Psychology of Christy Clark, Jungian shadows, and the B.C. teachers strike

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      I fear there's a shadow lurking over the B.C teachers strike. A Jungian shadow.

      In the past, I believe that a different type of Jungian shadow influenced the Gordon Campbell government with regard to its treatment of single mothers. I'll get to that part of the story later in this essay.

      But first, I'll start with an explanation of the shadow. It's a concept generally avoided by media commentators and in mainstream political discourse.

      The American poet Robert Bly describes the shadow as a long, heavy bag that we drag around behind us until we suddenly start figuring out how to lighten the load.

      This bag becomes more and more burdensome as it accumulates parts of ourselves that we've shoved into our unconscious. These are the parts that we're incapable of acknowledging.

      According to the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, we do this because it was unacceptable and too painful to consciously integrate them into our personalities in childhood and young adulthood.

      We can't see this shadow even though it's often obvious to others around us.

      If we feel greedy as children but greed is not tolerated by our parents whose love sustains us, this avaricious side of ourselves goes into the bag. It becomes part of our shadow.

      In adulthood, these children will feel an extreme and irrational level of irritation when they come face to face with greed in their everyday lives. This is because they're projecting this part of themselves onto the greedy person, this "mirror", and they despise what they see.

      I remember interviewing the Jungian psychologist and author Guy Corneau, who said the same phenomenon underlies many incidents of gay bashing. The assailants won't acknowledge a homosexual side of their personality, so they lash out against those who are homosexual. They're enraged by their own reflection that comes back from others, though they'll never admit it. And therefore, it must be crushed.

      “I find that very often the real enemy in this situation is people think in terms of either-or,” Corneau told me in 2001. “We cannot think about it that men cannot be homosexual or have to be only heterosexuals.”

      The same can apply to other aspects of human personality. If we have a raunchy sense of humour but humour is not welcomed in our childhood home environments, this too can go in the bag. And as adults, we can become irrationally upset by others who express their humour in this way.

      One of my shadows is vanity. This was thoroughly discouraged in my household as a child so I put that part of myself in the bag. I still feel terribly uncomfortable when I have to dress up for an event. The moment it's over, I'm back into my casual clothes. I have become irrationally irritated in the presence of others' vanity. It took me a long time to recognize the root cause of this.

      Bly made the point that we are born with 360-degree personalities. Think of yourself as a round pie with many different flavours. Over time as more and more slices of this pie are removed from the tray and go into your unconscious, you become diminished.

      Freeing these unconscious parts of ourselves by integrating them into our consciousness—the process Jung referred to as individuation—lightens our burden and makes us more whole human beings. By bringing the shadow into the light, we're better able to manage these parts of ourselves.

      The shadow and B.C. politics

      In 2007, I wrote a cover story about the Gordon Campbell government's dismal treatment of single mothers. After interviewing lawyer Alison Brewin, I concluded that the sum of the government's policies amounted to adverse-effects discrimination. In effect, a legal case could be made that the Campbell government was violating the human rights of single moms.

      At the time, the Campbell government was clawing back social-assistance payments dollar-for-dollar for anything earned by a mom on welfare. B.C. may have been the only jurisdiction in North America that had no earnings exemption for people on social assistance.

      Similarly, family-maintenance payments for the kids were clawed by dollar for dollar from social-assistance payments. This policy remains in place in B.C.

      Severe Campbell government cuts to legal aid had a negative effect on single moms who might be wanting to leave abusive relationships. A massive investment in the Canada Line, which cannabilized bus service, also hurt the vast majority of low-income single moms who rely on transit and don't live on the West Side of Vancouver or in Richmond. Sharply rising tuition fees in that era also hammered single moms, as did the government's reluctance to build social housing.

      But how could this be? Why would a premier who was raised by a single mother impose such harsh policies on other single mothers?

      The attorney general of the day, Wally Oppal, was also raised by a single mom. Oppal's job included telling the premier when his government was breaking the law. He was also the chief overseer of human rights. Why wasn't Oppal able to stop this?

      I could only conclude that both of them had put a part of their feelings they felt as the sons of single moms inside their bags, their shadows. This was the only way I could comphrehend their insensitivity to other children of single mothers who suffered disproportionate hardship under their rule in comparison with the kids of single moms in other provinces.

      The premier has a problem with the BCTF

      This premier, the daughter of a school teacher, is in a monumental fight with the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

      I know the commenters below are going to go berserk when they read the next sentence, but here goes: I think that Christy Clark probably had the potential at one time to be a very good public-school teacher. I say this based on her intellect and her ability to communicate complicated topics in an understandable way.

      Unfortunately for the province's schoolchildren, Clark doesn't appear to value public-school teachers and public schools.

      This is apparent to me in how she's gone out of her way to characterize their union as greedy even though teachers had zero percent wage increases in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

      The BCTF has asked for eight percent over eight years when you include the last three years in the calculations. The government is offering seven percent over six years or 8.5 percent over seven years. Not a huge difference.

      I suspect that the union would be prepared to scale back its demand for a $5,000 signing bonus, which was probably put on the table simply to make up for all the teachers' income lost during this labour dispute.

      So why would Clark make teachers look like they're far greedier than other public servants? What accounts for this level of irritation on her part? Is it plausible to think that there might be a relationship between everything she associated with public school teachers dating back to her childhood to the situation B.C. finds itself in today?

      As the son of a mathematician, I have lots of associations in my mind about mathematicians—and I'm sure some of them are untrue and unfair. I wonder if the same is true of Clark with regard to teachers.

      Continuing along this psychological track, I believe that Clark has trouble sometimes acknowledging her more progressive side. And there are few groups of professionals in our society more progressive than teachers.

      But the premier's own liberalism leaks out of every once in a while. It's obvious to me in her dealings with gays and lesbians, her decision to sharply increase the minimum wage, her imposition of a surtax on high-income earners, her surprising move to raise the corporate tax, her introduction of an earnings exemption for welfare recipients, and her creation of a new holiday in the face of opposition from business groups and the Fraser Institute.

      Bly says that the person with the shadow is never aware of what's in the shadow, but it's obvious to their friends. Within the B.C. Liberals—Clark's friends—it's obvious to them that she's not as right wing as her chief competitor for the party leadership, Kevin Falcon, or her predecessor, Campbell.

      But she almost never talks in public about her progressive reversals to long-standing Campbell policies. It's as though she won't publicly admit this part of herself exists. It's almost as if this liberal part of her personality remains in the bag.

      Clark views herself as fiscally responsible—someone who balances the budget come hell or high water, who's prepared to slay unions like a 21st-century Margaret Thatcher, and who is, as the B.C. Liberal ads said, "one tough cookie". Progressives are often seen by right wingers as weaklings, and Clark will never allow herself to be characterized in this way.

      This psychological dissonance between Clark's liberal sensibility and her view of herself as a tough-minded leader, I fear, might be an unspoken contributing factor behind B.C. schools remaining closed in early September. If my suspicion is true, parents should brace themselves for a very long shutdown.

      That's because if this strike is really linked to an unconscious aspect of Clark's Self (that's Self with a capital "S"), she's going to fight to the bitter end.



      Christy Clark

      Sep 5, 2014 at 10:49am

      is simply incompetent no matter how deep into her psyche we delve. Recall her & the idiot Factbender! They are holding us all hostage but particularly the children, destroying the public education system which they are legally bound to uphold. They are breaking the law & have clearly demonstrated they have no souls.

      Yeah right

      Sep 5, 2014 at 10:49am

      "What accounts for this level of irritation on her part? Is it plausible to think that there might be a relationship between everything she associated with public school teachers dating back to her childhood to the situation B.C. finds itself in today?"

      OMG! You've shed so much light on this troubled woman's life and I'm filled with admiration for your mental dexterity and insight into the human mind. If only people would listen to you, and follow your teachings, then the world would be a much better place to live. Brilliant, just brilliant!

      A skeptical one

      Sep 5, 2014 at 10:55am

      One need not be a Jungian to appreciate the relevance of the points made in this article. Well done.


      Sep 5, 2014 at 11:49am

      Good analysis, thank you for trying to bring some insight to understanding Clark's psyche. I would have gone farther though, in suggesting that her relationship with her teacher parent is the foundation for her behaviour. Looks like Christy needs to do some deep work.

      Brian Sipe

      Sep 5, 2014 at 12:58pm

      What a ridiculous commentary. . . what's the point?? Its just a bunch of speculative dribble into the psyche the Premier?? Really? C'mon write something with some backbone and hard journalistic research. This seems to have popped right out of a creative writing class on psyche. It makes one wonder if one of your relatives. . . for the government?

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 5, 2014 at 1:08pm

      Hi Brian,

      None of my immediate family works for the government.

      I'm reading a book right now called "Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change". It's by George Marshall, who can be found at

      He cites the research of Yale University's Dan Kahan, who was also cited in one of William Marsden's book on climate change.

      Kahan explores how people's core values influence their positions on climate change.

      Reading this book has prompted me to wonder why the premier has had such a difficult time dealing with teachers throughout her political career.

      She's often liberal-minded, but she seems to deal with teachers as though they are her shadow. Hence this essay, which you referred to as speculative dribble.

      I fully expected some people to have this reaction. But others who've thought deeply about the process of individuation, the human shadow, and the unconscious might find it enlightening.

      It goes to show that you can't please all of the people all of the time.

      Charlie Smith

      Cat Acomb

      Sep 5, 2014 at 1:11pm

      Interesing. I also recall that Gordon Campbell's father committed suicide...and interestingly, he cut many social services program that were specifically for suicidal adults.


      Sep 5, 2014 at 1:46pm

      I do remember that Clark had some ethics trouble while at SFU concerning her conduct during an election. Coupled with institution hopping and the failure to complete a program, this could account for much of he animosity towards educators. I wonder if there are other MLA's who are starting to feel uncomfortable withe script from the Premier's office? I know the offices are closed to keep them from doing media interviews and dealing with the public, but his strategy could backfire for individual ridings who must each win a local election. Could their be a leadership review coming?


      Sep 5, 2014 at 1:48pm

      "I think that Christy Clark probably had the potential at one time to be a very good public-school teacher."

      Why would she do that and throw away a wildly successful political career?

      I know she not in the NDP -- (she can't be their leader coz they opted for ANOTHER MAN, contrary to their OWN miserable rules)

      But jeez, Chuck, the fact you don't want to give her credit doesn't then excuse such blatantly sexist garbage. Are we suppose to believe your new found poli-psych analysis style will be rolled out for any of the male politicians you don't like?
      Dix's wealthy daddy sold insurance. And Yes! like most people, I do believe that selling car insurance is probably something Adrian could have done successfully...instead of being any sorta politician...

      So Ms. Clark...former Cabinet minister, smartly left the Campbell debacle, came back, purged the crap out of them (Falcon who?), destroyed the NDP in her first election, chased Lambert away and now has Jimmy 'OK how about bidding arbitration, then?' Iker on the ropes looking desperately for a face-saver.

      Other than Sam, I don't see a career of failure here, Chuck? So as a longtime political observer, Mr. Smith, you don't see success? Fairly dishonest man, Chuck Smith...very dishonest.

      But ya sure...she should have been a school teacher. (Not even a college instructor or human resources or a nurse, Chuck?)