BDSM: Shining the Light on our Shadow

Through the lens of the shadow in Carl Jung’s work, BDSM can be considered not only a sexual practice but also a tool in working with our unconscious. The shadow, according to Carl Jung, is ‘‘that hidden, repressed, for the most part, an inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious’’ (Leeming, 2012, p. 96). In other words, the shadow is all those aspects of our personality that reside behind our blindsides.


So, What Exactly is My Shadow?

It is those parts of ourselves that we have disowned and cannot ever rid ourselves of, that constitute the shadow, according to Jung. Our conscious behavior is greatly influenced by our unconscious motivations and desires and expresses itself most often in the form of projection on others rather than a self-examining curiosity. The process of projection allows us to come into a relationship with those disowned parts of ourselves without confronting or taking responsibility for them directly.


For example, if I was raised to be ashamed about my sexuality and then as an adult projected that shame onto my friends and partners, that would be my unconscious recreating a cycle of shame around the sexuality of others, without taking ownership of it as my own “unfinished business” and conflictions around sex. Such shadow projections come into play in all our personal relationships.


How Do I Bring My Shadow to Light?

The most common way of projecting your shadow on another is by making the other into the enemy or adversary through scapegoating, dehumanizing, and demonizing them. So how do you slowly start to bring aspects of their shadow to the light, and out the realms of unconsciousness?


Reginald A Ray Ph.D. (2014) explains how “when we disconnect and withdraw from our somatic experience into our conceptualizing mind, we seek a tidy, controllable, and secure version of reality.” In doing so we wall ourselves off from the vastness of fully experiencing ourselves and others.


Reginald A Ray (2014) continues to explain how “all this walled-off experience is trapped in our body, in the darkness, where it awaits our willingness to experience and integrate it.” BDSM can be a very efficient tool in working with these suppressed and disowned parts of ourselves in the process of integration.


How Do I Project My Shadow?

BDSM offers a setting in which one can safely explore one’s relationship to power, control, trust, pleasure, creativity, and permission. Our “shadow” often lives in the body and gets trapped in our psyche and nervous system. BDSM is a powerful tool that can be used to integrate those disowned parts of ourselves and bring them from the realms of shadow into that of our awareness, so that we may show up more fully in our lives.


For example, some men get so tired of constantly being expected to know what they’re doing at all times and in charge, that being asked to crawl around in a ball-gag by their partner can give them a way of accessing an inner repressed part of their being that craves the permission to not have all the answers and be told what to do!


What Personal Experience Do I Have?

My sex life and the general way in which I show up in the world has been greatly affected by my discovery and practice of BDSM. I have been able to explore and directly work with my relationship to anger, control, and permission, thanks to this practice. The incorporation of eroticism and creativity in the process of establishing an unprecedented relationship to these aspects of my shadow (because women are not encouraged to embody their anger, voice, and pleasure) has been nothing short of miraculous!


I find myself increasingly available to the people around me, as I deepen my relationship to myself in this way through the de-pathologizing of my shadow. I am less afraid to ask for what I want, say no, and let myself experience pleasure free of shame.


The experience of being able to let someone else take control of me in the bedroom after a long day of making countless decisions feels like the best high. As my somatic awareness develops through my practice of BDSM, my shadow seems to be slowly merging in with my awareness, giving me a more fulfilling range of experience. I feel more permission to be myself both inside and outside the bedroom.


How Have I Brought My Shadow to Light?

I am no longer threatened by powerful women because I have established a relationship with my own power. I am no longer ashamed to ask for help and let others take care of me when I need it because I have let myself surrender to what it feels like to let another see me with all my guards down.


I am making sense of my reality in a way that is increasingly choice-based rather than reaction-based. I find my relationship to control, power, trust, and permission to be revolutionized both in my personal and professional life through BDSM. Do you feel more sold on why spanking your partner while he kisses your toes or allowing your partner to tie you up to the kitchen chair and have their way with you might be beneficial to your personal growth? What feels like it would push your boundaries enough so it would allow you to contact a disowned part of yourself?


So, Should I Try BDSM?

The amount of personal growth, connection, and sexual healing that can happen in many of these communities are powerful and yet all too often overlooked due to the misplaced stigma and myths about BDSM. And by no means am I saying that BDSM is for everyone.


If there is a takeaway here is it only that it is worth considering as a way to not only spice up your sex life but also achieve personal growth.


If you’d like to talk more, contact me and set up a free 20 minute session.


Sophia Lou. O’Connor, MA, Ph.D (Cand)

Psychotherapist | Trainer | Educator

[Pronouns: She/They]

Tel: (720) 935 2706