I Don’t Want No Bad News – but I am Curious about This News: Our Polarized Reactions to Negative Feedback
There is an insightful statement out in the world that goes something like this: “Which one of us would not be taking the next train out of town if someone told us: you have been found out. Everything has been revealed about what you are really like and what you have really done.” Underlying this statement is the assumption that this get-out-of-town knowledge about you might be something that no one has known before now. It was just discovered. More likely, this damaging knowledge has just been revealed. In the past, no one has been willing to tell other people—but now these “ugly facts” are all coming out and you are heading to the train station.
I want to offer one other observation. For a moment, lets stick with the train metaphor. We are fascinated with train wreaks (and car wreaks). We are drawn to the negative, the cataclysmic, the destructive. There is an important point to be made here: this often includes fascination with our own foibles. Carl Jung (1969) writes about this fascination in his insightful analysis of our unconscious processes. We are made up of many domains and layers of personality theory. Many domains operate in opposition to other domains (e.g. the masculine and feminine energies) and are always willing to point out (bring to consciousness) the failures of the competing domain(s).
At the heart of this conflict-filled world of Jung’ psychic architecture is the “Shadow” – a domain that stands in direct opposition to what Jung identifies as our “Persona” (the mask we wear out in public). Our shadow is always trying to trip up the seeming competence embraced by the Persona and is fully aware of the negative feedback to which the Persona is entitled. The Shadow says “bring it on” so that our arrogant, ill-informed and denial-inclined Persona can find out the truth! There is even more to note about the “shadow” – it is the depository for a large collection of “truths” about us. As the old radio program called the “Shadow” declared: “the Shadow knows!!”. No wonder we are heading off to the train station.