“The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown dark side of our personality. It is dark because it tends to predominantly consist of primitive or negative low based human emotions and impulses such as selfishness, greed, envy, anger or jealousy.” (sounds like a day at my office)
Due to the unenlightened nature of the shadow, these things are completely obscured from our consciousness.
Whatever we feel is evil, inferior or unacceptable and deny in ourselves, becomes part of the shadow; the counterpoint to what Jung called the persona or conscious ego personality.
The Freudian defense mechanism known as “projection” is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but by groups, cults, religions, and other situations in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized. Sort of what I like to call The Jewish Inquisition – the she-devil emerging from my grandmother when I would try to pass my Christian boyfriends off as nice Jewish boys. Oh how I loved to torment her. My shadow and I were always well acquainted.
The shadow is most destructive, insidious and dangerous when habitually repressed and projected, manifesting in a myriad of psychological disturbances ranging from neurosis to psychosis, irrational interpersonal hostility, and even cataclysmic international clashes.
Wow, that sounds like Donald Trump, doesn’t it? No worries for Trump lovers though. I’m an equal opportunity hater. Trump may be psychotic but Hillary is insidious. Hey, do you think she’s getting any? I doubt it. Maybe someone really needs to grab HER by the *****. You gotta know that Bill isn’t doing it. Crap, I promised my guides I wasn’t going to go there. Sorry, my shadow made me do it!
(You know, originally writing this I actually used the word “pussy”. I realize it’s crude and all that but we’re all adults here. I decided to use the ***** because I didn’t want people choking on their coffee. You’re welcome but it is what it is!)
The shadow or “shadow aspect” are those things about ourselves that we are not fully conscious of. Under this broad definition, such things may be positive or negative. However, generally the reason we are not conscious of such things is because they are the least desirable aspects of our personality.
So why open that can of worms?
To grow and learn more about ourselves.
If we don’t become intimate with our shadow it can control us and we can lose ourselves in its darkness.
From a spiritual perspective, to engage in shadow work is to encounter the shadow, confront it, understand how that bad boy operates, find its origins, accept it and assimilate into our conscious lives. This process helps to free us from destructive or self-sabotaging behaviors. It helps us come to terms with major life transitions, regain our confidence and grow.
The shadow is meant to be understood figuratively. It is not an evil inside of you or a split of your personality. And I don’t care what my husband says – it’s not hormonal either. There is nothing wrong with you. It is part of the human experience.
“Shadow work is a process of psychological integration by which we take greater responsibility for ourselves and our actions to achieve wholeness and balance.”
It allows us to embrace our weaknesses, find new strengths, be more compassionate and become more creative. It gives birth to an authentic spirituality.
Shadow work isn’t something you do once in a few hours or even a few days and then you’re done. It’s ongoing. Ground yourself. Center yourself. Learn to be okay with not being finished. The nature of this work requires that it be put aside so you come back to it time and time again.
If you’ve never done this kind of work, start by asking yourself some key questions. You may not have clear answers for these questions and that’s okay. You might want to journal or meditate on them.
- What don’t I want others to know about me? (I have vaginal dryness)
- What do I tend to have a disproportionate reaction to? (Payless Shoes)
- Which emotions am I uncomfortable expressing? (pretty much nothing is off limits)
- What am I most scared to express in a relationship? (telling hubby how much my purse cost)
- What traits in others really annoy you, wind you up or make you angry or frustrated? (people who leave the shopping cart in the parking lot at the grocery store)
- What traits do you most admire in others? (men who put the toilet seat down)
- Who do you look up to? Who are your idols? (not Michelle Obama)
- What do you find yourself doing over and over “by accident”? (peeing my pants when I sneeze)
- What is the worst insult someone can give you? (Hey look, Dana – you’re starting to get a turkey neck! – thanks mother)
All kidding aside, ask yourself these questions. Then ask yourself why. Ask yourself why a lot. Try to recall moments in your life when these feelings emerged and keep going back in time to try to find where it all began. I think you will find a lot of it is rooted in some childhood event.
When you have identified pieces of your shadow, you can do a meditation in which you meet it. Ask it its name. (Mine is banshee) Ask it questions. What is important to you? What do you want? What can I learn from you? How I can honor you? (buy me that pretty diamond necklace in the window)
Remember that this process is not about eliminating our shadow aspects. The purpose is to recognize it and accept it; establish a new awareness so it doesn’t control you any more.
Shadow work is a painful and lengthy process. There can also be a great sadness when we realize that what we thought was true about ourselves was just a defense against things we were afraid of. This will pass. When you emerge from the work, it will be as if a great burden has been lifted. You will find the rainbow and you will find yourself.
In my opinion, one of the mistakes that spiritual people make, is denial of the shadow self. Spiritual people are supposed to be all fluffy and zen like, breathing like we’re in labor and chanting “om” all day. Some people are of the opinion that “spiritual people” should be above reproach. I call BULLSHIT! Don’t doubt my sincerity when I can’t live up to that expectation. Give me a break, I’m human and trying out this life the same way you are.
The shadow is the part of ourselves that we repress or deny, the part(s) which have gotten us into trouble or even embarrassed us in front of others. Anger is one of the most potent parts of the shadow. We’ve learned over time to bury those facets of ourselves down deep so they never see the light again. We are taught to deny them, and we learn to be ashamed of them.
But those feelings don’t go anywhere and they are not dormant either. They stir and bubble under the surface, later showing up in the body as discomfort or pain; even disease. They fester within us energetically, and then they begin to manifest physically. They ache to be released. But what does that mean?
Some part of you is angry and rages. That is your fire. That is the seat of your power and, that is the place where the transformation will take place. That is your alchemy, your invitation for change and renewal. Anger and rage can be tools for spiritual growth. Allow yourself to experience them in a safe way and most importantly, integrate them into something more productive in your life. If you’re angry and you know it, change your life! Channel that fire into something productive and move on!
One of the very personal lessons that I am currently learning in life is that people who cross your path, even those closest to you, have anger and rage issues that manifests in different ways. Try to understand that most rage really isn’t about you – try not to take it personally. (Easier said than done, I know, believe me, I know)
Most of the displays of rage you will see from others in your life are projections onto you because you are mirroring something to them that they struggle to process. (Did you get that? 🙂 – If not, read it again because it’s important. As my grandfather would say, “let it penetrate.” 🙂 ) Love you, Poppy. Thank you for watching over me.
I think the greatest gift we can give ourselves in this life is complete and total loving acceptance of who we are. We are the good, the bad; the ugly. We are the happy and the sad, we are the kind and the unkind, the forgiving, unforgiving and the unforgiven. We are the lost and the found. We are the dark and light, both of which we cannot live without.
I urge you to take those skeletons out of the dark recesses of your mind and no longer allow them to jump out and scare you. Ask yourself, what part of myself is most unknown to me? Look at those things. Examine them. Talk to them. Dissect them and soothe them. Work to express these things. Create. Journal. Meditate. Once you do this, they will lose the power to sneak up and surprise you. It is better to meet them on your terms.
May your rage and anger become your gift of enlightenment.
And so it is.