Where I live Halloween is a big deal for both children and adults. Not only does Halloween mark the biggest candy holiday of the year, according to the Christian Science Monitor, this year Americans will spend close to $80 per person to celebrate. Favorite costumes for adults are witches, vampires and pirates. Children prefer princesses, Batman and Spiderman. Yet it doesn’t stop there. Pets (mostly dogs) will go as pumpkins, devils and sandwiches. What we usually ignore is that all these costumes and masks are an opportunity for different parts of our personality to come-out-of-the-closet if only for the night. So maybe it is SMART to take the time to look more closely at those energies within us, and perhaps learn to channel them to help create a more happy and fulfilled life.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to dress up and become someone else as much as anyone. And obviously I’m not alone. Of the $8 billion that is collectively spent in our country on Halloween, 36% of that is spent on costumes alone. Also of interest is the fact that Halloween spending has grown tremendously during the last five years of the recession. While many people were struggling to find jobs and hang on to their homes, they apparently didn’t hesitate to spend money buying elaborate disguises to escape their everyday world.
So what’s going on? If you ask most people why they like celebrating Halloween, the usual answer is that it’s fun. And it can be.
The opportunity to briefly live out a fantasy or let your hair down being wild and crazy has immense appeal. That’s why even in a state like Utah, which is commonly known as a more religious and conservative state, Halloween is widely celebrated. Can you guess why? According to the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, UT, many Utahans believe that because they normally live under so many rules and regulations in their lives, they need one night a year to let their “dark side” come out to play. Some believe that Halloween has evolved into a ritual that allows the normally very devote people of Utah to clearly define the difference between good and evil.
But what about the rest of us? What might be driving the explosion of Halloween celebration and spending that has occurred during the last five years in the U.S.? Obviously we can’t ignore the huge marketing machine of American manufacturers and retail outlets. Traditionally October was a very slow month for retail, lying between back-to-school sales and the Christmas holidays. By pushing the holiday through heavy advertising, Halloween sales have inflated by 35% in just the last five years alone. Like it or not, all of us are vulnerable to the avalanche of media marketing around this holiday.
However, what makes the holiday extremely irresistible to most of us is that we crave the opportunity to do as the Utah citizens do, “let our dark side come out to play.” And what is that dark side? Usually it’s our “shadow self” as defined by Carl Jung the Swiss Psychologist and founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung believed that our shadow selves were the hidden and repressed part of ourselves that we consider inferior and covered by guilt. So instead of allowing those parts of us that either don’t fit our image of ourselves—or parts that don’t fit into what we believe our peers and culture expects of us—we spend a lot of money one day a year pretending we are someone else. The more bizarre and crazy the better.
But what happens to our shadow during the rest of the year? It’s good to keep in mind that our shadow isn’t necessarily a bad or inferior aspect of our personality. Actually, according to Jung, our shadow contains natural, life-giving, underdeveloped positive potentialities. But the positive aspects of our shadow are only possible when we become conscious of its influence and allow it to integrate into our daily lives. Unfortunately, the more we habitually repress or project the shadow it can become a destructive and dangerous aspect of our personality. When that happens we stifle our creativity, our normal instincts, realistic insights, and true spirituality along other beneficial qualities. In most cases a repressed shadow won’t turn us into a sociopath—but it could easily lead to us living a life of routine desperation.
How do we recognize our shadow? Halloween provides us with a great way to start recognizing parts of ourselves that we may have repressed. Ask yourself why you picked the costume you did and what does it means? Drawn to vampires? What is it about that image that appeals to you? Going as a sexy biker-chick? How about a swashbuckling pirate? Again, why are you attracted? Any costume or character that strongly appeals to us can represent qualities that we have disavowed in ourselves out of modesty or personal or societal rules. We typically project on to others what we hesitate to acknowledge in ourselves.
Not only should we look at what attracts us—but what about others that repels and disgusts us? Any costume that you consider outrageous or inappropriate could also be triggering your shadow. In the twelve-step tradition they say, “If you spot it, you got it.” That can mean that any trait or image that strongly catches your eye probably reflects your own shadow. Those who are trained in shadow work also believe that if we are paying attention we can spot our shadow in many of our unconscious habits or routines—when things happen over and over for no recognizable reason, our shadow is likely involved.
So why turn a light-hearted holiday like Halloween into another homework assignment? As I said earlier, I love Halloween too so I’m not suggesting we eliminate it. What I do think would be beneficial is for us all is to learn to integrate that shadow energy that we unloose one night a year into the rest of our daily lives in a conscious and aware way. And here are a few of the biggest benefits to doing shadow work:
- To better understand why we routinely behave in certain ways;
- To get help or support for living our purpose and passions;
- To work with feelings like fear, anger and shame;
- To learn how to change and break through old patterns of behavior;
There are dozens of books and plenty of teachers and therapists available to anyone who wants to begin exploring the fascinating world of your shadow self. Maybe when you think about it, our cultural obsession with wearing masks and costumes, of watching movies about supernatural characters, and our dreaming of imaginary worlds are all parts of ourselves striving for recognition. If that is so, then perhaps it would be really SMART to use this Halloween as a great way to get to know a big part of the real you.
Hey Kathy….what does it say about my shadow side if I disappear entirely at Halloween. It is one time of year that I just cannot get excited about.
I buy candy and give it to the kids when they come but dressing up or going to a party dressed up or decorating the house is right out of my realm.
I used to do more when my sons were young but now prefer not to participate! What is that about me when I love to participate in everything?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kelly! While only YOU can answer your question completely….it could be because you are already living out many of your shadows in healthy ways! I just read your latest blog post and you certainly aren’t afraid of “Trying New Things”and exploring, so repression probably isn’t a big issue for you. But again, people who regularly do “shadow work” say that anything you avoid or reject is also some part of your shadow so you could always dive in and take a look at that when the right time comes. Right now though you are on an amazing trip. What inner work that remains undone will certainly be there waiting for you home when you return. 🙂 Thanks as always for coming by! ~Kathy
Christine Somers says
As always you make me think…my thoughts move in a slightly different direction when thinking about Halloween. I think, as you stated, the advertising push that candy and other Halloween related companies has become more aggressive. The idea of giving out a few Tootsie Rolls has given way to “full size” candy bars, i.e. the Verizon Halloween commercial . Also, I think the reason the holiday has grown so large is that it speaks to all of us who want to experience the same feelings we did as a kid when we went trick or treating. Why we choose a certain costume maybe related to the concept of the shadow self but actually participating in the holiday may be more about recreating a positive event from our childhood and creating that experience for our children and grandchildren. I love the dress up pictures…
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Christine….ah, music to my ears! I am loving how many different ideas are coming out about Halloween surrounding this post. Obviously the consumerism issue is huge with Halloween. And I certainly agree that it also reminds many of us of the fun and good experiences we had when we were young and carefree. But some of the overly sexual expressions these days are definitely aspects of our shadow sides–did you see the spoof on the Daily Show about it–it made me laugh AND cringe a bit! Still, as long as any of us stays conscious and aware of our choices–go for it! Thanks for your perspective Christine and Happy Halloween! ~Kathy
Christine Somers says
I need to be more intentional about what the Dailey show…cause his very funny. I will check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.
First off, I love the Raggedy Ann and Andy–we did that once too!
The whole concept of “shadow self” is interesting. Since we’ve moved, I’ve noticed things about myself that I’m not proud of. I’m a have a lot of perfectionist tendencies–to that point that they become very self-destructive, I am an excellent liar and have the ability to be very manipulative, and when I feel threatened my first impulse is to throw the nearest person under the bus! It’s been a challenge, first, to be mindful of these tendencies, and second, to harness them and use the positive attributes of them. For example, I can be very thorough and organized, I become vulnerable by admitting that I struggle with honesty (thus breaking down walls in relationships), and I tend to be more understanding of people who are acting irrational because they feel unsafe.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Bethany….glad you liked the photos! And I’m glad this post encouraged you to look at a few behaviors in a new light that you may not have considered before. Of course I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up when looking into our motivations, but it can help us avoid repeating mistakes in the future. Plus it be good to recognize some of the errors we made in the past and try to discover why we do what we do….Thanks for offering your perspective and adding to the conversation… ~Kathy
Kathy, I love your pictures from previous Halloweens, I have never been a big into the celebrations. The statistics really surprised me. I would have thought spending for Halloween had fallen over the recent years, but I guess I must have been projecting my spending, or lack of it, on the whole of society. I have never dressed up and stopped going out much earlier than my peers as a child. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am pretty introverted and the issue of having grown up needing to hide behind a mask to blend in. My total spending for Halloween was $2 for two stamp kits for the grandchildren as they don’t need any more candy. I also made each of them something which came from found items and stuff I had in the house. Guess you can call me cheap. 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Lois! I KNOW! Aren’t the statistics amazing? $80 per person? $8 Billion! While we usually buy something to hand out to the kids we’ve kept our spending very contained even before we got into our new “right-sized” lifestyle. I’m not at all surprised that you spend the tiniest amount of all!
As I said in the post, I do believe a much of it is a lot of repressed frustrations that many people are feeling these days. Sort of how some people use “shopping therapy” as a way to self-medicate their unhappy lives–I think others dress up and go wild just because on this night it is more “acceptable.” Unfortunately, while it might help for a day or two, if you’re living an unhappy life it’s bound to return–with a big credit card bill too!
As I’ve confessed before, I enjoy looking at the motivations behind our actions in all sorts of ways. This one seemed sort of timely–and who knows? Actually, Thom and I still have our Fred & Wilma costumes so I just might pull them out next week…. 🙂 ~Kathy
Gary Lange says
Great SMART thoughts and suggestions on how we can become more balanced and fulfilled!
Kathy Gottberg says
Thanks Gary! Speaking of Halloween….I remember celebrating a couple of them with you and Robert! Lots of fun right? I’m sure as a therapist you have all sorts of ideas what some of our costumes represent. Thanks for stopping by! ~Kathy
Hmm…what does it say about me that I never dress up for Halloween?? (Well, I did as a kid, absolutely, but haven’t as an adult. ) maybe I have no shadow?? Gah! And what does that mean?? 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy….as you may have figured out, a big intention of mine is to ask questions and get people thinking and becoming more aware about their choices and decisions in their lives. Based on that, you might want to ask yourself why you’ve never dressed up for Halloween as an adult–and what that might mean???? I tend to believe that the best way to find an answer is to ask ourselves 🙂
And even if you don’t dress up yourself…we all usually have an opinion about others that do…why and what does THAT mean? 🙂
Just a little food for thought this Halloween…thanks for raising the question! ~Kathy