Shadow’s Voice: Red Man, Blue Man.

It’s not always audible, but some believe it is always there. A shaded and hidden aspect of the self. The undesirable, rejected, part of human nature that (in one form) makes itself known through projection onto others. The understanding of the shadow has its origin in Freudian and Jungian psychology. In each there are many places to explore, for the purpose of this post the focus will remain on its presence as psychological defense. Specifically, defense through projection.

I’ve been thinking about the shadow in human nature over the last several months as we’ve wrestled with the contrasting elements of systemic racism, poverty, and the inherent privilege that exist in our country. The ugliness that can be, and has been, inflicted on our fellow citizens is unacceptable ~ but has been allowed ~ hidden in plain sight. In some ways it feels we are the living embodiment of complicity through our citizenship. It further feels, we can’t move this unwitting complicity until we truly understand it.

Today I am hopeful that our country’s new administration will lead us forward and out of the dark days that have been a large part of the Trump presidency. And, like many, I know that Trump’s rise to power could only exist because the uglier parts of our society exist. The parts that have been allowed to fester unseen by mainstream citizens until made openly permissible. The parts that have been insidiously woven into the fabric of our country and our psyches.

There are larger (or maybe deeper) questions that need to be asked and answered. What allows devaluation and dehumanization? Not only, what allows this from economic and social standpoints. But what allows this from a human standpoint? What would allow one to believe it is ok to inflict pain? To take life on an individual or societal basis. That one is better or more valuable than another? That his or her need or wants trump another’s needs?

In part, I think, answers lay within an individual’s (sometimes) conscious and often unconscious needs or wants, and the collective wants and needs of one’s society. The construct of the shadow in terms of projection simply means we (non-consciously) project onto others the aspects (or parts) of ourselves we do not (or cannot) accept. In normative human development, as children reach 8 or 9 years of age they began to measure themselves against others. Shortly after social grouping begins to occur, and generally by 10 or 11 years of age, children have formed groups in which they feel belonging. This of course implies desirable and non-desirable groups ~ groups in which some do not belong.

I’ll take a side journey for a moment. Yesterday, I had a short interaction with a child of about age 6. He innocently asked me, “do you like the red man or the blue man?” This was clearly on his mind as he had listened to adults, in his home, discuss the current political landscape. He was trying (in very normative fashion) to sort this out with his basic understanding that one was good and one was bad. One desirable (based on his growing world view) and one was not. Dependent on my answer, his development, and how acceptance is supported in his family of origin, he would then need to group me into one of those categories. In this instance, I supported his exploration, his love for his family, and shared thoughts about how it is ok to have differing views. Eventually, and as it felt supportive, I spoke, (words that I have always believed but in honesty the foundation of this belief has been shaken in the last several years) “that’s the great thing about living in our country we can have different thoughts and feelings and still love each other very much”.

In essence, it is developmentally normal to place people (along with everything else) into groups. This is done in the context of one’s society and family. It is also done within the framework of human attachment. In short, to belong one needs to do what is acceptable to his or her attachment relationship and eventually his or her group. Attachment research tells us that by one year of age, a child knows what his or her caregiver will do in response to the child’s need. By age 3, due to the immense growth that is occurring in the human brain, there is a strengthened neural network (a hardwired -automatic- neurophysiological roadmap) that dictates response. This overtime is reinforced through hundreds and thousands of interactions.

In the example above, the ideas around “the red man or the blue man” can become associated (through the many subtle and non-subtle interactions that the brain tags and associates) with acceptance and belonging, right or wrong, good or bad. The need to belong (to be accepted -the same as) becomes equated (at its core) with feeling loved. Again, attachment research validates that this process (the process of behaving in ways that are supported by one’s caregiver and eventual group) is a deeply ingrained, hardwired, biological, survival need.

Overtime, the aspects that are deemed undesirable (those seen as bad) are not permitted for conscious exploration by the brain. They just simply aren’t attended to or are attended to as not wanted. It can stay this way for one’s entire life, if one never has a felt reason to challenge it. Many times, individuals come to treatment (in essence) to understand why they feel or behave in undesirable ways. Something painful has caused them to begin to ask questions. Because attachment and trauma form the foundation of my clinical training, I believe the answers lay, in part, in early attachment relationships and the cumulative experiences (internal and external ) that the individual has had in their lifetime.

When I think of the ugliness of racism and white privilege, I can’t help but feel they are counterparts in the shadows of our individual and collective psyches. These unwanted, largely unquestioned forces have been left tethered in the murky places many haven’t wanted to, or haven’t known to, see. The presidency of Donald Trump in its divisiveness has laid bare these painful unwanted truths. We have seen the way our fellow citizens have been treated. We have had to (begin to) understand the ways we have been unknowingly complicit. There is much internal and external work that must be done to both understand and repair (for lack of a much better word) these realities.

The ideas we are raised with whether subtly implied or mightily reinforced become part of our automatic (again neurobiological) response. This part of the human process is normative due to the reasons noted above. These ideas become hidden from us, until something stirs them, and causes enough discomfort or pain to question what is felt, to inspire taking a deeper look. This is the Shadows voice, so to speak. Not everyone can hear it or is psychologically strong enough to question it. But it is there. Intrinsic in its nature ~ driving thoughts and behavior.

To take another side journey, I know that some of my conservative friends and family wont appreciate the idea of the Trump presidency as dark days for our country and its people. I accept that this is true for them and maybe for you. I do respect differing views and I certainly recognize that voting for Donald Trump, for most, wasn’t intended as a vote for racism. What, I hope each and every American citizen could agree on is that no one deserves mistreatment, should be devalued, or should lose their life because one person believes they have the inherent right to take that person’s life. And I think we would mostly agree (on the surface) that this is true.

It is painful to look at this topic. The topic of how a normative developmental need (at its core a survival process) has played an unintended role in the structure of us and our larger society. When we wrestle with the foundational meaning of racism and white privilege. It is uncomfortable, it feels shame based and it isn’t easy to feel this. It is, however, essential to take a deeper look, to fully understand, and to do better moving forward.

I don’t want (and I would believe most ~no matter political affiliation~ do not want) children to grow up seeing “red men and blue men”. That most of us want to see ourselves and the country we were raised in to be that place that we tell ourselves, our children, and the many that seek our country’s support, “that’s the great thing about living in our country we can have different thoughts and feelings and still love each other very much”.

Given human nature, competing economic and social needs, and the very real process around survival and attachment needs, this is a tall order. I would believe it starts with the adults in the lives of young children, and the societal structures around these adults, supporting inherent worth. Ideally we could move from teaching tolerance to understanding the innate value in each of us. A place where belonging means being part of the human group, where inclusion is not a question or a process, it is the norm.

Note: As always, I am adding potential resources for individual support at the end of this post. In addition, resources for taking direct action to assist families impacted by racial and gun violence, and social change are provided in recent posts  Collective Pain and Unrest, A Change is Needed, and Desensitization, Kindling for Emotional Defense.

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51 thoughts on “Shadow’s Voice: Red Man, Blue Man.

    1. My thought is in regard to the construct known as the shadow in Jungian and Freudian psychology as it connects to the normative developmental process of grouping. When not supported with acceptance of others that belief becomes deeply ingrained and not explored unless one has a reason to explore. Racism and white privilege have been placed in our direct path and need to be consciously and conscientiously explored and changed. Supporting acceptance not difference is the very foundation of making this needed change.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. Thank you so much for caring about the struggles and mistreatment of others. Sometimes its rare to find someone who looks outside of themselves so much to appreciate what other people go through. The world would be a better place if everyone thought like you did.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post! I remember visiting my daughter’s grade school in various years and going on field trips with her class. I was thrilled to see that it appeared her class was color-blind. Those children were not raised to be prejudiced or categorizing people in any fashion like red or blue. Quite a change from prior generations. Sadly, elsewhere, bigotry and prejudices of all forms were being taught and passed on. Some might say the veil was lifted on just how many were of this mindset when this administration gave them license to emerge from the shadows. The nation has a lot of healing to do. And I hope it will start with a cure for ignorance

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Such a thoughtful and beautiful post! I remember growing up, that we were told never to use the ‘N’ word in the house or in public. We were told it was demeaning and racist. To this day, I’ve always remembered that. I wonder how many other white households have had that same conversation. Obviously, not enough. I think you’re absolutely correct. It all starts early on in one’s life. It’s so important to try and set the right tone.
    Again, wonderful post!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m so glad you chose to offer some perspective on this particular issue. I’m sure a lot of us have had some ‘run ins’ on social media that are extra hot of late. I feel so strongly about what’s been happening in our country (like most!) and have lost a few friends on FB this week. While I’m not trying to be ‘argumentative’ my posts seem to elicit responses (from folks I’ve known a long time) that I find bullying, aggressive and intended (it feels) to quiet my voice. And, I’m just not going to go along with that (times are dire!). The only solution that’s felt ok is to block or unfriend those contacts. I’d love to engage respectfully and talk about all of this but that’s not been possible and I won’t tolerate bullying and/or threats. It seems like there should be room for loving each other while also disagreeing but mostly that seems to look like an unspoken pact to ignore or not comment. It helped to think about those experiences through a psychologically dipped lens of projection and unconsciously considered needs for belonging, attachment based in neurobiology (as it allows me to put down the ‘how can they possibly not get this’ attitude for a second). I’m so relieved to have a capable and dare I even say, inspired, new administration to lead us out of this dark and awful chapter. I want to celebrate that and will continue doing so! I appreciate your help in adding a layer of perspective and even compassion in dealing with those who view things differently than I. Maybe we will even start to find the ways forward that bring us all closer to a fuller understanding of what we’ve collectively experienced this last 4 years. I’m hoping so!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Great post and such a sensible perspective! Please allow me to make a slight adjustment to the following in order to be applicable to me: “What, I hope each and every American citizen could agree on is that no one deserves mistreatment, should be devalued, or should lose their life because one person believes they have the inherent right to take that person’s life. And I think we would mostly agree (on the surface) that this is true”
    I know the post is about your country’s current political landscape. We all unfortunately battle with poverty, racism and discrimination that’s also fuelled by political view points. I would love to add for each and every person (not just American citizen) in this world, it is applicable to all of us and that we all in this world should acknowledge that we have different thoughts and feelings and that we can still love and respect each other through our differences.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, the post is about America’s current political turmoil but also about human nature and the human struggle. I too believe that
      applies to all of us. I appreciate your thoughts and very much agree with what you have said. And, thank you for bringing this to my attention. Much care to you on this Monday morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Trump saved his worst for last (hopefully) with his inability to accept his loss and baseless claims that the election was stolen from him. Many accept this as true. The evidence is that Trumpism lost. That can’t happen in their version of America. The people who voted for Biden, especially the people of color, immigrants and intellectuals are illegitimate. America rightfully belongs only to them and the time when America was “great” and their authority and position in society was supreme. America has always existed on lofty ideals but a reality in stark contrast that people refused to see. The land of the free where all men were created equal had slavery, government imposed discrimination and segregation, domestic terror organizations that were widely accepted etc. That takes a lot of self delusion. Their fantasy has been stolen. They have never really cared about democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate what you have shared. It is such an unsettilng and ugly reality. There has never been genuine equality in our country. I too am hopeful that better days are ahead. I expect it’s gonig to be long, and its going to be difficult. I genuinely appreciate your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know what caused you to wander by my blog, but I’m happy you did. This article touches on something we many of us know, but perhaps couldn’t articulate so well. Nor do I know if you’re old enough to remember the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, ‘Teach your children well’? It’s a favourite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that. I will tell you I found your wonderful site due to a lovely mention your received on “Inside My Sling Bag”. I love her thoughts and versatile writing. I am glad to see your work, as well. I look forward to more.

      Like

  8. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I literally have goosebumps over my entire body. I was labeled rebellious, weird, wild … I could list many more negative terms used but I am no longer attaching to those terms … I have a biracial daughter living in the South, I have an opinion, and get told more often than I like that I do not look like the “type”; to be an addict/alcoholic. I have a strong presence but over time I realized I have played a role my entire life. It’s quite disheartening and when reflecting, delusional. It is tragic, in fact. All of these beliefs instilled in me from childhood, within my immediate family, that haunt me. And all because I did not think as they did. Instead of encouraging my unique curiousities, I was deemed abnormal. I’ve always known different yet communication was not fostered. The result of this type of conditioning, I am finding, created a tormented life. Now at 42 years old I am learning about myself and I can tell ya, it hasn’t been fun due to the shame of who I became.

    Having my own child, 19 years ago, began my awakening. Much of her childhood I was a robot until I broke. A lifetime of “functional” substance abuse will do it alone but add trauma and it’s another level of painful discoveries. I have to admit though that I can see where, as a parent, I broke a toxic cycle; within my family and my immediate society.
    My daughter was given the role of royalty based on kindness and let me tell ya, she made it her own!! So much so she encouraged me to find my crown. I apologize for the lengthy comment. 🤓🤭

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As it appears, from my personal perspective, we are heading in the right direction. I have been sober for 5 years and 7 months and if I am honest, it has felt like nothing but punishment. I say so because of the current state of our society. It is definitely difficult to change in a world that appears to be stuck in a vicious cycle. It was much easier to be what everyone else needed. I am hopeful that my perspective of my journey will soon change with an increase of self-value.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sending you lots of care as you continue on. 5 years and 7 mo this is an incredible accomplishment. The world is uncertain right now, and I too agree that we are “heading in the right direction “. Our awareness has greatly improved which is always the first step and there are many many good things that are unfolding. It will take time , and there will of course be rocky places and more uncomfortable learning. I think this is true with all good and worthy things do. I admire your strength on your journey . It is a truly good and worthy process🤍.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, what a powerful post, LaDonna. This here, “There is much internal and external work that must be done to both understand and repair (for lack of a much better word) these realities,” is so very true. A very thoughtful analysis. Well done.❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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