Amira had tried everything. She’d seen acupuncturists, herbalists, and hypnotists. She’d gone to therapists of every stripe. She had even attended transformational workshops and walked on hot coals. She journaled until her pen ran dry, meditated until she fell asleep, and recited affirmations that felt more and more stale by the day. She’d read boatloads of books too, yet there was still a part of herself she couldn’t stand — a part that sunk her confidence, a part she didn’t want anyone to know about.
She tried to push it down, ignore it, and squeeze it out with busy-ness, but it only took up residence in her shadow side. Can you relate to this?
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung theorized the archetype of the Shadow and described it as a fog of illusion that surrounds the self. The shadow is where all our feelings of anger, fear, insecurity, jealousy, or sexual shame reside and any attempt to repress them only deepens the darkness. Whenever we label an aspect of ourselves as bad, broken, guilty, or illicit, the self has been split off and the shadow fed. It can be a destructive force, ruinous from the inside.
How can you take away its power?
Give all the parts of you permission to exist.
Our ugly, inconvenient parts always find mischievous ways of rising up to express themselves when we deny them. Without a safe outlet to express our more difficult thoughts and feelings, the shadow becomes a powerful force capable of unconscious self-sabotage and a threat to self-worth.
To confront it, you can begin by asking a few questions like these:
What am I most afraid that someone else will find out about me?
What am I most afraid I’ll find out about myself?
What could change in my life by facing my shadow?
Every past trauma, be it a car accident or breakup, losing a job or being harshly disciplined as a child, has deposited its emotional debris in our shadows. This accumulated emotional residue builds up and wreaks havoc in our relationships.
We have a lot of clever ways of dealing with our shadow parts like arrogance, blame, defensiveness, and idealizing others. Whenever we feel jealousy, paranoia, prejudice, or superiority, that’s shadow stuff too. The moment you realize you’re projecting one of these, contact the hidden feeling to explore it. Invite it out into the light.
Part of healing the shadow is recognizing that if we did not possess a certain quality, good or bad, we could not recognize it in another person. We are, on the one hand, filled with brilliance, kindness, and love… and we are also filled with hostility, secrecy, aggression, and selfishness. There is no aspect or trait that we don’t possess that isn’t a part of the complex nature of all human beings.
Another way to combat the shadow is to neutralize the fear that emboldens it. One of the best fear-fighters I’ve found is self-compassion. Pay attention to the symptoms of emotional pain in your life. Give some self-love.
Here are some other ways you can dance with your shadow:
- Acknowledge it when it brings negativity into your life. Uncover it, own it, and embrace it — the dark, the light, and the grey in-between, the strong, the weak, the honest and the dishonest.
- Ask yourself “What circumstances are giving rise to my shadow?” Do you feel overlooked or taken for granted? Do you feel meltdown-level stress? Do you feel hopeless or powerless? If you know where the triggers lie, you can start to resolve them.
- Talk about your feelings or even what you’re putting in the shadow with someone you trust — your coach, a close friend, or a counselor. The shadow shrinks when we share.
- Embrace it and forgive it. Embracing an aspect of yourself means loving it, allowing it to coexist with the things you like about yourself and are proud of. If your shadow aspect is “I’m controlling,” then look at it with compassion. The shadow is here to point us to where we need to heal, to where we are incomplete.
- Explore a physical form of energy release. This could include acupuncture, breath work, cranio-sacral therapy, reiki, or tapping — healing that connects your inner world and your body.
- Do a guided meditation or mantra meditation. You can find many ideas online or write your own.
- Continue to look for the gold amidst the dirt. Many of our worst fears and behaviors arose out of the impulse of self-protection. There’s almost always a lesson to be gleaned from searching for the “gift” in your dark part.
When you can learn to find the “light side” of every “dark part,” you can really own and embrace all the intricacies of who you are. You can release the resentments, worries, self-doubts, and distrust that keep you from connecting with honesty and vulnerability. You can heal from the inside out.