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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 1:50 pm | Fair 63º


Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 124) — S Stands for Shadow

Oblique Divorce Strategy #20 —  SEE the origin of overly emotional reaction: S stands for Shadow

SEE is an acronym created by writer-psychologist David Richo to use for generation of likely hypotheses to explain an extreme emotional reaction to a person or event.

The letters stand for Shadow, Ego and Early Experience.

See Oblique Divorce Strategy #18 for more about Early Experience and Strategy #19 for more about Ego, and for more about David Richo, go to Amazon for its many-page list of his writings.

When I use the term “Richonean,” it’s intended to mean my understanding (possibly incorrect and probably incomplete) of something I’ve heard Richo say in a class or something I’ve read in one of his more than 20 books.

Each letter in the SEE acronym is treated as a separate Oblique Strategy. S is for Shadow.

Before writing about how the Jungian notion of the shadow can suggest the source of an emotional reaction, I reread the source material familiar to me: Carl Jung (from Memories, Dreams, Reflections), David Richo, and various explanations of the shadow function, as used by the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The more I read about the shadow, the less I was able to define it.

Jung’s shadow is different from the MBTI shadow — and they are both different from the Richonean shadow. 

Accordingly, I use a stripped-down definition of my own that doesn’t correspond exactly with any other, but it serves to suggest a third possible cause of an overly emotional reaction to a person or behavior.

What’s “overly emotional” is to be decided by the person emoting. Nothing I write about the SEE acronym and its application has any basis in science or empirical investigation.

The SEE acronym is a pragmatic exercise. To some, its immediate appeal is strong and apparent enough to make an attempted application to a real situation worthwhile.

To others, with the absence of a claim of empirical basis and the definitional issues around the terms ego and shadow, the SEE acronym feels too insubstantial to warrant consideration.

Those in the first category will learn something about themselves by application of SEE, while the first impressions of those in the skeptical category are likely to be confirmed; they might do well to flip to another Oblique Strategy.

The shadow in the acronym refers to a quality in another person that inspires an emotional over-reaction in the observer. The observer doesn’t realize that he or she has that same quality, which can be positive or negative.

This sounds more abstract than it is. A negative shadow quality is immediately recognized and reacted to when perceived in another person.

You meet a person who you immediately dislike or distrust. This could be for any number of reasons, but if it’s your shadow, the experience is captured in the folk wisdom: the trouble with him is you or the trouble with you is me.

On an obvious lack of evidence, we condemn another person because we are reminded of something about ourselves that we can’t or won’t acknowledge.

When we perceive in another person a positive, unclaimed aspect of ourselves, we have an overly enthusiastic reaction, based on insufficient evidence, to that person.

People whose work involves contact with lots of other people learn to first notice and then bracket their first impression, especially one that’s especially positive. They appreciate the experience, but they don’t fall in love; they don’t join a partnership and they don’t buy the amazing widget that can do so much for the price.

Others might fall in love (for the moment) or become true believers in a product or an idea.

In either event, the diagnostic detail is the absence of sufficient information to form the positive or negative opinion about the person in whom the shadow characteristic is perceived.

When we can identify this situation, it’s an opportunity to finally learn something negative about ourselves (which has probably been obvious to others) when we’ve been impervious to attempts at constructive criticism. 

The most disabling aspect of the shadow characteristic is the inability to recognize its effects. It could take years to finally figure out that the reason you “didn’t like that guy from the start” was because he reflected something about yourself that it took years to recognize.

Once it’s recognized, it immediately starts to lose its power. If, for example, it’s associated with a behavior, you can stop doing the behavior.

The identification of a positive shadow characteristic is more pleasant because it's an indication that the characteristic we admire to excess is an unclaimed characteristic of our own.

That’s good news. The acronym is silent about how one goes about claiming it.

Next column: Oblique Strategy #21 — “I order you to shave in the morning because it makes it more likely you’ll be alive at night."

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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