I N T O the S H A D O W S
Where there is lightness, there is darkness. Yin and yang. The blazing sun casts a deep shadow. Put simply, it is N A T U R A L. Therefore, it is natural for even the lightest souls to also contain shades of darkness. It is within every single one of us. We all have a shadow.
When it becomes problematic is when we deny this shadow. We pretend it's not there, or even actively reject it. Why is this problematic? The shadow doesn't easily take a hint, then take a hike. No, it lingers. It lingers and it gets its due by seeping into our thoughts, our actions, and our words, whether we're aware of it or not. Ultimately, it blocks true happiness, authenticity, and evolution.
So what is the shadow? The shadow is a concept discovered by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists mainly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the desire for power.
The personal shadow is the disowned self. This shadow self represents the parts of us we no longer claim to be our own, including inherent positive qualities.
As I mentioned, these unexamined or disowned parts of our personality don’t go anywhere. As if. Although we deny them in our attempt to cast them out, we don’t eliminate them. They're stillll there.
We repress them; they are part of our unconscious. Put simply, the unconscious is everything of which we are not conscious.
These emotions are part of our shared humanity. We're all in this together. But as we grow up, something happens.
Traits associated with “being good” are accepted, while others associated with “being bad” are rejected. We all have basic human needs. These needs include physiological needs, safety and security needs, and needs for belonging. These needs are biological and instinctual.
As humans, we are motivated by our needs. So when we perceive an aspect of ourselves as threatening one of our needs (typically the needs for safety, love, and belonging) we shove those aspects into the shadows. We pick up cues from our environment, so if we experience/witness a trait being condemned by others (especially our caretakers), we repress and deny, baby. Repress and deny.
I mean, think about it. If you go deep and consider this from an evolutionary standpoint, our very safety and existence depends on our caretakers' (parents - biological or otherwise) acceptance and approval. We ain't tryna repel them, leaving us to fend for ourselves. We need them to feed and protect us. And even socially speaking - generally, to be "successful" (personally and professionally) and happy and fulfilled in life, we need social connection. So we will do our damndest to hide any trait we've perceived as socially unacceptable. We want to be liked and accepted by our friends/colleagues/bosses.
Let’s say you realize your need to take better care of yourself (especially you moms and dads!). You create a self-care routine and are feeling psyched about it.
A few days in, though, you start receiving blowback from the people in your life. Maybe your kids are banging on the door while you're working out/meditating, or your boss guilt trips you when you ask to leave work early (or on time!).
Your doubts and fears creep in about this whole self-care thing. You worry you are being regarded as "selfish" and decide to bail on the self care. Before you know it, you’ve taken yourself off your priority list and might even secretly take pride in your selflessness. That’s what “good” people do, after all. Right?
In your quest to be good (likable, lovable, worthy, enough), your ability to focus on yourself has been pushed into the shadows.
In the above example, the shadow is the desire (or need) for self-care. But, somewhere along the way, you were convinced that focusing on your own needs was wrong or bad (aka selfish) so you rejected those desires by denying their existence. You designed your life so it would always appear you were doing “right” by others.
Our egos use this mechanism to defend itself—to defend how it perceives itself. Our false identities of being “good” keep us from connecting to our shadow, which then keeps us from freedom and true acceptance (internal and external).
All we deny in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—become part of the shadow. Anything incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude about ourselves moves to this dark side.
Trouble pops up when we fail to see it.
Get this: The shadow can operate on its own without our full awareness. It’s as if our conscious self goes on autopilot while the unconscious takes the wheel. Remaining unaware of the shadow harms our relationships with our spouses, family, and friends. It will also impact our professional relationships, as well as our leadership abilities.
And those parts of ourselves we slide out of view? We then see them in others.
Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others.
In psychology, this is called projection. We project onto others anything we conceal within us.
For example: Let's say you're pissed at someone for selfishly taking two cookies instead of one, or for interrupting you. This doesn't mean those actions aren't rude. It just means deep down, you recognize those in your shadow self. It should be noted we usually aren't aware of these projections (hopefully you will be after reading this).
These projections distort reality, creating a solid boundary between how we view ourselves and how we behave in reality.
This is something I'm constantly working on. And you know what? It's not a process from which one ever fully graduates. Sure, it can become easier and more rewarding and enlightening, depending on how you frame it. I've trained myself to appreciate and be grateful for glimpses of my shadow; I now view it as an opportunity to progress and improve myself. But as I indicated with the yin and yang: it's the natural balance of things. Lightness and darkness go hand in hand. It's natural. That darkness has a purpose. Don't let it control you. Accept yourself and accept others. View it with love. Own your darkness and liberate yourself! That will help your light shine even BRIGHTER.