There’s a guy you probably encounter on a regular basis. Sometimes it seems like he’s right over your shoulder, following you. He kind of looks like you. He has a neat haircut. He wears khakis and boat shoes. On festive summer occasions he’ll wear patch-madras shorts and polo shirts in bright, go-to-hell colors. When he has to dress up, he puts on a navy blazer. This guy is often found in groups consisting of those identical to him. Men of genius require a great deal of solitude, and this guy’s no deep thinker. He needs the safety of his wolf-pack in order to bolster his ego. Or perhaps, when alone, he finds he can’t live with himself.
This guy may look something like you, but he’s decidedly lacking in your admirable qualities. In his mildest form he is merely boorish, full of bravado masking insecurity. At his worst, he is a criminal with women, spiking their drinks with blackout-inducing drugs in order to sexually assault them, as if he believes the only way he can get a woman is by force. This is the guy commonly referred to these days as a “bro,” and he is someone we must confront for several reasons. First, to rehabilitate him from his obnoxious, adolescent ways — for the bro is an archetype associated with youth, not maturity — and because the bro is the shadow figure of the prepster.
The concept of the shadow comes to us from Jungian psychology and is frequently seen in myths and stories. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” for example, Indiana Jones finds his shadow figure in Belloq, who is also an archeologist but one willing to collude with Nazis in order to achieve his egotistical goals. At one point he even tells Jones that they are essentially the same, and that it would only take a small push for Jones to become just like him. The shadow, then, can be seen as a distorted version of ourselves, the dark underside of personality traits or identity manifesting in a negative way. But the shadow can also represent things within ourselves that are repressed. “Encountering the shadow means rediscovering the unlived faculties of one’s life,” writes Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson in “Transformation: Understanding The Three Levels Of Masculine Consciousness.” The office yes-man who is high in the personality trait Agreeableness, who never stands up for himself and is pushed around by coworkers, is likely to become resentful, even vengeful, for his inability to healthily assert himself. He is like Dr. Jekyll with a Mr. Hyde bitterly simmering inside, or a Bruce Banner with an Incredible Hulk, a sort of raging Freudian id, waiting to be unleashed.
The following graphic is taken from the work of two other noted Jungian specialists in masculine psychology, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, in their book “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering The Archetypes Of The Mature Masculine.” Moore and Gillette envision four main masculine energies that ideally develop from an immature version into a mature one. Each energy, however, has a bipolar shadow consisting of a passive and aggressive side. The man who is not manifesting an energy positively in his life will usually vacillate between both shadow negatives. President Trump, for example, failing to develop his King energy and become a wise and noble leader, alternates between the two shadow negatives of Tyrant (“you’re fired”) and Weakling (“not fair”).
It’s not hard to imagine the stereotypical bro and note his arrested development on the chart. He is either of college age or perhaps deep into his thirties but never got on the path to mature manhood, and still acts like a boorish fraternity member. He never found a way to embody Hero energy, and so slipped into its shadow, becoming simultaneously bully and coward, for in his bullying of others he is psychologically bullying himself, for he knows he has weaknesses, as every man does, but he despises himself for them, either from his own failings, or from being raised by a tyrannical father or devouring mother.
It is important to acknowledge shadow energies so that they can be corrected in ourselves and in the young men around us. But there is another reason, which leads us back to another core belief of Carl Jung: that the shadow must be integrated into oneself in order to become a complete human being.
Children can be cruel, and most of us can remember witnessing — and probably participating in — various acts of sadistic glee on the schoolyard. The line between good and evil runs down the center of every human heart, and to deny the evil within us is both foolish naivety and yet another form of emotional repression. The first step is to recognize that the bro’s negative qualities reside somewhere inside us. If we are civilized and mature, they will not manifest negatively in the world, and we will not find ourselves referred to as a “douchebag” by our peers. However, to become a full human being in the Jungian sense, we should seek to integrate the shadow’s negative energies within ourselves and repurpose them for good.
For example, the man lacking the athleticism and physical aggressiveness of the stereotypical jock would become a more fully developed person by taking up a sport or activity — billiards, bowling, archery — that would allow him to engage in competition with other men, thereby learning how to bring out the best in himself physically, and benefitting from all the character-building qualities that come from athletics. The unpopular prep would see his life improve by emulating the tendency of bros to gather in wolf-packs. He could take up a new hobby that would allow him to interact with a large group, or he could add another friend to the only one he has and start hanging out as a group of three rather than one-on-one, and see what dynamics and new adventures result. The young man who’s shy when it comes to girls would benefit from a 10% injection of bro attitude into his search for a girlfriend. Instead of being afraid to approach women, he should summon the courage to swagger a bit and start asking girls for their phone numbers. There is much wisdom in the cliché “fake it till you make it.” After a few successful digits and dates, the shy guy will start to believe he’s capable of finding a girl, and that he doesn’t need to fake confidence anymore: he has it. And finally, the meek office yes-man needs to stop stewing in his resentment and bring out his jerk shadow. Since he’s so imbalanced, what will feel like being a jerk to him will be more like normal healthy boundary-setting and ensuring credit where it’s due.
There have always been natural-shouldered jerks at our finest educational institutions. However, the contemporary iteration of bro has appeared at a particular post-preppy point on the social-sartorial timeline. In the ’60s he would have been merely a rowdy jock, while in the ’80s he was the rich jerk as caricatured in cinema. But in the 21st century the bro is a grotesque, distorted descendant of the Ivy League Look and the tastes and values of high WASPdom. Clad in Vineyard Vines instead of J. Press, he is not only a shadow, but the ghost of a dying culture, what remains when preppy clothes continue to exist, but not the preppy ethos that once animated them. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD