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  • Resilient Practice

Love Your Shadow

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

Carl Jung

When we are born, we are gloriously whole with no concerns about what others think of us. This quickly changes. We learn about approval and disapproval. To a child, disapproval equals abandonment which in turn essentially means death. Approval makes us part of the tribe and ensures the care we need to survive.

The things that the influential people in our life approve of, become the things that we show to the world and the things that we are proud of about ourselves. The early psychologists, Freud and Jung called this the ‘Persona.’

The things that are disapproved of or frowned upon, those traits and characteristics that others consider as “bad” are hidden. In an attempt to pretend they are not there; the psyche pushes them out of view. Jung termed this part of us our “Shadow Self.”

Our shadow then, is a traumatic response to anything that we have been made to feel ashamed of.

Why is our Shadow important? If it is hidden, then surely that is ok?

The problem is that nothing that has been pushed inside of us stays there all of the time. In fact, traits from our shadow will pop up regularly. If we don’t recognise them as ours and actually honour and accept them, they can cause us a lot of distress.

When feel that we do not like someone or they do something that makes us uncomfortable, those people are reflecting at us parts of our Shadow Self. The more we have disowned that part of ourselves the more repulsion we will feel.

Have a think now about a time when you have disliked someone – what was it that you disliked about them? Were they lazy, or too loud, full of themselves, rude or cruel?

You may well be thinking – “there is no way I am like that person"

In fact, we all have the capacity for cruelty, manipulation, selfishness and even abuse in the right circumstances and pretending that we do not gives away our power to do anything about it.

This is the time to say thank you to the universe for giving us the opportunity to really grow because when we recognise that our dislike or revulsion is more about us than about the other person, we have control over it and can stop wasting our energy in being repulsed.

Acknowledging our shadow means that we can stop being ashamed of those parts of ourselves and therefore stop judging ourselves. In turn we will stop judging the other person. When we do this their behaviour no longer triggers us. We can feel compassion for them rather than revulsion.

Try this:

If you want to do some shadow work ask yourself these questions:

What do I like about myself? – my best traits and then consider the opposites

What makes me feel defensive or sensitive? What do I avoid?

What situations make me feel inferior or embarrassed?

The answers to these questions will point towards traits that are in your Shadow.

It is often easier to see the Shadow of others - listen to how they describe themselves and what they criticise in others. Remember when you are criticising someone you are in fact displaying to the world your own shadow.

The next time you are annoyed by someone, take the time to consider what it is about them or their behaviour has annoyed you and if this might be an opportunity for some shadow work. Just recognising that your shadow is involved heightens your self-awareness and means you are in control of your response.

For more on honouring your shadow read chapter 5 of ‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’

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