• Claire Sutcliffe

How Jung can help you lose weight

Updated: Mar 28

Healthy eating has two components; eating right and changing bad habits. To eat right you need dietary advice. To behave right you need to look at your psychology. There are many approaches, but one way is to look at your archetypes and their shadows.

What is an Archetype?

The word archetype comes from the Greek archétypos. Archḗ means origin, and týpos means type or pattern. Archetypes refer to patterns of thinking and behaviour. If I say, She’s such a Princess, you know what I mean immediately.

The Greek philosopher Plato, believed that archetypes were imprinted on our souls. In the early 1900s, the Psychoanalyst Carl Jung suggested that archetypes were a form of energy that existed in the collective unconscious to guide our instinctive behaviour. He wrote:

When a situation occurs which corresponds to a given archetype, that archetype becomes activated and a compulsiveness appears, which, like an instinctual drive, gains its way against all reason and will.- Carl Jung.

If you repeatedly behave in certain ways, it colours your personality. You might start to look like, talk like, or dress in way that reinforces the archetype you identify with. Jung suggested that we have twelve basic archetypes in our psyche. But there are hundreds more that can be used to describe common personality traits.

Each archetype has virtues and vices. Most people are happy to show off their virtues because we want to have a positive self-image. We also hide anything we’re ashamed of to look good and get along with others. But those hidden attributes and primitive, impulses like anger, greed, desire, and our innate need for power and safety, don't go away. They are just so well hidden that we don't see them. In psychology, the shadow describes everything we can't see in ourselves.

The Shadow

How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side if I am to be whole.” - Carl Jung

Most well-intentioned people don't try to hurt others. We do it inadvertently because we are unaware of our own behaviour and drives, and how they impact other people. We cannot see our own shadow because it is repressed and buried in the deepest recesses of our subconscious. Ironically we also hide some of our positive traits in there. For example, if you grew up in a houseful of lawyers and were expected to also go into law, you may have hidden your passion for art because your father thought that starving artists were losers. Instead of developing your artistic talent and passion, you hid it to win your fathers approval and avoid his shame. You then became not only a successful lawyer, but also someone who ridicules artists because that is how you continue to suppress the urges that are incompatible with the image you consciously chose to present to others. The artist is therefore, part of your disowned self​.

The child puts all of these unwanted parts into an invisible bag and drags it behind him.” - Robert Bly, Poet. ​A Little Book of the Human Shadow​

It's not fun looking at your own flaws, but if you explore your shadow, you will become more whole, mature, conscious, authentic, and creative. You also become kinder because you won’t act on impulses. Instead, you will see an urge, know that it’s old baggage and throw away your junk before you say or do something you later regret.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.” - Carl Jung

The best way to rediscover your shadow is by working with a Jungian therapist. But if that seems a bit daunting, a much more simple approach is to look for them by becoming more self-aware. Ask yourself, what am I most ashamed of? If others knew_____, I’d die of shame.

Ironically when someone behaves in a way that you find annoying or frightening, it is usually something that you have rejected and repressed. So an easy way to spot your shadow is to think about people who annoy you the most because whatever we deny in ourselves, we see in others. Psychologists call this ​projection​. Our hidden flaws and unnurtured talents are mirrored in others.

Do you ever say things like, “I would never do that!”? If so, look more deeply and consider times when you have done something similar. If your boss infuriates you and you say things like, “She is such a control freak, I would never control people like her!” You might be repressing your power because you think you need to be perceived as an approachable team-player. Or perhaps you get jealous and judge. For example, you might say, “She’s a terrible artist, I can’t believe she even has an exhibit." You are saying this because you have never developed your own talent even though the urge is still there. If it wasn't, you wouldn't bother judging.

It comes as quite a surprise to realise that you are behaving badly because your shame, jealousy, or anger has caused you to pretend you were better in some way. We all have egos and we’re all trying to get along in life and feel good about ourselves. Even Jesus knew about the human tendency to project our shadow on others when he said, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” - Matthew 7:3. This wise teaching attempts to point out that we need to turn our attention to our own flaws.

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” - Carl Jung

It takes a while to become conscious of our projections. Our egos want to preserve our dignity and reassure us that we are nice and only other people are rude, aggressive, untrustworthy, liars and so on. Our ego tries to uphold and preserve our self-image and self-identity – who we want to be and who we think we are, rather that who we really are. But we are all flawed. We all hate, envy, hurt, lie, deceive, and steal to some degree. You may not have robbed a bank, but you may have taken a few pens from the office stationery cupboard or bumped up your overtime.

Polly-Anna style self-help that doesn't shine the light on shadow projections doesn't work. You can’t be mentally healthy just by thinking positive, happy and hopeful thoughts. Fake it til you make it. Just do it. Keep a gratitude journal are motivational slogans that repress the shadow for longer, but do nothing to help you reappraise your whole self. They may even increase dissatisfaction, wishful thinking, or ignorance and increase addictions, as people who repress their shadow need more distractions from their urges; more money, possessions, power, food, alcohol, drugs, love, and attention. Trying to maintain a positive appearance is exhausting, so they look for temporary pleasures to receive the pressure and momentarily feel better.

Self-awareness gets to the heart of the matter and allows you to live life from a place of honesty and authenticity. When I counsel emotional eaters, I don’t give them a diet and tell them to white knuckle it. I get them to open up and tell me the truth about their lives and why food helps them to cope with their urges. Then we address the urges and look at their shadow to help them become more human, less perfectionistic, more accepting, confident, and grounded. The benefits of this approach include; more compassion for self and others and better relationships. They don’t get as angry or indignant. They know themselves better so feel less insecurity and fear. They don’t have fantasies about their own importance nor do they undervalue themselves and behave like other people’s doormats. They stop judging others to make themselves feel better and stop playing the victim to justify feeling bad about themselves. Many change jobs or find a creative-energy and child-like authenticity that eluded them for years. In essence, they re-capture their mental, emotional and physical health and the joy that they had as children. And emotional eating habits, addictions, and self-sabotaging tendencies dissolve.

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Otherwise here are a few top tips to help you. Ask yourself:

  • When you find yourself judging others, ask yourself what is so wrong about this behaviour?

  • For example, if you think someone is indulgent, ask yourself, what is wrong with indulgence? Does everyone like to be indulged, cared for and nurtured at times? Is it normal behaviour?

  • If it's normal and everyone likes a bit of it, can you explain your reaction? Do you feel jealous or angry that this person is indulgent? Do you feel overburdened by responsibility and need indulgence? Or did your parents tell you that hard work was the only path to self-respect, therefore, you resent adults who can still indulge themselves and play like children when they want?

  • Can you find the indulgent part of you – the little child who liked to paint, watch cartoons, lay on the lawn and do nothing, then show up for dinner? Can you try asking for help?

Once you acknowledge your needs, you will stop judging others and indulgence will no longer annoy you. But first, you have to understand how that trait got discarded and put in your personal shadow. Why can everyone else behave that way but you cannot? Often there is a clue in childhood - was there a grown-up you were trying to impress when you decided this?


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