Horror Movies, Shadow Selves, Braiiiiins and Non-Duality

July 19, 2013 by Chris Grosso

crazy ralph

“You’re doomed… You’re all doomed.”

~ Crazy Ralph, Friday the 13th

Horror movies, hoodies and pumpkin flavored everything. Yes, fall is my absolute favorite time of year and it’s basically been that way since I was first introduced to films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th as a young boy while sleeping over friends houses (unbeknownst to our parents of course). Since then, autumn, Halloween and the celebration of all things spooky and unknown have held a special place in my heart. I mean, anytime you combine monsters, goblins, aliens and zombies with a ton of candy, well, what’s not to love?

Recently however, I found myself taking a deeper look at the cultural celebration of Halloween while standing in an extremely long line with my wife waiting to embark on a 45-minute walk through a “haunted graveyard” attraction. For whatever reason, I became utterly fascinated by the fact—as if this was the first time I’d ever seen people celebrating Halloween—that for many people, the month of October means coming together in celebration of things they would otherwise normally consider gross, barbaric, risqué and evil. 

I mean, I’m a complete weirdo so I find entertainment in these things year round, but for others, the so-called “normal” folks out there in the world, I couldn’t help but find it exceptionally interesting that they joyfully partake in celebrating things like blood, severed body parts, death and chainsaw wielding maniacs once the month of October rolls around.

Psychosocially speaking, within the Jungian classification system there’s a personality type called “Type T,” which means the person is stimulation seeking, excitement seeking, thrill seeking, arousal seeking, and risk taking, and while that helped me to make some sense of others attraction to all things horror in October, I found that it doesn’t quite sum up my own fascination.

With the exception of my literal life and death relationship with addiction, I’m typically the farthest thing from a thrill seeker. I’ve never been one to go on roller coasters, nor do I have any interest whatsoever of bungee jumping or skydiving. Hell, I’ll even push my foot down on the floor while riding in the front passenger seat of a car when the driver gets too close to the car in front of us—as if I have the ability to control the brakes myself. Yes, it’s really like that.

Years ago I learned about a concept that comes from Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung, which he called the shadow self, and in retrospect, I now see how this shadow self directly relates to my infatuation with all things spooky and fear inducing. Jung taught that our shadow self is the denied aspects of who we are, as well as the social masks we wear. He also taught that by denying these parts of ourselves, we project them onto others, thus, using them as scapegoats instead of facing our own unsavory characteristics.

A very basic way to sum up our shadow self is this; anytime we feel a strong emotional response to anything outside ourselves, whether it’s another person or our environmental surroundings in general (or in my case, horror movies etc.) that’s the first sign our shadow self is acting up. For most of us, our experience of these emotions is typically followed by criticism and blame towards those outer elements in order to divert our attention away from the dirty little parts of ourselves we’d rather not to acknowledge.

Bringing this back to horror movies and all things spooky, it was in my learning about the elusive shadow self, that I had a quintessential “aha” moment. I realized that the resonating feelings of truth I experienced, which not only accompanied, but complimented the feelings of fear I had, were one of the ways I was projecting my own disowned emotions out into the world rather than owning them, aka: my shadow self.

The shadow self acts as a “shadow” for a reason—we’re afraid of what we’ll see underneath it when we look. The good news however, is that as we overcome our fear—which in reality is based on nothing, because there’s absolutely nothing about our shadow self to be scared of—and look at the denied aspects of our shadow self, we begin liberating a lot of tied up energy that’s been otherwise reserved for keeping those unsavory parts of ourselves kept hidden away under lock and key.

As we bring awareness to our emotional states and the corresponding ways in which we act towards others as a result, we begin taking control back of our internal well-being. We no longer need to play the blame game and point fingers at others, nor do we need to allow their behaviors and actions to dictate our own emotional states. Remember, most of the time we’re just reacting to aspects of ourselves that we don’t like in them anyways.

There’s one last thing I’d like to share with you before we wrap this up and that’s the beauty of non-duality, which I’ve personally found to be an integrally complimenting part of shadow work.

Non-duality is often associated with the mystic teachings of the world’s great wisdom traditions and even quantum physics, which teaches that at our most fundamental levels, we’re all energetically made up from the same stuff—a quantum soup if you will of subatomic particles, atoms and so forth—however, we freeze at different vibrational levels creating the appearance of separation. So let’s just say that everything at its core—you, me, a car, a book, even the makeup and fake blood used in horror movies—all of it is made up from the same stuff.

So why the hell is this relevant to the shadow self you might be wondering? Well, take for example one of the Buddha’s most famous teachings, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Now, when we bring non-duality into the equation, it begins to shine an even brighter light on things. The reason being, once we realize that we all really are connected at the deepest possible level, it becomes clear that by projecting our unconscious shadow stuff onto others, we are, at the very same time, quite literally projecting it directly back onto ourselves as well, and thus, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

So while yes, all things vicious are to be celebrated in the realm of Halloween and horror movies, it’s obviously not something we want to embrace or cultivate in our everyday lives. Unless of course, you do, in which case you have an excellent chance of becoming the next famous serial killer, in which case maybe they’ll make a horror movie about you… so there’s that.

*For further reading on the Shadow Self and ways to work with it, I strongly recommend the book, Integral Life Practice, by Ken Wilber, Terry Paten, Adam Leonard and Marco Morelli.

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.
  1. Kayla says:

    Loved this article!! I love reading about the shadow self.

    Much love,
    K