The following is a fictional story of a man named Jeremy.
Jeremy is an attractive, successful, 36 year old man with a good position at a company. He is in a relationship with Maggie, who he very much admires and loves; but he has not been able to commit to marrying her. His failure to commit is interfered with his relationship with a second woman, Peggy Sue. According to Jeremy, Peggy Sue is not as intelligent, nor attractive, nor personable, nor as ambitious as Maggie. He also feels that Maggie would be a loyal wife and a good mother: important qualities for him because he hopes to start a family some day. He is confused about his apparent need to maintain a relationship with Peggy Sue, knowing that there is no future with her. He is critical of her because he feels her self-respect is often compromised: he knows she’s involved sexually with other men.
At first glance, one may ask-what kind of attributes does she have that Jeremy refuses to relinquish her? Can the relationship be purely sexual in nature? But on further investigation, the allure for him is that Peggy Sue embodies a part of his personality that he has unwittingly cast off.
This “split off” part of him is unfitting for the persona that he has for himself. In other words, he has told himself a story of his life and this piece of himself just does not fit. Except when he meets someone like Peggy Sue, the “shoe fits”–they get along famously. She innately seems to understand him. Jeremy longs. Sometimes it borders on obsession to spend time with Peggy Sue. She is uncannily familiar. Since he has been critical of a part of himself, he now finds relief in finding qualities in someone else that he has cast off in himself. He toys with the familiar, the forbidden, the shadow of himself. In addition, it sometimes feels as if they have always known each other. He can be “himself” without criticism and reproach. He can indulge in the forbidden state of being: it is relishing and enticing.
Unfortunately, this presumed blissful state does not sustain, and soon enough the relationship with Peggy Sue is tumultuous. She wants more than just this compartmentalized piece of him whenever it suits him. In addition, he feels a great deal of shame from time to time after brief, intense encounters with her. Depending on what he needs to tell himself at the moment, he will either blame her for the seduction, blame Maggie for some trumped up reason why she is not enough or blame himself for making a foolish mistake for maintaining a relationship with Peggy Sue. He reenters his world of denial again and again. In truth he longs for retribution and a way out of the exhausting conflict and unbearable feeling of shame.
But he hasn’t learned that Peggy Sue embodies what he simultaneously hates and longs to act out about himself. So what, you may ask, can be done about these unknown, destructive vestiges of the personality that interfere with building a life that he professes to want? Indulge from time to time? There is certainly the temptation to act out, but generally it will result in a repetitious pattern of disappointments. Psychotherapy or psychoanalysis is an arduous opportunity to identify the unconscious processes at work, an opportunity to feel and examine them rather than deny or run away from them and ultimately an opportunity to understand their beginnings, development and give them less power-all through continuous honest talk with someone who is neutral and willing to take you through the journey into the past to come out in the present fully integrated.
Shadows of our personalities can interfere in our ability to sustain happiness in relationships. It is paramount to understand ourselves well, in order to identify the shadows ,and integrate the unknown unconscious parts of our personalities.