Meeting Shadow on the Spiritual Path with Connie Zweig

Jul 20, 2023



Award-winning author, depth psychotherapist, and guide Connie Zweig shows us encountering darkness is a necessary part of our spiritual journey. In the first half of life, we disown aspects of ourselves to fit in and navigate our world more smoothly. Over time we realize all aspects of ourselves must be recalled and befriended. Integration of these shadow aspects lays the foundation for spiritual awakening.

Through careful introspection, dreamwork, and self-confrontation, we can see beyond stereotypes and projections, avoiding the pitfalls of black-and-white thinking. Jung reminds us,

“…we shall, by carefully analyzing every fascination, extract from it a portion of our own personality, like a quintessence, and slowly come to recognize that we meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.”

Navigating the complex psychodynamics between spiritual students, the teachers they choose, and the disciplines of the path they tread can be more complicated than most people imagine. The inherent power dynamics in many spiritual traditions can encourage students to dismiss their agency and silence their ambivalence. Idealizing their teachers through projecting the Self upon them or contracting to be unquestioningly obedient can leave students disoriented and vulnerable to exploitation.

Falling into moral idealism and accepting standards of spiritual perfection, students may split off essential aspects of their unique personality, hobbling their developmental progress. Spiritual bypass may be encouraged by certain spiritual teachers leaving the leader and the student blind to harmful impulses and minimizing destructive behaviors.

Confronting the flaws and failures of the teacher can help students place their spiritual center back inside themselves. Accepting the limits of many spiritual traditions may free students to rediscover their autonomous inner guidance.

Connie’s work can help us understand why some are drawn to charismatic leaders, unconsciously surrendering parts of their psyche to them or the system they represent. In worst cases, students suffer abuse and betrayal that alienates them from their spiritual instinct, blocking them from the very experiences they long for. Shadow work and depth psychology can be key tools in breaking free from denial, projection, and dependency.

With support, time, and corrective action, it is possible to recover one’s inner connection. Connie’s stories of renowned teachers like Sufi poet Rumi, Hindu master Ramakrishna, and Christian saint Catherine of Siena exemplify the different paths that can support spiritual yearning.

Meeting the shadow, internally or externally, is a painful but inevitable stage on the path to a more mature spirituality. We can use spiritual shadow work to separate from abusive teachers or barren traditions and reclaim inner spiritual authority. It’s about navigating the narrow path through the darkness toward the light, reigniting the flame of longing, and engaging once more in fulfilling spiritual practice.


Connie Zweig, Ph.D., is a retired therapist and coauthor of Meeting the Shadow and Romancing the Shadow. Her award-winning book, The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul, extends her work on the Shadow into midlife and beyond and explores aging as a spiritual practice. It won the 2022 Gold COVR Award, the 2022 Gold Nautilus Award, the 2021 American Book Fest Award, and the 2021 Best Indie Book Award for best inspirational non-fiction. Her new book, Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path: The Dance of Darkness and Light in Our Search for Awakening, is available now. Connie has been doing contemplative practices for more than 50 years. She is a wife, stepmother, and grandmother. After all these roles, she’s practicing the shift from role to soul.


Two dreams with repeated Octopus figures, six months apart:

Dream 1: Someone is going to eat the eye of an octopus. The octopus is almost dead and blackish purple. Its eye is a pearl in the middle of its head; someone is trying to pry it out. The people trying to pry out the octopus’ eye are dressed in white hazmat or lab suits, with heads covered and faces obscured. The setting is a cold and sterile laboratory, and the Octopus is on a lab table with no water. I feel great sadness for the Octopus as it grasps the pearl eye firmly with its tentacles, resisting the prying. The person in the lab coat cannot get the eye out.

Dream 2: I am in a run-down aquarium with my close friend B, whom I have known for over 20 years. The ground is wet and flooded with a couple of inches of water spilled from the tanks, none of which are completely filled. Animals are neglected and not well cared for, especially a large, monstrous-looking white Octopus roiling around in one low, open-topped tank resembling a children’s touch tidepool tank. It is roiling and shows its undercarriage, all tentacles, and suckers. I imagine a monstrous squid-like maw inside. A patron is touching and interacting with the octopus, and the octopus appears to like it. I attempt to interact with the octopus, but it doesn’t want me to; it rears up and scares me off – it’s not ready yet.





Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path: The Dance of Darkness and Light in Our Search for Awakening


We’ve created DREAM SCHOOL to teach others how to work with their dreams. A vibrant community has constellated around this mission, and we think you’ll love it. Check it out.


Hey folks — We need your help. So please BECOME OUR PATRON and keep This Jungian Life podcast up and running.




Share your suggestions HERE.




Enroll in the PHILADELPHIA JUNGIAN SEMINAR and start your journey to become an analyst.




  1. Tamis Hoover Renteria

    Fascinating discussion with Zweig. A book that might further enhance this understanding of the dynamic between guru/spiritual teacher and follower is Daniel Shaw’s Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. Shaw was a member of an abusive spiritual group and is interested in the power dynamics of the relationship between spiritual leader and follower. He talks about narcissism not as a diagnoses of an individual person but rather as a pattern of relationship which is set up in childhood between child and caregivers and continues in later life. In narcissistic relationships one person is the dominant one who reserves the role of Subject and relegates all other people in his/her life to the role of Object. Cults, spiritual groups, and religious sects are full of this type of dominant leader who is successful through his/her ability to persuade/enchant people to submit to his vision of the world and become Objects to his dominant Subject. I go further than Shaw in thinking that narcissistic relating is endemic to our capitalist culture and that most of us grow up in households where relationships are all about power and where we learn the destructive pattern of narcissistic relating: i.e. either I’m the Subject or you’re the Subject, with little ability to recognize and negotiate a true relationship. I know that Subject/Object relations is a controversial approach to introduce into a Jungian discussion, but I think that a marriage of these approaches would be helpful, and especially when discussing the dynamics of cults and religious groups. We go to these groups in search of meaning and our own individuation, but we often give away our power and our individuality to a leader because we don’t know how to escape this Subject/Object narcissistic form of relating and are vulnerable to leaders who have learned the trick of bolstering their own sense of individual identity and worth by seducing others into believing in them and accepting the projections of people and exploiting them. Shaw also discusses the role of this kind of narcissistic dynamic in therapy, just as you four discussed in this interview, where the therapist needs to be constantly examining their own temptation to accept the projections of the patient, and be vigilant about examining their own fears about vulnerability and exposure as they labor to create a relationship with the patient that goes beyond Subject/Object narcissism and models the possibility of real “I-Thou” communication, (to borrow from Buber).

  2. Mamie Allegretti

    Hello Deb, Lisa and Joseph,
    I think Deb hit the crux of this issue in the very last minutes of the conversation. Namely, that your spiritual path is within you. In our culture, when have we ever been told that we need to rely on ourselves for the “answers” and the experience of the transcendent instead of seeking them in parents, teachers, role models, celebrities, priests, gurus, the government, and groups of all kinds? Pretty much never. So, it’s not surprising that most people go out into the world and join groups and look outside for their answers. I’ve been on my spiritual path a long time and I’ve never joined a group, had a “spiritual teacher” (although I do consider many to be great teachers) or been involved in institutional religion. It’s been a secret path full of reading, studying, listening to myself, art, meditation, and trying to see what resonates with me. I think the most important thing a TRUE teacher can tell you is that you must find the answers within yourself. Maybe you’ll come to no answer at all but you will have asked your questions. Ideas will have resonated with you. You will come to trust your own inner way and voice. You will come to trust your own experience. I think of Jung’s spiritual path – inward yet guided by many “teachers” through reading and, of course, meeting many people. But not in institutional religion. I think in MDR, he talks of the importance of having a secret and keeping your path secret. Reading also forces you to think on your own, to be quiet and sort things out for yourself. The experience of yourself that you come to through meditation and silence cannot be shaken because it’s your experience. I’m also reminded of the Rainmaker story that Jung loved so much. Where did the Rainmaker go when asked to bring the rain? To church? To a group? To the local bar? Nope. He went to a little hut to be by himself. I love the idea of doing dream series interpretation! Thank you again for your work.

  3. Gwen Murphy

    Synchonicity! I wrote down my scrappy little dream fragment this morning, then resumed listening to the second half of this podcast. Inquiries posed by my therapist yesterday: What do I want from community? What do I want to give back to community? Understanding my neurodivergent introverted personality, born a seeker, now if I may dare to sound boastful at age 75 I’m ripe in my understanding of these “concerns” and humbly fortunate never to have been directly involved. My “special sight” protects me. However, I am imbalanced as I am “between communities” having experienced ostracism and alienation as part of my life script. I’m looking forward to joining one of the online groups Connie is supporting! Thank you!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *