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Diving Deep Into The Shadow
What are you hiding?
The talk of shadow work is everywhere in personal growth and new age circles. But what exactly is the shadow and how do we work with it? In Jungian psychology, the integration of the shadow refers to the process of acknowledging and integrating the dark unconscious aspects of our psyche that we tend to repress or avoid. The parts of ourselves that contradict our self-image. It’s the stuff we don’t want to look at including our deepest fears, traumas, uncomfortable beliefs, and desires. Facing our inner darkness is not easy. But by, first acknowledging and then integrating the shadow, one can achieve a greater sense of wholeness and authenticity. And overcome some of the inner conflicts that interfere with our growth and intimacy in relationships.
Recognizing the Shadow
The Shadow is the hiding place for our disappointments, perceived personal deficits, embarrassing moments, and maladjusted thinking and behavior. See if you can recognize yourself in any of these situations.
1. Do you find yourself experiencing fits of rage or irritability that are way out of proportion to the situation?
This is a classic sign of the shadow. Projection. Unleashing our anger and frustration onto something or someone external.
2. Do you tell small lies about yourself that inflate or distort the truth?
Do you find yourself in conversations and for some reason you change a small (or large) detail? There is usually something underneath this. Did you lie to make yourself seem more or less important or was the lie because of boredom, shame, or insecurity?
3. Do you frequently hide aspects of yourself or your personality depending on the situation?
We all do this to some extent because some behaviors are okay around a close friend but are not acceptable around the boss. What I’m talking about is the significant and constant compartmentalization of your personality.
4. Do you think of past experiences and immediately shove that memory back in the box because of the shame you feel?
We’ve all done things in our past that we regret. Understanding the reason for regret is important so we can choose better in the future.
5. Are you overly critical or judgmental of others?
More often than not, we judge in others what we don’t want to see in ourselves. Think of a time recently when you were extra judgy, I bet if you do a little digging, it is really a reflection of your shadow.
The Curious Why
Next time one of the above occurs, try to use the curious why. Instead of looking at these behaviors with guilt or shame, which only leads to more shadow, see if you can look at it with curiosity instead of condemnation.
Hmmm, that’s interesting, why does it bother me so much that Judy lied to me? Hmmm, my reaction was way out of proportion to the situation. What was that about?
If you have a very strong or out-of-character response to something, there is probably some wound or aspect of self that is needing to be integrated. In both examples, the behavior is connected to a belief you have about yourself or the world.
Working With The Shadow
It is our ego identity that fractures us. It is our ego that deems what is dark within us. It is the ego that does not want to look at something that contradicts the idea of itself. To see how the shadow operates in our lives we need to have some separation from it. We need to be able to witness the inner monologue without identifying with it. Here are a couple of techniques or ways to learn to witness what your ego is trying to hide. Acknowledgment and recognition is always the first step in making changes.
See Emotions as Data
Emotions are data points that can alert us to what is lurking within our subconscious. Too many people today have decided that we must protect emotions at all costs. Somewhere along the way, we decided that feeling an uncomfortable emotion was something to be avoided. I say let them guide you through your inner landscape. Because emotions and thoughts are inextricably linked. If you want to understand what’s underneath something. Emotions, especially uncomfortable ones, are a good place to start digging.
I don’t like to talk about emotions as good or bad. Happy emotions provide just as much data as ‘negative’ emotions do. They show us where we are congruent with our values, and they illuminate what is alive within us. They guide us on the pathway of flow, passion, and connection. Whereas ‘negative’ emotions give us information about our wounds. There is nothing wrong with wounds. They just are, everyone has them. We are all living in relationship with everything around us, and nobody is left unscathed.
I prefer to think of emotions as dense or less dense. In Buddhism, they make a distinction between feelings and emotions. Feelings are mere sensations that can be deemed as pleasant or unpleasant. Emotions are feelings with a story. The story has density. It’s not just having the experience of anxiety, but the story of fear. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of rejection, abandonment, etc are all just signs that just underneath there is a story that holds information about our wounds.
Uncovering Wounds Through Archetypes
One of my favorite ways of uncovering and exploring our wounds and the story we’ve created around them is through the use of archetypes. Caroline Myss, says we have four primary archetypes that are represented in the psyche of every human living at this time - the child, the victim, the saboteur, and the prostitute.
Next time that you have an exaggerated experience of being offended, jealous, fearful, etc, ask yourself what part of your psyche is feeling that.
The ‘How dare she?’ of the Queen.
The ‘Why me?’ of the Victim.
The ‘Of course this happened, I’m unloveable’ of the Inner Child.
The ‘well, I didn’t like you much anyway!’ of the Rebel.
Your experience might be the story of the princess or martyr too. So pay attention to the inner dialogue, what character is speaking? Once you understand the archetype, you start to understand the story or the thinking behind it. It gives you insight into the wound. What experiences have you had early on that are at the heart of the trauma?
A few things happen when you look at wounding through archetypes. First, it creates some separation between you and the story. You can witness your past and present behavior with a certain degree of objectivity. It also helps you understand your process from a different perspective and not take it so personally. You may find that you cycle through a few archetypes before you come to a resolution and/or clarity. As long as you take a beat to witness rather than react, you can prevent engaging in regretful behavior and you’ll learn a thing or two along the way about how you show up.
Bringing Darkness Into The Light
In A Course in Miracles, they talk about bringing darkness into the light instead of bringing the light into the darkness. This might seem like a distinction without a difference, but it is at the core of becoming whole. The reason we bring darkness into the light instead of the other way around is because, from this point of view, we understand that we are already the light. We are already an aspect of the divine. The spirit does not suffer. It is the ego that suffers due to the illusion of separation. Integration is the process of becoming whole. It is about loving yourself where you stand because, at the core, you are love. It is about being a whole human and knowing that you are divine.
All of us are a work in progress. Always. Part of learning to love ourselves is to know that we all have our shit. And if we all waited to love our whole selves until we were perfect, we would be waiting forever. Unless we understand that we are already perfect in our imperfections. Because we are already divine, just somewhere along the way we forgot that.
Integrating the Shadow
Acknowledge and recognize your shadow
Be accountable for your past behavior and atone where necessary.
Find a healthy outlet for the repressed energy or desire.
Learn to respond rather than react.
Love yourself - For you are an aspect of the divine.
There is no perfect human. But I do believe that a better world comes from a more self-aware soul. Awareness isn’t a purity test, it is just a desire to live more authentically and intimately in the world. This isn’t easy or comfortable work. It is important to be kind to yourself. Integrating our shadow is a complex and often challenging process that requires patience and a heavy dose of self-compassion. But by embracing our emotions as a guide, using archetypes to explore our wounds and patterns, and practicing self-compassion in the process, we can engage in this transformative process with greater clarity, awareness, and grace.
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