Introducing… your Shadow.

“Unless you learn to face your own shadows, you will continue to see them in others, because the world outside of you is only a reflection of the world inside of you.” – The Minds Journal

Are you scared of your own shadow?!
We all have parts of ourselves that we have hidden away, usually denying that they even exist. The psychologist Carl Jung popularized the concept of the shadow self to describe the dark and emotional aspects of our psyche. What makes up your shadow depends on what you subconsciously reject in yourself, often as a result of childhood experiences.

According to the psychological concept of Projection, we project these disowned parts out onto others and then react to them in other people. So, for example, you might detest laziness in others, and feel really triggered when your colleague/partner/friend seems lazy; while you run about being busy and productive and making sure to be the opposite of lazy. You fight hard against any laziness in yourself, disowning any possibility that you could ever be lazy. And yet, we all have the capacity to be lazy sometimes. Indeed, sometimes there may be a benefit to lazing about, just relaxing and taking it easy. This can be hard for you to allow yourself to do if laziness has been denied and pushed into the shadows – so you miss the gift of laziness.
The easiest way to identify the shadow parts you’ve projected outwards is to examine what it is about other people that really irritates you! What triggers you, and what gets a reaction out of you? How might that be something that is also part of you that perhaps you’ve disowned, or never given permission to exist in you?

Another part of our shadow can be emotions that we’ve learned to push down and away.
To give a very generalized example; girls have traditionally learned at a young age that anger is wrong and unacceptable for them; so in order to be a good girl, they reject their anger. They may become completely disconnected from their anger as a result, and find themselves upset at times when they should instead feel angry (the anger tends to come afterwards after the situation/event has passed). Because the anger is unconscious and disowned, it may erupt at times explosively, and feel out of control – it is out of control because it is not consciously owned, or taken responsibility for because they simply are not allowed to be angry.

In this example, the anger needs to be felt, owned and reclaimed. If we can come to accept that we feel anger and that’s ok, that it’s just another part of us; then we begin to bring it out of the hidden darkness and into the light. That way we consciously take ownership of our anger, and we can choose whether to use it constructively or destructively. It’s a choice; not an unconscious reaction that we are then ashamed of. In fact, when we really lean into emotion and allow ourselves to experience it with awareness, without judgement for feeling it, we see that emotions come like waves – they intensify and then they pass.

(For men, it’s most commonly tears, hurt, upset that have been branded as weakness and pushed into the shadows, not allowed – ‘Big boys don’t cry’. As a result, men may react with anger when underneath those layers they’re really feeling hurt and vulnerable and small, but they’ve learned that those feelings are not ok so they may not even be aware they’re present, and only be aware of the anger. As I say, these are generalisations, but very common in many cultures still).

If you’d like to work gently with your shadow, you might begin by considering an emotion you find difficult; that you would usually try to avoid feeling (we have so many ways of avoiding difficult emotions! – overwork, overeating, overexercising, busyness, alcohol, drugs, avoiding being on our own, avoiding silence…). Think of a situation where you recently felt that emotion – and this time allow the emotion to rise up in you. See if you can gently sit with that emotion; remind yourself that it will pass, it’s ok to feel it – give yourself permission to experience the feelings.
Notice what is happening in your body. There may be a change in temperature somewhere, a tension, a tightness, or even numbness – just gently tune in to what is happening within your body. Bring an attitude of open curiosity as well as kindness – you’re just seeing if you can begin to allow this feeling to exist, even if just for a moment at a time.
Afterwards, journal on your experience and reflect on any learnings. See if you can consciously begin to allow that emotion into your life, look for the benefits in allowing it rather than suppressing it.
(If you’ve experienced severe trauma in your life, you may benefit from doing this work with the support of a good therapist.)

For real growth and healing, we need to begin to embrace our shadows, claim back the parts we’ve disowned, and make them conscious.
I have been doing this work myself recently (again 😉 and have been learning a new approach which originates from Peter Koenig, called Reclamations – about reclaiming parts of yourself so that you can be whole and live to the full of your potential. It’s wonderful and profound work which can create big shifts in a small time. If you decide to work with me in 2023 this will be part of the offering, whether 1to1 or in my group programs. Accelerate your results on the outside by doing the inner work. Shine a light on your shadow, and grow into wholeness again.