling is that there is an archetypal agency of evil.
Some of those who would censor rock lyrics and so on may be partially right about the evil therein. I’ll be frank in saying that when I occasionally come across such material I have a feeling of acute distaste. Some of it looks sinister to me. But by no means should we assume that those who moralize about archetypal evil are free of it. In fact, moralizing about evil is a good way to succumb to it. It’s a subtle matter. If you’re attacking evil as a defense against insight into the self, you’re making Dr. Jekyll’s mistake.
THE SUN: But how do we tell the difference between what looks sinister, and what is sinister?
SANFORD: The question is well put, and not always readily answered. It depends a lot on the psychology of the person looking. The more rigid your psychological framework, the more things are going to look sinister to you. I can only say that when the archetypal level of evil is finally expressed, everyone is eventually shocked by it. But not always in time, of course. The world was very slow to recognize the evil of Nazi Germany.
What helps us tell the difference is what Jung called the feeling function — our inner means of ascertaining the value of something. The feeling function tells us what is desirable and not desirable, but it’s not an ego judgment. The ego determines what’s good and bad from the point of view of its own concerns: that which tends to support our egocentric defense system is what we deem to be good; that which is antithetical to it, we deem to be evil. When the Puritans infected the native Americans with diseases that killed them, the Puritans saw it as a good thing, and preached sermons about how God was paving the way for them to settle the land. Of course, the Indians who were dying of smallpox would have had a very different judgment of the good and evil in the situation.
The feeling function is free of egocentric contamination. It is a pure feeling evaluation, but it’s not always heard. The fact that the American public eventually turned against the Vietnam War was due to the rise of the feeling function — an increasing number of people came to a feeling judgment that the war was wrong and terrible, even if it supposedly served our political aims. And of course they were right. The value judgment of the feeling function is a reliable determiner of the good and evil in a situation — provided that it has the right information. If it doesn’t have all the information, or sees only a part of the whole situation, the feeling function is perfectly capable of arriving at an erroneous conclusion.
THE SUN: In your practice, what have you observed to be the process of integrating the shadow?
SANFORD: When one first sees the shadow clearly, one is more or less aghast. Some of our egocentric defense systems then necessarily fall apart or melt away. The result can be a temporary depression, or clouding of consciousness. Jung compared the process of integration — which he called individuation — to the process of alchemy. One stage of alchemy is the melanosis, where everything turns black inside the vessel containing all the alchemical elements. But that black stage is absolutely essential. Jung said it represents the first contact with the unconscious, which is always the contact with the shadow. The ego takes that as a kind of defeat.
THE SUN: Is it possible to get stuck there? Can we be doomed to one encounter with the shadow after another, with no integration following?
SANFORD: I don’t think so, because a genuine insight into the shadow also calls out what Jung called the Self, the creative center. And then things begin to move, so the depression doesn’t become permanent. A million and one changes can occur after that; it’s different for every individual. What Kunkel called the “real center” of the personality begins to emerge, and gradually the ego is reoriented to a closer relationship with that real center. Then a person is much less likely to become affiliated with genuine evil, because the integration of the shadow is always concurrent with the dissolution of the false persona. One becomes much more realistic about oneself; seeing the truth about one’s own nature always has very salutary effects. Honesty is the great defense against genuine evil. When we stop lying to ourselves about ourselves, that’s the greatest protection we can have against evil.
THE SUN: If the ego is not the “real center” of ourselves, then of what is it the center?
SANFORD: What distinguishes Jungian psychology from practically all other psychologies is the idea that there are two centers of the personality. The ego is the center of consciousness; the Self is the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego. The Self is both the whole and the center. The ego is a self-contained little circle off the center, but contained within the whole. So the ego might best be described as the lesser center of the personality; the Self is the greater center.
We can see this relationship best in our dreams. In our waking life, the ego is like the sun — it illuminates everything but it also blocks out the stars. What we don’t realize is that the contents of ego-consciousness are not our creation; they’re given to us, they come up from somewhere. We’re constantly influenced by the unconscious, but we’re largely unaware of that. The ego prefers to believe it creates all its own thoughts. In our dreams, everything changes with the appearance of the dream ego. When we recall the dream, we automatically identify with the dream ego; we refer to it as “I,” and say, “I met a bear, and we had a wrestling match, and then the dancing girl appeared,” and so on. But the difference is that the dream ego knows things during the dream that the waking ego doesn’t know. You may remember running very fast during the dream, for instance, and not remember why. But in the dream, you knew.
Most important, the dream ego is never more significant than any other figure in the dream. It may even find itself overpowered or overshadowed. When the sun goes down, the stars come out — and then you discover you’re just one of the stars in a sky full of stars. That’s the soulscape, which is invisible in our waking life.
THE SUN: I’ve noticed that while I’m more or less comfortable with the idea of the shadow in waking life, the shadow in dreams is a lot more than an idea — it’s completely real and very powerful. I sometimes become the shadow, as if it’s integrating me.
SANFORD: Yes, the shadow is an energy system in the dream that’s at least as powerful as you are. In the psychic arena of the dream, all the elements of the psyche are less distinct from one another, and the dream ego may either observe them or become them, or something in between.
The shadow is always an aspect of the ego itself; the qualities of the shadow could have become part of the structure of the ego. You might say the shadow is like the ego’s brother or sister, and not necessarily a sinister figure. And it’s important to remember that the shadow always has a reason for anything it does, a reason related to those qualities excluded from the ego. To become the shadow in a dream is fairly unusual; it’s more likely that the dream ego will observe the shadow changing forms during the dream.
THE SUN: I suppose it’s safer to become the shadow in a dream than in waking life.
SANFORD: Well, we’re up against the subtleties of the shadow again. My thinking in this arena follows Kunkel more than Jung. The idea is that the ego is originally quite close to the center of the Self. As it moves farther away, it develops an egocentric posture, which is often exacerbated by unfavorable childhood influences. The nature of those influences will determine the nature of one’s egocentric defenses, and hence the nature of the shadow.
Let’s say that a person experiences himself as weak and ineffectual against his environment, but he finds another way of getting through life, which is to become sort of a “clinging vine.” He doesn’t develop his own strength; he relies on other people who are strong, but he has to qualify for their support. So he strikes a pose of being both needy and very deserving. That’s his egocentric posture for life; he’s the kind of person who always needs your help, and who can cite all the reasons you should give it. If you don’t help him, you’re a bad person.
One thing about such a person is that he’s very boring. People will stop supporting him when he’s bored them thoroughly, and then he feels threatened and anxious. Now what he has repressed in order to maintain his egocentric posture of clinging are qualities of courage and forthrightness — very desirable qualities. But this clinging vine personality looks on these qualities as the devil, and is frightened to death of them. And in fact, those repressed qualities can become dangerous.
Take the example of a high school boy who has the egocentric defense of a turtle — he just wants to be left alone. He becomes the target of a gang of toughs whose egocentric propensity is to torment him, precisely because he’s a loner. They harass the hell out of him, until one day his egocentric shell of withdrawal explodes and bang — out comes the shadow. Now he may just get into a fistfight, and even though he gets beat up, he comes out of it OK — and probably more integrated. On the other hand, he may go get his father’s gun and shoot his tormenters, and a terrible thing has happened. If the energy has been too long and too deeply repressed, something of regrettable consequence can occur.
THE SUN: Do you think that the boy calls his tormenters to him?
SANFORD: Oh, absolutely. At the unconscious level, he’s sending a message about what he needs for integration. Kunkel used to say about such a situation that the “archangels” are sent to complete the divine plan.
THE SUN: But the archangels aren’t necessarily going to take care of you.
SANFORD: That’s right. They just set up the scenario. All we know is that when the archangels become involved, things won’t stay the same. What happens next, nobody can predict. The release of the shadow is not to be taken lightly. Hence, it would be much better if the boy discovered his hostility in therapy, or some other caretaking situation where his shadow can come out gradually.
Kunkel made the mysterious statement that “in a showdown, God is always on the side of the shadow, not the ego.” For all its difficulties, the shadow is closer to the creative source.
Now the ego that is not in an egocentric state is an entirely different matter; it has a healthy creative relationship to both the shadow and the Self. The ego is not really diminished in the process of integration; it simply becomes less rigid in its boundaries. There’s a tremendous difference between a strong ego and an egocentric ego; the latter is always weak. Individuation, the attainment of one’s real potential, can’t take place without the strong ego.
THE SUN: Does that mean that it’s impossible just to be your “Self”?
SANFORD: That’s right. The ego is the necessary vehicle for the expression of the Self, but you have to be willing to put the ego on the line. It’s like Moses confronting the voice of God in the burning bush, and then going down to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. That’s the action of the strong ego.
D. Patrick Miller