How to Control the Hidden Drives That Motivate Our Behavior
This is a guest post by Timon Klip. Timon helps highly analytical people become confident in social situations.
“There is in every one of us, even those who seem to be most moderate, a type of desire that is terrible, wild, and lawless.”
Why good people do bad things
A while ago, I was hanging at a bar, already a bit tipsy. Some random dude starts complaining to me. After trying to lose him, I punched him in the guts.
Wait, what? That’s not like me. He wasn’t even that annoying. Or aggressive for that matter. I just did it, in some momentary fit of rage. An unexplainable aggression just rose up and BAM!
Instant regret followed, I apologized as humbly as possible. But the evil had been done.
The moments leading up to and after, I didn’t feel any need for aggression. And I never do these things. What was I thinking?
Why do we, against our better judgement, sometimes do these unsettling things?
There are these unexpected urges, they are inherently part of you. Most of the time they are hidden from your conscious being though.
All right, Let’s back up a bit. Let’s start from the beginning.
You started life as an innocent child. Nothing much going on yet. Born as a clean slate, showing your entire self to the world. Like something? You show it! Googoo gaga, like! Hate something? You show it! You cry like crazy.
All totally unfiltered reactions. You as a being, your Self, shines to the world.
Fueled by all the impulses a living mammal has, you start exploring the world. Which include violence, laziness, unconcern for order. Life was all about you.
Your parents and society hadn’t taught you any ‘rules’ yet. But given time, we are all slowly conditioned by family, friends, and society. You get in trouble if you dirty the house, you get rewarded if you work hard. Kicking your brother was strongly punished, sitting still in school highly rewarded.
You learned through carrot and stick what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong’.
You drew a unicorn and your friends laughed at you. So you stopped drawing because it hurt. You felt ashamed. The end result: you hiding your creative drive. You filter how you show your true Self to the world.
You push all kinds of drives away. Be it because of social shaming or a hunger for love or punishment.
You hide all these traits and drives, be it positive and negative, from everybody!
But they are not gone,…
Far from it. They still dwell in you. But not in your consciousness. No, they hide in a darker place, in the nether regions of your Psyche. They hide in your Shadow.
“So you are trying to tell me, that I’m hiding things from myself?” Well kind of.
In the beginning of the last century, psychotherapy emerged as a new academic field. Amongst the ranks of prominent psychoanalysts was Carl Gustav Jung, a prominent student of Sigmund Freud.
According to Jung, your mind, aka your Psyche, consists of a few areas. First, there is your consciousness. Those are your active thoughts and impulses. The ones you are very familiar with. The train of thought rushing through your head all…day…long…
Then there is your unconscious. Consisting of your personal unconscious and a deeper, collective unconscious. The collective unconscious consists of the inherited mental structures all humans have. These are mind blueprints that have evolved over time – just as the physical body has over time.
Then there is the personal unconscious, where certain archaic structures reside as well. But these are highly personalized. One of these aspects is the Shadow. The personification of the you that you hide from yourself.
Because familial and societal conditioning taught you right and wrong, arguably immoral impulses are hidden there. Like racism, violence or jealousy. But also good aspects of you can be hidden there. E.g., potential strengths like creativity, sexuality or assertiveness.
It’s different for everybody, but there are some similarities because of common culture.
But, these good and bad impulses are all human. They are all you.
The Growing Process
As said, going through life, you hide drives and traits and bring to the surface the traits that get rewarded. You create a Persona for different social settings. A social front, where you show a select set of traits for certain settings.
It is a normal way of handling situations – as long as you know there is more to you than your Persona. For most people, there is an understanding that they have a conscious inner world as well that makes up their Ego. But others, solely identify with this mask.
As they do, they become superficial, empty husks of men always trying to live up to what society expects of them.
Your identity should be more than the sliver of your psyche that is your persona. To become whole, you first need to integrate with a larger part of your consciousness as the persona is only a channel – a medium to communicate with the world.
Jung believed in becoming whole, in becoming a true individual and not a clever, society steered algorithm. He called this process: Individuation, the process to become your whole sSelf. At least as much as possible – because it is a never ending process.
So how does one become whole?
The more your Ego becomes integrated with your consciousness and unconsciousness, the more whole you become.
As you grow older and wiser and self-develop this already happens slowly.
But to truly grow – you must integrate your unconscious. The first step is meeting your Shadow. In other words, facing and accepting your hidden drives and traits.
Integrating them with your ego to become the Self. This means getting acquainted with your repressed side.
Hello Shadow, I am Ego, nice to meet you!
“This ‘inferior’ personality is made up of everything that will not fit in with, and
adapt to, the laws and regulations of conscious life. It is compounded of
“disobedience” and is therefore rejected not on moral grounds alone, but also for
reasons of expediency.”
– Carl Jung (A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity)
But… didn’t you just say you hide this shit from yourself?
Uhm, yes, practically your entire life. It is elusive shit. As you try confronting with it, you hide it deeper.
Sometimes, though, the Shadow comes to the surface. Urges float up – you do things your consciousness disagrees with. Like me punching that guy. Yet these Shadow Drives compel you to act out!
There are even extreme cases – under great stress or influence (alcohol, drugs) – that your Shadow can take over. In history, these events were seen as people being possessed by an evil spirit. In psychology, it can be diagnosed as a split personality disorder.
As you are driven by these unknown urges. You and others think you act out of character. “That’s so not like you.” But they are part of you as a human.
These are urges need to be addressed. Not necessarily directly satisfied, but the motivations need to be laid bare, understood and resolved.
Examples in pop culture
This may still sound a bit vague. I get it. It’s hard to grasp. It sounds like vague immaterial and semi-spiritual theory. But bare with me. Let’s take some examples from culture to elaborate.
The classic example that’s used is Jekyll and Hyde. But let’s use a more familiar and modern example: Fight Club.
The Narrator, the main (unnamed) character, played by Edward Norton, lives under the burden of contemporary life. He feels like a modern slave. Manipulated and formed by upbringing, education and mass marketing. He feels numb, cut off from true feelings and instinct.
As a reaction, he tries to make his life more bearable, to feel something. But he doesn’t know how or why. Representing the struggle of modern men, unable to express their raw emotions, including ‘aggression’.
Then he meets Tyler Durden. He is the opposite of The Narrator, he shows his sexual lust, he basks in his aggressive nature, and thoroughly enjoys it. Tyler is, as you find out later, the expression of the Shadow of The Narrator. He expresses the hidden instincts: Sexual-, aggressive- and assertive drives. Both constructive and destructive drives.
Only through accepting sexuality and intimacy with Marla (the love interest), and integrating his aggressiveness, he becomes more whole. He uses aggression, shooting himself in the mouth, to stop Tyler. So he stops being a dual identity – the Narrator and Tyler become one! The Shadow and the Ego integrate.
Another very clear example is in The Mask. A more upbeat example. Here Jim Carrey plays a timid banking clerk. Afraid to show assertiveness and act out his desires. Not confronting the mechanics at his garage, not standing up to his landlord and not stepping up to his sexual desires when he meets Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz).
But as he wears The Mask, he changes in a comical representation of his hidden feelings. So he can act out his true and deeper desires. His Shadow faces up to his landlord, makes a move on Tina, and robs the bank he works.
Though mostly positive traits are hidden here. It becomes clear that there is a reason the Shadow drives should not be accepted blatantly. Instead, they should be harnessed. Because in his hunger for money, he robs the bank and he uses absurd but damaging violence. And in his hunger to bed Tina, he first charms but eventually disgusts her.
In the end, he becomes whole as well. Once he discards the direct use of The Shadow/The Mask, and instead integrates the traits of heroism, romanticism and a little bit of violence, by stepping up when it counts.
Other examples in pop culture are American Psycho, Darth Vader, and Black Swan. It is such a prevalent theme because it is an inherent struggle in the psychological development of everyone.
Individuation and the integration of the shadow
In these clear examples, you see The Shadow of someone else. But it is hard to see your own Shadow directly. Your Ego is very skilled at hiding it from you. You’ve been doing it your entire life.
But there is a way to see what you really desire. What drives you hide beneath the surface.
A big part of your conscious thoughts is integrated commands of family and society. As you judge people in your head, it is a projection, of what you have learned.
“She is such a slut!”, is a way to project your learned repression of sexuality because it was frowned upon to be promiscuous. Your hidden drive is to act more on it.
“He is such a slob”, represents you repressing the urge to let out and be a lazy ass, instead you got conditioned to be always clean and well organized.
But also “wow, he says what he thinks”, displays that you muffle your own outspokenness. Or “She makes friends easily”, is showing your inability to express your social tendencies.
If you start observing these judgments, you can start to understand what you repress.
A rule of thumb is:
The things you admire in other people are “positive” traits you don’t allow yourself to act out. Things you condemn in others, are “negative” drives you don’t allow yourself to act out.
Whatever there is lurking within you, they are all inherently human drives – part of you as a whole.
“And just as the typical neurotic is unconscious of his shadow side, so the normal
individual, like the neurotic, sees his shadow in his neighbour or in the man
beyond the great divide.”
– Carl Jung (Undiscovered Self)
So whether traits revered or frowned upon, try accepting they are part of what and who you really are.
Society represses a lot of the traits. Thus societies can display unhealthy symptoms. Every culture creates its own flaws in this way. But to become the whole individual that you are, you should cast aside the ‘Thou Shalts’ of your society.
Start accepting the positive qualities you have and display them. Like assertiveness in opposition to obedience. And start expressing ‘negative’ traits in a guided manner. E.g., aggression through sports.
As we try to look our shadow in the eyes, it is very daunting to look at these repressed traits. So Individuation is not a popular strategy. Especially as you have over-identified with your social acceptable Persona – instead of being (your)Self’.
A meeting with your Shadow can initially be traumatic. Accompanied by temporary depression and an existential crisis. Because who you thought you were, is a mere shell created by conditioning. But the more wholesome being you are consists of so much more.
This process of reshaping your identity, integrating Ego and Shadow, becoming the Self is hard but liberating and rewarding.
“I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.”
― Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club)
You might be dissuaded now. How can accepting your darker drives help you? Well, accepting is better than forcefully containing.
Your hidden motivations are like a flammable substance. If you contain them under pressure, they explode once lit. But if in the open, lighting it causes a simple flame, on which you can burn or warm yourself. Depending on how you handle the fire.
For instance, if sexuality is repressed and unaccepted in a society. People can ‘explode’ in destructive behaviors like sexual harassment or even rape. But if sexual expression is allowed you can enjoy your sexuality openly with your spouse or dates.
As one accepts their ‘evils’ and guides these powers in positive manners, they liberate you and make you whole.
100% is never possible
If you choose to start this difficult process of Individuation. It is good to know two things.
First of all, this is an ongoing process. For the rest of your life. You will keep having a society that imposes certain traits and represses others within you. This social pressure will always be there. It is up to you to keep recognizing what those are. Be vigilant to not push your ‘humanity’ down in the shadow again.
Second, the goal is not to achieve perfection – but to become whole. To become the you that is within. There is no such thing as perfection – it is a cultural concept. Nothing in nature is perfect. Everything is made up of erratic and chaotic structures, that together make something harmonious.
Like a blooming tree, a sprinting cheetah, or a spiral galaxy. Could you define how these things would be perfect? No – but as they are, in all their harmonious chaos, they are whole.
So, now what?
Well – time to meet your Shadow. This is not an easy process. Not straightforward either. I can not tell you how you can integrate your specific repressed drives. Neither can I tell you what yours even are.
But you can start recognizing your Shadow.
Start by journaling. Write down about what you feel. What do you hate in other people? What do you hate in yourself? What do you admire in other people? And in yourself?
Analyze how and why you act in a certain way. When do you feel actions and thoughts are more forced, and when do they come more natural?
As you write these things down – let your journal be for a while. After a few days, revisit your written thoughts. Then reflect. Less bound by direct emotion, a more objective interpretation can be made.
Practice this for a while, you start recognizing patterns and drives that you repress but that are part of you. As you start recognizing these inner workings, slowly but gradually start accepting them as you!
This is hard! And you will find resistance within and without.
But is a first step in becoming whole.
I also recommend you start secular meditation. It is a tool to lay thoughts bare – and see their relative importance. As well as stepping back from the conscious and the unconscious mind. It will help accept and integrate both sides of the coin.
Try this guided meditation app – or read more about it here.
A third step is to try and understand the Shadow theory of Jung better. Jung wrote loads of books. And his school of thought has many students who have refined his theories. Why not pick one up – and broaden your understanding.
A few excellent books to broaden your knowledge are: Meeting the Shadow, Man and his Symbols, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces
So after reading this, why not give self-analysis a shot? Try telling me in the comments, what positive trait you think you can’t show, but deep inside want to.
For me, it was displaying intelligence and nerdiness. In the rural place I grew up, intelligent people were viewed as stuck up and arrogant. So I hid those traits – only learning years later they can be very positive.
What about you?