MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR SHADOW SELF
Have you heard of the phrase, “your shadow self?” Have you often wondered what that means?
It’s definitely not related to the image that occurs when you are walking with the sun behind you.
What is our shadow self?
Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung was the first to coin the phrase “the shadow self,” in 1945 when he described it as “the thing a person has no wish to be.”(Jung, 1985) Jung believed that we have two sides and some have attributed those to a light and a dark side. Our “light” side is the conscious, the side where our ego resides and the side that we choose to be our conscious belief of ourselves. Our “dark,” shadow side holds everything that doesn’t fit into our conscious idea of self, the emotions, behaviours and impulses that we feel are unacceptable to us and to others. This is generally perceived negative emotions such as sadness, anger, jealousy and cruelty. It is made up of what is repressed so deeply that it becomes unconscious. Carl Jung believed that our shadow self actually holds the primitive side of our nature, the truest form of our self.
How is our shadow self created?
Our shadow starts to form in early childhood when we receive cues and feedback from the environment, our parents and society about what behaviours and emotions are accepted and those which are not. Our need to belong, feel safe and be accepted is challenged when we receive negative feedback and when this happens repeatedly, we start to disconnect from that way of being and no longer feel those emotions or behave in those ways. We therefore become unaware of them residing in our unconscious.
How does our shadow manifest?
Maybe you were a really talkative child but were brought up in the era of the phrase “children should be seen and not heard,” and therefore repressed the side of you that wants to talk a lot. Going forward into adulthood, do you become agitated by those people who talk a lot but not really sure why? Do you wish they would be quiet but feel bad for thinking that? Could that be your shadow at work? This is called projection and is a defence mechanism. We project our feelings about ourselves onto others and this projection of feelings can derive from the part of our personality that we have rejected. As these now reside in our unconscious, the way in which they try to make themselves seen is by highlighting those traits in other people. The reason why we project is because we are not ready to accept that part of ourselves or we are scared of our darkness.
Our shadow, in the main, manifests as our triggers – what we dislike, feel repelled by or disgusted by in others, can tell us a lot about our shadow self if we put our energy into exploring ourselves more deeply.
What this means is that what we believe about other people and the world in which we live, is actually a reflection of our true selves…..let that sink in for a minute, maybe even read that sentence again.
How does that sit with you?
Are you comfortable with that because you have a good level of self awareness or does that feel rather intolerable to think about?
Making friends with your shadow
Going through life not knowing about your shadows existence, or knowing it is there but consciously suppressing any intent to discover it, will inevitably create problems in relationships, issues within our core belief system, perceptions and beliefs about ourselves and impair our world view. Not to mention the physical manifestations that could be experienced such as mental health problems, addictions or chronic illnesses. Suppression of the shadow ultimately hinders our journey to being our true self and reaching our full potential. It can leave us feeling fragmented and full of internal conflict.
References to the shadow over many years and in part, it’s link to the image created in darkness by the sun, means that it’s implied to be a dark, negative element to ourselves. However, the shadow does not always hold negative, unacceptable parts of us, it also holds parts that we have decided are a weakness, when in actual fact, they could be part of our strength.
When we start to look at our shadow and begin to integrate it by treating it with acceptance and compassion, we can start to see the potential for personal growth. This can be a challenging and difficult experience and one which needs time, love and understanding. Bringing the unconscious to the conscious can lead to a deeper understanding of our behaviours, how we perceive others and can bring us a new found level of peace. Our shadow self has such control when it’s unconscious because it drives our thoughts and feelings when we are triggered by things people do or say, so by exploring our shadow self and integrating it, we can reduce it’s power over us. By discovering our shadow, it also helps us to develop a deeper understanding and compassion for others, when we realise that we are not alone in having a shadow and that everyone around else is carrying theirs around too.
It’s important to note here that this can be extremely difficult for some people and it’s imperative that you feel fully prepared, mentally, before embarking on this journey. A trained therapist can help you work through the discovery of your shadow and provide a safe and confidential space for you to explore. Below are a few small tips that can help to get you started on your journey:
- Meditation – this helps to start the process of reconnecting with yourself and can be a great technique to use after doing any difficult shadow work, in order to re-centre and ground yourself.
- Being curious – asking yourself why you reacted in a particular way or behaved a certain way.
- Identify what things trigger you and keeping a note of them.
- Look for any recurring themes that evoke particular feelings within you.
- Seek help and support from a trained professional who can help you work through the triggers and themes one by one and determine what lies in your unconscious shadow.
Jung, C. (1985) Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 16: Practice of Psychotherapy, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, United States.