The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are, wrote the psychologist Carl Jung. According to Jung, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” This short reflection explores how one might begin to accept themselves completely.

In his classic, The Red Book, Jung wrote,

Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness, and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner? You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead, you should give it life… You should also not spurn madness if you want to find paths since it makes up such a great part of your nature… Be glad that you can recognize it, for you will thus avoid becoming its victim. Madness is a particular form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life since life is full of craziness and utterly illogical at the bottom.

How does one know if they’ve recognized their own “madness”? Where does one begin to accept their shadow?

It seems fear could be a useful starting point. The theologian Thomas Merton suggested that what you fear indicates what you seek. Likewise, Jung explained, “the most terrifying thing in the world is to accept oneself completely.”

What are you most afraid to accept about yourself? Is there anything you are desperately trying to change? According to psychologist Carl Rogers, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

What if we viewed the path of self-improvement more like a path of self-acceptance? To quote Jung, “The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of the whole outlook on life.”

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