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Meeting Your Shadow

Author: The Drive Magazine
1 week ago
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I often get asked, ‘What is shadow work?’ This discussion about our shadow self has been around for thousands of years. From the ancient wisdom books up to modern times and in all religions, they have been writing about how humanity has yearned to find balance between the light and the dark sides of its human nature.   We are continually being reminded of the influence of the dark side. 

We know the shadow by many names: dark side, alter ego, lower self, the dark twin, disowned part of yourself, the black wolf within or, the devil that made you do it. It’s the part that leaves us feeling like we are not good enough or that there’s something wrong with us.  To create the kind of life we want, it’s important to stop resisting our shadow (like trying to push a beach ball underwater) and instead, embrace and fully own the very things we are most afraid of facing.  By ‘own’, I mean acknowledge that quality belongs to you.  By meeting our shadows and making peace with them, you will no longer have to pretend to be someone you’re not.  You will no longer have to prove that you are good enough.  When you embrace your shadow, you no longer have to live in fear.  

We are born whole with a healthy emotional design where we can freely express ourselves. When we think of an infant, it doesn’t question why it’s sad, happy, frustrated, or content.  In its innocence it naturally moves through its full emotional range in total acceptance. As we grow older, we become programmed to not accept all of who we are. We begin to learn from those around us that people have good qualities and bad qualities. The aspects of us that are seen as unacceptable, both positive and negative, are rejected by our family and the aspects that are seen as acceptable are not. We are told how to act, when to eat, when to sleep, when to laugh and when to cry.  So being dependent on our families, and in the name of survival, we did anything we could to deny, hide, and suppress those aspects of ourselves that were disapproved of while exaggerating those others deemed acceptable. In other words, we disassociate ourselves from those aspects of ourselves that we were taught were negative.  This creates a split within a person; there are parts of themselves they believe are acceptable and aware of and parts they have disowned and cannot readily see. This split can be identified as the conscious and the subconscious.  

Revolutionary psychologist, Carl Jung, referred to the aspects that we locked away in our subconscious and are unaware of as, the shadow.  The human shadow is any aspect of a person that is not exposed to the light of their own consciousness. His notion of the shadow was simple: ‘The shadow is the person you would rather not be’.  Fatally this self-preservation instinct of dividing ourselves is the first act of self-rejection. 

The problem with suppressing any feeling or aspect of ourselves that we deem as negative is, we also suppress its opposite.  When we deny our anger, we withhold our love.  If we resist our jealousy, we lose our contentment.   There was a quote my teacher, Debbie Ford, would often say, ‘What you can’t be with, won’t let you be’.  Can you imagine what life would be like if you gave all of yourself permission to exist? Accepting all your imperfections, with no judgment?  Another Ford saying was, ‘I’d rather be whole than good’.  In other words, it’s not about getting rid of the parts of ourselves we dislike but finding the positive traits of these shadow aspects and integrating them into our lives. When we can accept all of ourselves, and forgive ourselves, we automatically accept and forgive others, which I believe leads to the peace we are all searching for.  

 ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate’. C.J. Jung

Shadow work is about making the unconscious conscious and the unacceptable acceptable. Integration of the unconscious leads to complete awareness.  It’s like shining a flashlight into a dark room – the shadow is no longer obscure and covertly controlling your life. This way, we have a more conscious choice about how and when they come out. We want to be able to choose to use our shadowy sides as needed instead of having them act out, thus reinforcing our limitations. Shadow work is about self-acceptance and reclaiming all of who you are. Ultimately it is about bringing attention and love to those young aspects of yourself that have previously been rejected.  At last, you will make friends with yourself! In my opinion, shadow work is the highest form of self-love. 

The following is a simple process you can do to uncover your ‘inner oppressor’ and give ‘it’ the love and acknowledgement ‘it’ needs to help deactivate the shame.   Close your eyes and take a moment to think about something you’ve wanted for a long time; that ‘someday’ thing you dream of having.  Maybe you’d love to have a fit body, a healthy relationship, or a home on the lake?  See it in your mind’s eye and sense it into your bones. Give it a few minutes and you’ll likely hear a familiar negative inner voice creep in telling you, ‘You can’t have what you want, or you won’t do what’s needed in order for this dream to come true.’  It may remind you, you’re not good enough, focused enough or worthy enough.  This is the voice of your shadow self. Now think back to the earliest time you can remember hearing that same negative voice.  Who was there?  What was happening?  How old were you?  Likely you’ll be able to trace it back to a time when you were between the ages of 2-10 years old.  Maybe you wanted a new bike, and you were told your grades weren’t good enough and you don’t deserve it. It’s the little girl or boy within you that created the shadow self that needs some love or attention.  It’s that aspect that feels stupid, bad or unworthy and is hiding in your psyche setting the parameters of your life. Sit with them.  Imagine that shadow self as the prodigal son/daughter coming home.  Give ‘them’ the love that they have been yearning for.  What did they/you need at those critical times that they/you didn’t get? Are you willing to give it to yourself? Action:  Write a letter to your 10-year-old self.   Let them know you are there for them, you know what happened, and they’re worthy/lovable exactly as they are.  ‘Dear ten-year-old me, this is what I want you to know….’

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