After being hospitalized for a mental breakdown, Kanye West seems to be doing better. “He’s recovering, but not recovered,” a West friend told People magazine. “He’s sick and every day he gets better.” West was smiling when he recently met with President-Elect Donald Trump.
What’s wrong with West? Some might think he needs to simply become blander and normalize, but maybe he just needs to fully integrate his darker impulses. According to Jungian psychology, everybody has a shadow, a dark side to their personality where depression, lust, and rage reside. The shadow is that part of our subconscious that contains depression, rage, sadism, narcissism, and prejudice, but also creativity, dark humor, and healthy sexuality. It’s particularly potent in men; it’s what makes boys become punk rockers, drive fast at night, and watch pornography.
Some men might be reluctant to seek out a therapist for fear that an emphasis on feelings and civilized behavior will disperse this shadow that partly makes them who they are. Women are about twice as likely as men to seek therapy for their problems and more than one in five men say they wouldn’t trust a therapist compared to only one in ten women.
This may have something to do with the fact that most therapists are women. Indeed, when it comes to therapists, the New York Times noted a few years ago, “a good man is hard to find.”
“There’s a way in which a guy grows up that he knows some things that women don’t know, and vice versa,” David Moultrup, a psychotherapist in Belmont, Mass, told the Times. “But that male viewpoint has been so devalued in the course of empowering little girls for the past 40 or 50 years that it is now all but lost in talk therapy.”
For a man to acknowledge this shadow side of himself does not mean excusing bad behavior. But it’s important that the shadow parts of us are not simply banished, which is the work of born-again puritans, but accepted as part of our complex psychological and spiritual makeup. It’s not healthy to self-flagellate because you had a sexual fantasy about a woman you saw riding the bus, or feel endlessly ashamed for getting too drunk at a party. Kanye storming the stage a few years ago at the Video Music Awards to steal the moment from Taylor Swift, who was in the middle of an acceptance speech, was the sign of someone who had been overtaken by his shadow. Yet the reaction to it was far too intense and far too long, going on for years and perhaps indicating that Kanye’s critics were projecting their own shadows onto him.
The world is richer for having had someone like John Lennon in it, a pop star with a tart, and often dark, cynicism. Kanye is a talented artist whose music occasionally borders ingenious; how much of that creativity stems from the part of him that also makes him act crazy? No one wants West to be psychotic. Yet he also should not be completely defanged. While blasphemous to say so, there was some chaotic fun in West’s freakout over Swift.
Our culture and our press have become positively evangelical in their shaming of shadow behavior. Rambunctious boys are zombified with Ritalin. Feminists have intimidated women into denying that they like dominant alpha males.
In his book Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves, psychologist James Hollis writes that we need to look our shadow in the face and admit that it is part of us. “Simply to deny something does not work,” Hollis writes. “It takes a strong sense of self, and no little courage, to be able to examine, and take responsibility for, these darker selves when they turn up. It is much easier to deny, blame others, project elsewhere, or bury it and just keep on rolling.”
Provided he finds the right kind of therapy, Kanye may be taking a step in the right direction.