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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.


The Shadow of “Shadow”

Jung, Integral, Spirituality, and Human Development

Joseph Dillard

The closer we look at the concept of “shadow” the more an embarrassment it becomes.

“Shadow,” a highly adaptable concept derived from CG Jung,[1] is typically used in therapy and by Integral AQAL to refer to unrecognized or repressed aspects of ourselves.[2] Shadow makes itself known through nightmares, personality dysfunction, problematic relationships, loss, and the various defense mechanisms, particularly projection. Wilber makes use of the concept in his 3-2-1 Shadow Work. Here are some examples of his understanding of “shadow."

“The shadow is a term representing the personal unconscious or the psychological material that we repress, deny, dissociate or disown. Unfortunately, denying this material doesn't make it go away; on the contrary, it returns to plague us with painful neurotic symptoms, obsessions, fears and anxieties. Uncovering, befriending, and re-owning this material is necessary not only for removing the painful symptoms, but for forming an accurate and healthy self-image.”[3]

The shadow can also involve projection:

“Those items in the environment (people or things) that strongly affect us instead of just informing us are usually our own projections. Items that bother us, upset us, repulse us or at the other extreme, attract us, compel us, obsess us—these are usually reflections of the shadow. As an old proverb has it:

I looked, and looked, and this I came to see:
That what I thought was you and you,
Was really me and me.”

“…shadow projection not only distorts our view of reality “out there,” it also greatly changes our feeling of self “in here”. When I project some emotion or trait as shadow, I still continue to perceive it but only in a distorted and illusory fashion—it appears as an “object out there.” Likewise, I still continue to feel the shadow, but only in a distorted and disguised fashion—once the shadow is projected, I feel it only as a symptom.”[5]

“So, in just this way, symptoms—far from being undesirable—are opportunities for growth…Through your symptoms you find your shadow, and through your shadow you find growth, and expansion of boundaries, a path to an accurate and acceptable self-image…It's almost as simple as this: persona + shadow = ego.”[6]

“…even advanced meditators and spiritual teachers are often haunted by psychopathology, as their shadows chase them to Enlightenment and back, leaving roadkill all along the way. The good news is that this is fairly easily remedied.”[7]
“As you begin to explore your opposites, your shadow, your projections, you will begin to find that you are assuming responsibility for your own feelings and your own states of mind. You will start to see that most battles between you and other people are really battles between you and your projected opposites. You will start to see that your symptoms are not something that the environment is doing to you, but something you are doing to yourself as an exaggerated substitute for what you would really like to do to others. You will find that people and events don't cause you to be upset, but are merely the occasions for you to upset yourself. It is a tremendous relief when you first understand that you yourself are producing your own symptoms, because that also means you can stop producing those symptoms by translating them back to their original form.”[8]

All of this is late 20th Century, doctrinaire psychology. The general purpose of “recognizing and owning your shadow” is to integrate into your sense of self those influences that would otherwise be barriers to balance and development. This is all very good and helpful, as far as it goes. The problem is that it doesn't go far enough, nor does it take us where we intend to go. As a result, at some point we have to “unlearn” or “contextualize” “shadow.” The closer we look at the concept of “shadow” the more an embarrassment it becomes, and I say that as a psychotherapist with over forty years of broad-based practice, and as someone who was once a True Believer in “shadow.”

There are many issues that don't belong to us.

As Wilber well notes, shadow work is at its strongest in helping us own, or take responsibility for, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Since we cannot change what we do not own, shadow work is an important step toward empowerment. We re-own threats and strengths disguised as weaknesses as well as previously unrecognized potentials. We withdraw our projections and integrate them into a broader, more inclusive self-concept. For many people, the concept of the shadow is a preventative from over-objectification of experience, as when we have a dream of deceased uncle Fred and conclude, “It's always comforting to know he is still around.” Now while that may be true, it may also be true that we are comforted by a projected experience from our memory, and this possibility, being simpler, while less satisfying, should probably be considered first.

Taking responsibility for our thoughts and feelings is one thing, but it is quite another to say we create our happiness or sadness, when in fact what others do or don't do, can and does create the contexts which largely determine the scope and nature of our physical, mental, and emotional choices. To start with the question, “How much of this mess (or beauty, or comfort) am I creating for myself?” is an important and useful initial approach, which can lead to significant integration of shadow. However, to own that which we did not create and have no power to control, is foolish and beyond that, unhelpful. When Wilber says,

“You will start to see that your symptoms are not something that the environment is doing to you, but something you are doing to yourself as an exaggerated substitute for what you would really like to do to others,”

he is making something of an overstatement. To take a concrete example, the pain of whiplash from being rear-ended is a symptom. Is it something you are doing to yourself? Is it an exaggerated substitute for what you would really like to do to others? This is an example of how the concept of “shadow” can lead us into some of the most deranged psychobabble imaginable. The thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others, the culture we were born into, and the political, economic, and educational realities of our society, while our collective responsibility and creation, are not our individual responsibility, nor did we create them. Consequently, to make everything and everyone into some aspect of ourselves, either recognized as such or as unrecognized “shadow,” is grandiose. I remember what a revelation it was for me when I realized I could be too responsible, and that claiming responsibility for everything I experienced was a form of narcissistic magical thinking. The fact that I was in my mid-thirties and had been a practicing psychotherapist for some fifteen years is embarrassing; but if I could be so deluded for so long, how common is this assumption among therapists?

There are many issues that are only partially self-aspects.

Viewing others, whether humans or objects, whether experienced in real life, a dream, or even a fantasy, as simply self-aspects, while the current vogue in some schools of therapy, is reductionistic, in that it denies objectivity to those perspectives, values, preferences, and world views that contain important perspectives and characteristics that do not belong to us and are largely “other.” It also discounts the independent reality of the world, moving us not only toward idealism, but solipsism. For example, if you interview a dream cloud, the “knife” responsible for the “knife-like” pain in your back, or the experience of oneness from your mystical experience, you may identify some, perhaps most elements of what they say, as “shadow,” that is, as repressed or unrecognized self-aspects. However, if you do enough interviews, or look closely enough at what the cloud, knife, or oneness say, you will find that they typically manifest or personify important elements that are authentically “not-self,” in that they do not represent your world view, your values, your emotions, or your behavior. Years ago I was grief-stricken over the death of a close friend, Jess, in a small plane accident. In a dream some months later I met him; overjoyed, I knew Jess was dead. I asked him how he was, how it was. Jess assured me he was fine and then told me three things about his possessions he wanted his wife to know. When I passed on this information to her, it was both helpful and moving. I do not share that anecdote to argue for the existence of life after death, but to point out that in the dream I got information that was clearly “not self;” it did not concern me; it wasn't my responsibility. We do not have to claim autonomous objective existence of Jess to agree that what I received had nothing to do with any definition of “self” that makes sense to most people. Of course Jess was and is partially a self-aspect; there's no denying it. But there is much more to this experience than is covered by Jung's or Wilber's definitions of “shadow.”

It is not unusual to interview perspectives (like clouds, knives, or the tunnel from a near death experience), that may (or may not) possess more inner peace than we do. For inner peace to be disowned we would first have had to possess it. But if no history of inner peace exists, how does it make sense to call it disowned, suppressed, or repressed shadow? It doesn't. How can I project some aspect of myself that I have never identified with? Is it not grandiose to consider something to be a self-aspect if I have never owned it?

For example, I have a seventeen-year old client, Carl, who keeps dreaming of murderous, axe-wielding clowns. Carl wakes up terrified. When the clowns were interviewed, they were supremely confident, a characteristic Carl totally lacks. The traditional psychological explanation is that these clowns are a manifestation of Carl's “shadow,” and that Carl has “split off” his confidence in a hideous, misleading, and fearful form. However, the confidence exuded by the persona of this clown was wholly foreign and unnatural for Carl; he has never had it or experienced its confidence, although it would certainly be fair to say Carl has greatly wished for it. If confidence, inner peace, or murderous rage have never been part of our identity, to what extent does it make sense to say that they are self-aspects? It doesn't.

What makes sense is to refer to such qualities, good, bad, and ugly, as emerging potentials, which is a completely different sort of reality from disowned or repressed aspects of self. Some practitioners define “shadow” as containing emerging potentials, like confidence or inner peace. But such a framing is so vague and broad, and implies that we already own every possible potential, as to throw us back into the first problem, of grandiosity. To extend our definition of ourselves to include anything and everything, as is typically done by employing concepts such as personal and collective unconscious, does not reflect any realistic definition of self. For example, threatening nightmare antagonists like Carl's clown are not experienced as self-aspects, and to later define them as such does not change our experience of them any more than to define world conflicts, as between the US and Russia, as self-aspects.

Using “shadow” as the negative aspect of a developmental level misrepresents development.

When a spiritual guru who is commonly assessed as being highly developed is discovered to be a child molester, what are we to conclude about his or her actual level of development? If we say, “He or she is Teal, Turquoise, or Coral, and just had a slip into shadow,” how is that going to go down with the victimized child or their relatives? If you were the victim, or a parent of the victim, what would you think of that formulation? How is that going to go down in a court of law? We have a real world example in the recent crush of exposés of molesting religious figures, particularly Catholic priests. These are people who present themselves and who parishioners believe to be, evolved to higher levels of development. Of course the Church has ordained them and maintains their status, thereby both endorsing them and taking supervisory responsibility for their conduct. The church is thereby vouching for their credibility and moral rectitude. When spiritual authorities are not held accountable by out-groups, such as the state or non-Catholics, they are able to maintain the illusion of their high level of development in the eyes of parishioners despite chronic, centuries long, abuse of children. It does not do to say that it is obvious that such authorities are actually prepersonal or early personal in their development, because this is not how they portray themselves, nor is it how those affiliated with their institutions portray them. From the perspective of victims, the courts, and objective others in the global commons, it does not matter what their actual level of development is; the reality is that they are alleging that they are exemplars of non-abusive behavior when in fact they are abusers. That is the salient reality, not the level of development they or others ascribe to them. In this regard, attainment to some high level of development is a conceit that confuses interior quadrant intent with overall development.

One way to get a bead on this distinction is to ask yourself, “Would I rather put my child in the care of a child-molesting spiritual leader or in the care of a farmer's daughter that doesn't know how to read and write? I don't know about you, but for me there is no contest. Actual or purported level of development is irrelevant when fundamental security and safety needs are at issue. What is so difficult about this concept? It appears to be quite obvious, yet so many teachers and students of levels of development seem to ignore it altogether. Why?

In this regard, assessments of level of development are fundamentally unhinged from assessments of abuse both by the abused and courts of law. Do you think you are stabilized at vision-logic or higher? So do most gurus. How many of those gurus have been discovered to be abusers? Is that abuse simply “shadow” or does it point to high development in some lines and low development in the normative line? We can play the “level of development” game all we want, but when we have to face our accusers publicly, they won't care what level we think we have attained, or our in-groups believe we have attained, nor should they. The elites in the UK, France, and the US are currently discovering this highly uncomfortable truth, after centuries of living under a cloud of delusional grandiosity, successfully avoiding the day of reckoning.

While level of development is largely determined by inner quadrant determinants, such as cognition, level of consciousness, style of problem solving, IQ, intention, professed values, and judgment, the abusiveness of behavior is determined by the assessments of others in the lower right quadrant, particularly those not in our in-groups. An “in-group” is some collective with which we identify. It could be our family, peers, religious or political affiliation, sports club, or nation. An “out-group” is some collective with which we don't identify. Progressives and those who imagine they are at some high level of development probably don't identify with “deplorables.” The plutocracy in the US and EU that controls the media doesn't want you to identify with Arabs (they're “terrorists”), Russia or China. They work hard to make these out-groups to you, while bankers, Wall St., the government, and the media are presented as trusted authorities with whom you should identify. What is intrinsically so terrible about fellow human beings in our out-groups that we cannot or should not offer them reciprocal protection of their human rights?

If tetra-mesh, that is, the balancing of all four quadrants in order to advance to a higher level of development, requires that the lower right quadrant be taken into account, then the assessments of others, particularly those not in our in-groups, are required for advancement to any higher level. We need to pay attention to what the Arabs, Russians, and Chinese, for instance, think of us and how they gauge our level of development. This does not mean that their assessments are correct, only that they represent sources of objectivity not available within our in-groups. However, the common failure to consult or to consider the legitimacy of the assessments of out-groups is a confirmation that we do not want challenges to our elitist and elevationistic assessments of our level of development. In addition, the belief that abuse is the “shadow” of some higher level of development is in this way a convenient dodge of public accountability and responsibility. There is nothing integral about it. Those who allege that validation by our in-groups is in fact a signifier of higher overall development, as opposed to high development in this or that line, need to be confronted and asked to explain how such rationalizations would go down with victims of abuse and in courts of law.

High line development is mistaken for high overall development.

As Wilber has pointed out, development is not only conditioned by level of development; it is also conditioned by the particular lines with which we identify, such as the cognitive or “spiritual intelligence” lines, and limited by those lines which are core, yet with which we do not particularly exemplify, even if we do identify with them, in particular the moral or normative line. Most of us think of ourselves as moral, forgetting or minimizing evidence that might be presented by x-spouses, college pals, or old business partners. (“That was a long time ago.”)[9] Normally, we identify with our most highly developed lines, because this is where we have put in the most time and effort and where we are likely to receive the most reinforcement. For example, because the cognitive line leads, and Integral AQAL provides a multi-perspectival, vision-logic view of life, we tend to assume we have attained overall development to “2nd Tier,” because we understand AQAL, when in reality, this variety of multi-perspectivalism is merely an aptitude of our cognitive line. For those interested in Integral AQAL, our self-definition is likely to also include the spiritual intelligence line, as many of us were attracted to AQAL due to personal mystical experiences, indicating access to transpersonal states. But people can be quite brilliant on the cognitive line, as were Rajneesh (Osho) and DaFree John, and still not be people you would want to leave alone with your daughter. People can have all sorts of stunning mystical experiences, like Maharaji, and totally neglect one's body and health.

Similarly, we tend to disidentify with those lines we neglect or which are not reinforced by our in-groups. This is a problem when a line is core, like morality, because its neglect blocks development. Discrimination against unbelievers, women, and minorities has been the rule, rather than the exception, among meditative orders throughout history, indicating high line development (spiritual intelligence) and low overall development. When we do not practice reciprocity in one or more role, the moral line is not cultivated. The result is that our development is typically highly off-balance: impressively high in some socially desirable competencies and embarrassingly low in demonstrating reciprocity to out-groups. Because balance among core lines (at least cognition, self-lines, and morality) is required for tetra-mesh to higher levels of overall development, such imbalances keep stage to stage development from occurring overall. What happens instead is stage-to-stage development in lines, which we mistake for overall development. To maintain this ruse, any moral lapses have to be excused as “shadow.” This is a profound misuse, even abuse, not only of the concept of shadow, but of our conception of who we are. If someone is a non-dual meditator, or demonstrates psychic abilities, what does that tell us about how high their overall development is? If someone has managed to make a lot of money, what does that say about their overall level of development? If someone is a genius inventor, like Edison, or a brilliant theoretician, like Einstein, what conclusions can we draw about their overall level of development? Answer: not much. Yet still, we are inclined to generalize competency in one area to other, perhaps all areas. This is a cognitive bias and a logical fallacy that appears to be relatively endemic to humanity. It's a real problem For example, if our in-groups prioritize profit, as businesses and corporations do, worker productivity is maximized while worker benefits tend to be minimized, wherever legally permissable. If our in-groups prioritize “might makes right,” as American nationalism and global imperialism does, concern for the rights of the weak is not going to be a priority, regardless of vacuous talk about democracy, freedom, and liberty. If our in-groups prioritize “exceptionalism,” as do most party, religious, military, professional, and national affiliations, we are going to give priority to our own in-group needs and values, not to reciprocity.[10] If our in-groups prioritize the manufacturing of consent over reason and objectivity, we will tend to favor our world view and culture over a respect for the right of others to hold a similar preference for their own world view. In all these instances, we place reciprocity, and therefore fundamental norms of justice, secondary to what pays the bills, raises our status in our in-group, or strokes our ego. So it is no surprise that if cognition is the leading line, morality is quite likely to be the lagging line. In fact, Wilber is known for the formulation, “The cognitive line leads.” To that needs to be added a second formulation: the moral line lags,” meaning it is typically neglected, under-developed, ignored, with its lagging reality hidden by multiple rationalizations, such as immorality as “shadow” of higher stages, or the confusion of moral judgment (the Kohlberg-Wilber description of morality) with validation of lower right reciprocity.[11]

If we greatly over-estimate the overall level of development of others or ourselves based on proficiency in one or more line, we are setting ourselves up to be judged inauthentic and elitist by others and by history. It is not merely a matter of denying the significance of our moral lapses in the eyes of those who are victimized; it is a matter of avoiding accountability to our out-groups and to future generations. It is a form of self-serving, short-sighted delusion. The same problems with pleading “shadow” as a defense of bad behavior applies to lines as much as it does to levels. It does not matter to victims of abuse or to the determination of history whether our abuse was due to shadow of a level, a role, or a line. Others will view it as simply failing a basic normative test of reciprocity, which separates pre-conventional morality from amorality and humans from animals.

Defining problems as “shadow” can be a way of excusing bad behavior.

Wilber has repeatedly done this when he has made excuses for the abuses of his spiritual teachers and pandit buddies, including Da Free John, Andrew Cohen, and Marc Gafni. Do their victims consider them “rude boys?” What would a court of law conclude about such a description? Let us imagine that I attack you and argue in court that my actions were the “shadow” of my high level of development. What is the court likely to conclude? Would that argument hold any legal standing whatsoever? Amazingly, this is a common “special pleading” in all sorts of criminal cases: the accused is “a good citizen”; they are philanthropists; they are too important to jail. The reason courts of law generally do not accept this argument is because it misrepresents the nature and impact of abuse by siding with the intention of the perpetrator rather than, as law requires, giving the victim the benefit of the doubt. When a court does side with a perpetrator on the grounds of special pleading, the first assumption to rule out is that the court is corrupt. It may not be, but follow the money. If integral is going to claim to represent justice, it must maintain an objectivity regarding the claims of persecutors and victims. The concept of “shadow” tends to let persecutors avoid responsibility for their abuse.

I say this in the context of having worked with minors who wrongly accused parents and grandparents of sexual molestation. Minors are to be given the benefit of the doubt, just as women and children require special standing in times of war. This prioritization does indeed sometimes result in injustices done to innocent parties, with those injustices supported by the state. However, such circumstances are exceptions. The ethical principle is that the weak are to be protected from the strong, and that the powerful are to be held to a higher level of responsibility, transparency, and accountability than are the weak. In contrast, elitism protects its own, and labeling abuse within in-groups as “shadow” is one way of covering for people who need to be held accountable.

Defining problems as “shadow” can be used as a way to ignore abuse associated with a role.

In addition to the impact of levels and lines, development is conditioned by the roles we take, which are largely determined by external collective, lower right, social and cultural requirements and assumptions. Therefore, we have seen that a person can be assessed as at any high developmental level, and be quite highly developed in any number of lines, such as spiritual intelligence, having had all manner of mystical experiences, and be incredibly smart, and still assume roles that manifest developmental functioning at prepersonal levels. Non-dual meditating Japanese Zen monks killing for the Emperor during WWII is one example. Another is Hillary Clinton, who espouses minority rights while having supported the invasion of foreign countries, the assassination of leaders, and the arming of terrorists. Clinton provides a vivid example of someone who obviously is at least late personal in her cognitive development, who morally acted at a pre-conventional level in powerful roles as Senator and Secretary of State. Philip Zimbardo's famous “Prison Experiment” at Stanford demonstrated that almost anyone can be turned into an abuser if they adopt a role that requires abuse. If incentives are added to the mix, such as salary, status, and peer pressure, the likelihood of practicing abuse within abusive roles becomes almost inevitable.

When we see such a split in ourselves or others, we cannot conclude that our overall development is “really” the highest level we have attained based on some formulation of level development, or a reflection of outstanding development on this or that line, or that abusive actions we take are therefore simply a “shadow” of some higher stage. Instead, we have to conclude that willingness to abuse, within this or that role, regardless of how moral we are in all other roles, determines our actual overall level, because it defeats the tetra-mesh that is required for level to level development. That is the case unless we are willing to say that the impact of our actions on others is irrelevant to our level of development. I, for one, am unwilling to go there.

We observe the use of “shadow” to ignore abuse associated with role when someone in the military pleads innocence because they were “only following orders.” Not only has this been recognized as an illegitimate defense in international law since Nuremburg, it asks us to judge the behavior of one another on the basis of non-abusive roles (“I'm innocent; I'm not responsible; I'm the victim here.”) and ignore or discount the importance or reality of behavior in abusive roles. Politicians, CEOs, the rich and powerful often play this card, pleading that they are forced by their societal role to be abusive. This is basically the attitude of the US Department of Justice under both Republican and Democratic administrations. It does not prosecute white collar crime. The message is that the roles of elites in a purportedly “democratic” society immunize them from the consequences that would be visited upon you or me if we were to do the same. These people often rationalize their abuse as a “heavy burden” they have to carry, or else the security of the state would be endangered. These behaviors and rationalizations cannot be expected to change until people no longer profit from taking abusive roles. That is, laws need to be re-written so that all wealth accrued within the “job description” of an abusive role is to be confiscated. Otherwise, fines are just costs of doing business and in-group status is maintained in the face of abusive behavior. Corporate heads will tell you that if they do not break the law to get an advantage, their competition will. The confiscation of all personal wealth made by people in such roles is the only realistic deterrent. Soldiers, special forces, and intelligence services tell us that if they do not kill first, we will be killed. This is the common argument to legitimize torture. Ultimately, the only societal answer is to de-legitimatize societal roles that authorize and condone abuse.

Indeed, people who are monsters in one role can be model citizens outside of abusive roles. I remember an account by a Chilean, who happened to meet his torturer on a city street in Santiago, some years after the end of the despotism of the Pinochet regime. The torturer greeted him like an old friend and even offered to help his previous victim to find employment. This is a bizarre but rather common reflection of the ability of humans to disassociate abusive actions in some role with their self-image. US Presidents and war leaders, like Winston Churchill provide salient examples. Their “self” has climbed the developmental ladder and attained some lofty level, and for them their abuse doesn't define who they are. Such a narrative is a convenient self-serving delusion and avoidance of responsibility. When you are the victim of theft or some other crime, you do not want your case to be tried by a judge who ignores the abuse of your assailant because their behavior was the “shadow” of their normal, respectable personality. You would consider that to be a betrayal of justice, and you would be correct.

The impact of socio-cultural role is typically de-emphasized in models of stage development. Why? It may be because the ambiguity and multiplicity of roles threatens the idea of a singular self which climbs the developmental ladder.[12] If I can climb quite high in developmental level and yet be a murderer within the context of a political or military role I take on, what does that say about my actual level of development? Will those that I abuse believe that I am acting from a good, noble, and moral place? Not only will they not do so, in the real world those that give abusers the benefit of the doubt are often considered psychologically dysfunctional, like a battered spouse that continues to go back to his or her abuser, or cult members who continue to obey the authority of an abusive guru, like Jim Jones. It sometimes seems as if the entire populations of the contemporary West are victims of a Patty Hearst-type Stockholm Syndrome, in that we consistently minimize, forgive, and even identify with our abusers. When we allow our socio-cultural roles to define our character, we also allow those roles to define our level of development, regardless of evidence that in other roles we do indeed perform at high levels on multiple lines. Barack Obama is an excellent example of this phenomena. Here is a guy who performs at least at late personal in the roles of Constitutional scholar and social welfare advocate. However, no one can wage multiple wars, bail out bankers at the expense of millions of homeowners, sign off on extra-legal drone assassinations, and deprive individuals of liberty because they expose the lies of the state, and claim any high level of overall development. What we can claim for Obama is high development on the cognitive and various other auxiliary lines. You can also claim for him high competence in any number of socio-cultural roles.

A similar analysis applies to spiritual gurus, like Marc Gafni or Andrew Cohen: high on the cognitive line, high in spiritual intelligence, proficient in the role of spiritual teacher, but somewhere between amoral and pre-conventional in ethical behavior. Abuse, particularly when it is repeated, is enough to blow trust, credibility, and claims to high overall development. This is because, for development to mean anything at all, it has to pass basic tests of reciprocity, as validated by the broadest social and intrasocial collectives. Reciprocity refers to a mutually respectful exchange, in which the values of the other are honored, whether or not we agree with them. We see this principle every day in commercial transactions, in which ideological orientation, sexual preferences, tattoos and body piercings are totally irrelevant to giving correct change. We see it in human relations in general, when we honor the value others put on their lives and possessions as essentially equivalent to our own. This criteria, in his role as President, Obama was not willing to meet, regardless of his capability to do so. For Obama in the role of President, human rights often were subordinated to other concerns. His decisions to do so were not due to the “shadow” of a late personal (or possibly higher) level of development, but due to conscious decisions to subordinate reciprocity to the demands of freely chosen socio-cultural roles as Senator and President.

Defining problems as “shadow” can be a way of maintaining our elite status despite our abusive behaviors.

To call people “advanced” in their developmental level, who subordinate reciprocity and the fundamental (conventional) level of moral development that it represents, is a perversion of what “development” means, because it excuses and minimizes the reality of crimes against humanity that are in direct conflict with fundamental human rights. If justice is not given the rank of “stopper” in our assessment of level of overall development, then we are saying that respect for collective normative standards is not a criteria for overall stage to stage development. Instead, we are probably mistaking stage development in this or that line for overall stage development. An assessment of performance in one or more high line or role represents or is taken to be overall development. That is a basic line-level fallacy, made possible by our over-identification with our strong lines and our ignoring and minimization of our weak core lines, with the help of our in-groups. We overlook abuse in others because we want them to overlook the same in us; we overlook abuse in others because we excuse the flaws in those in our in-groups, since calling them out creates cognitive dissonance. If I am a Catholic and I accuse my priest of pedophilia, it is going to call into question my entire belief system, world view, and core sense of values. It will also cause me major problems with other Catholics. And if I am correct, and my priest has indeed been molesting children, and I did not believe it, what does that say about my judgment? We see this same sort of denial in voters who continue to support politicians and parties that have repeatedly proven themselves corrupt and morally bankrupt. To re-evaluate our mistaken assumptions is a threat to our identity.

If I am a charismatic spiritual teacher with multiple experiences of enlightenment, and I also repeatedly abuse my students, what are you to conclude? Some students will excuse bad behavior in their gurus because they are dependent on their relationship with them, again, like a battered spouse in a violent relationship. In other cases, recognizing abusive behavior creates too much cognitive dissonance. We need our leaders to be the idealized humans we imagine them to be. This is because if they are not, it is a threat to our own hopes and wishes for who we want to be, who we aspire to be. If our idealized leaders are exposed as corrupt and criminal, like the Catholic Priests mentioned above, what does that say about our judgment? What does that say about our complicity in their abuses? What does that say about our own character? Do you and I want to say, “I was fooled?” Do we want to say, “I have aided and abetted abuse and abusers?” Do we want to say,“I bear responsibility for my willingness to cover for this abusive behavior, because by doing so I have allowed it to continue?”

Excusing behavior based on shadow allows us to be manipulated by the powerful.

We assess the overall competence of people we admire as high and assess the overall competence of those we disagree with or dislike as low. We generally want to associate with celebrities and famous people. Why? We generally ignore or excuse their foibles and abuses. Why? We typically assume that people who are social pariahs are people we wouldn't want to seek out or be around. Why? Donald Trump is a contemporary example. It can be assumed that one factor that led some people to vote for him was his wealth and the status and power that accrued to him from that wealth. These are prepersonal wants and needs, and they can be so strong that we go into persistent denial regarding the character aberrations of those who represent them to us. Pre-rational wishful thinking, based on the hope that we can be like them, keeps us blind and stupid. Casting an angry protest vote simply keeps us locked in voting for Pepsi or Coke. For those we hold up as exemplars we deny that they are abusers or, if they are clearly abusers, their immoral behavior is mere “shadow.” Watch in the coming electoral cycle the rationalizations advocates will make for the bad behaviors of their preferred candidates. If their abuse is all too obvious, as in the case of Trump, supporters find ways of excusing it, as “understandable abuse,” as in, “boys will be boys.” If you don't condone Trump's abuse, fine; I don't either. But think of someone you admire and go through this same thought experiment with them in your mind. Do you have trouble seeing the abusive characteristics of someone you idolize? If you don't know of any, do you not want to know? If you do know of abusive characteristics in someone you admire, how do you reconcile them with your admiration?[13]

In summary…

Helping people take ownership of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that they have disowned, projected, repressed, or suppressed is vitally important, and one can use the concept of “shadow” to do so. Consequently, “shadow” is most likely to be beneficial to those at any level of development that have problems taking responsibility. However, it is quite possible to overlearn taking responsibility, and at some point we will grow faster if we stop looking at ourselves and our conflicts through the framing of “shadow,” due to the several significant limitations enumerated above. Therefore, it is wise to consider the possibility of other approaches that do not have to be unlearned.

One alternative that can accomplish the same goal without encountering these pitfalls is to label as “emerging potentials” whatever one has been calling “shadow.” This terminology does not imply “parts” or self-aspects, identification with the negative manifestations of any stage or line, nor does it encourage blindness to the moral depravity of common social roles, or the unrealistic idealization of role models. It also discourages identification with this or that developmental level and instead focuses on the fundamental and primary criteria of reciprocity as a manifestation of respect for justice. It does so out of the awareness that people care about how you treat them; they care much less what level you think you are on or what level you think they are on, or what lines they have or have not developed. Until Integral changes its focus to the lower right criteria of attaining and maintaining normative credibility, it is unlikely to be taken seriously by a broader audience. Instead, its formulations will be viewed as elitist and as peripheral to the fundamental issues that concern people in their interactions with others: “Can I trust you?” “When?” “In what ways?” “Will you respect me, as demonstrated by keeping your commitments and hearing my point of view, even if you disagree with it?”

Approach any formulation that sees abusive behavior as the “shadow” of some higher level of development with great suspicion and skepticism. Remember that things that look like “shadow” may not be, and that the assumption that something is “shadow” may block you from listening to what the stimulus itself says that it is. You can trust people you admire in certain roles and deplore their behavior in other roles. Honoring others by demonstrating basic reciprocity is more important than what level of development you or they have achieved. The quest for elite status is a prepersonal, emotionally-driven pursuit. Balanced development is much more important to health and well-being than high development in one or more lines. The concept of “emerging potentials” avoids many of the pitfalls associated with the concept of “shadow.”[14]


[1] Dillard, J., The Shadow, Carl Jung, and IDL. This essay is a rather detailed exploration of the meanings Jung gave his term “shadow,” which refers to dark, unwanted repressed aspects of self that are an evolutionary throwback, and confrontation is required to deal with it,

[2] I have previously addressed some of the issues that are covered here, but more specifically addressing the contexts of Wilber's 3-2-1 Shadow Work and its relationship to my own, Integral Deep Listening: Dillard, J., Problematic Aspects of Wilber's 3-2-1 Shadow Work.

[3] Wilber, K., The Integral Vision, p. 187

[4] Wilber, K., No Boundary, p. 85

[5] Wilber, K., No Boundary, p. 87

[6] Wilber, K. No Boundary. pp. 89-90.

[7] Wilber, K., Integral Spirituality, Chapter Six, The Shadow And The Disowned Self

[8] Wilber, K., No Boundary, p. 91

[9] The reason this “explanation” is in fact a rationalization is that it ignores the timelessness of roles. That we are not currently in a pernicious, abusive role is no reason to believe we cannot or will not slip into one tomorrow. It is a foolish, short-sighted person who cannot imagine multiple scenarios in which they could make choices that would abuse others. It makes far more sense to assume that all of us are vulnerable to committing abuse, given the right circumstances or social role, and to base our assessment of our level of development on that reality, not on how far we have developed on this or that line, how much in-group status we have attained, wealth we have accumulated, or the wonderfulness of our mystical experiences of oneness. But the delusion that our intentions, rather than our actual behavior, as judged by non-group members, is the real determiner of our level of development, is so deep-seated that the findings of Zimbardo, Milgram, and others, are usually rationalized away.

[10] They believe, falsely, that the U.S. is always well intended. Mistakes are made, there are fuck ups, but the U.S. always means well. It is that illusion that must be eradicated to change U.S. foreign policy...You make accidental mistakes that kill millions.” This is a cognitive bias, a trait of human nature, one that gives us, our in-groups, and our intentions the benefit of the doubt and excuses all manner of corruption and criminality. We tend to maintain this rationalization until we are forced, generally by the instigation of law, to abandon it.

[11] For a discussion of this issue, see Dillard, J., The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy, IntegralWorld.Net. Part 1, Part 2

[12] Wilber attempts to address this issue with the distinction between distal and proximal selves. Distal selves are multiple and include our social roles while our proximal self is the incorporation of such roles followed by their transcendence as definers of identity. But notice that regardless of one's distal self, if it commits intentional abuse in any role it does not pass primary level standards of trustworthiness or justice in the eyes of those who are abused or the greater global commons that are not functionally a part of their in-group.

[13] We can indeed reconcile abuse with greatness. We can hold each other accountable for abuse by setting up transparent systems of accountability that catch and confront it. Indeed, with the history of what we have said and done more permanently and globally accessible on the internet, it is more a statement about us, and our desire to believe a comfortable lie than to confront each other with uncomfortable truths. Also, we can recognize that abuse in this line or that role does not mean that a person is not an excellent friend and outstanding resource in other areas.

[14] The concept of “emerging potentials” is elaborated at IntegralDeepListening.Com

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