Ask Abdi: What Is The Difference Between The Shadow Self And The Subconscious?

Question: What is the difference between the shadow self and the subconscious?

Answer: The shadow self was a term coined by Carl Jung. He was initially a student of Freud who popularized the concept of the unconscious. The actual term unconscious itself was coined by the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling in the early 1800s. First be aware that Freud never used the term subconscious, to him it was only the unconscious and the conscious. The word subconscious these days is used many times as a replacement for the word unconscious especially by the new age movement. Confused yet? There is more!

Then there is the nuance between how Freud used the word unconscious as opposed to how Carl Jung used the word. Jung accepted Freud’s idea of the unconscious but saw it as too limiting. He broke it down further than Freud as there being a personal as well as collective level to the unconscious. Obviously what I am saying to you is beyond rudimentary and coarse. You will need to read many volumes to get a more crisp idea of what these two great minds were talking about. So your question is tricky since whose definition of the unconscious are you asking about?

If I can sense the way you are asking the question I would answer that the shadow self is contained in the unconscious. An important question is what is your intent in asking? Curiosity is a beautiful thing. Intellectual understanding, as interesting and necessary as it might be at times is utterly useless when it comes to actual shadow work. Shadow work is a difficult and arduous endeavor that takes decades of effort to identify, own and integrate. It is easy to fall under the trap of believing intellectual understanding is the same as jumping into our not pleasant shit both feet in. If thirsty and looking for water, we need to start digging a well. A diagram of the well and the hard work involved in actually digging one are miles apart.