Shadows occur in various ways: the sun casts a shadow on a clear day, and a bright moon casts a shadow at night—both of which are visible. On the other hand, each of us has a “shadow self,” whether recognized or not. Psychologically the shadow self is the unknown part of us—that which we can’t see in ourselves. It is the dark side of our personality and consists of emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and striving for power.
Where does the shadow come from? To begin with, every child naturally develops a shadow, shaped by what our parents consider good and bad. The parts of ourselves our parents don’t like, we repress and hide from our awareness; these form our personal shadow. In some cases greed is frowned upon, and in others sexuality is taboo. When I was a child anger was banned—I don’t remember my parents or my siblings expressing anger. I was well into my adulthood before I realized rage was a stranger to me and something I needed to tend to—which I did.
Indeed, how we handle our emotions makes all the difference. Identifying our shadow selves—our disowned parts—is the doorway to our uniqueness because the shadow can also hold our creativity, power, and vigor.
Benefits of doing shadow work include:
· improved relationships
· clearer perceptions;
· more energy
· enhanced physical health
· integration/wholeness and maturity
· best of all, greater creativity!
How can you work on your shadow self? By:
· cultivating self-awareness and showing compassion toward feelings that are emerging, which can involve doing the FACE meditation (see blog 3)
· being honest with yourself and developing a courageous willingness to see unpleasant traits in your behavior
· observing your emotional reactions and recording your discoveries in a journal.
Try this basic exercise: Make a list of your positive qualities, and next try to identify the opposite within yourself. For example if you are a calm person you may be repressing an agitated part of yourself that constantly challenges your calm part. So begin to identify with this agitated part—make friends with it and know it’s acceptable to be agitated, too.
In my case, I listed these qualities: an excellent student, a responsible employee, a supportive friend.
On reflection, though, I realized I had become a perfectionist. What lurked in the shadow of this perfectionism? I ultimately understood that since I hadn’t bonded with my mother, I repressed the disappointment and resentment of not feeling cherished by and connected with her. When, in my adult years, I gradually began to acknowledge and welcome the feelings I had repressed, I most definitely became more creative: I am about to release my third book!
Comments about the above are most welcome, especially sharing experiences of working on your shadow self.
Jeannette M. Gagan, PhD, is an award-winning Author, licensed psychologist, shamanic practitioner, and an Ambassador for Peace. Over the years she has learned to use writing as a platform to educate, celebrate progress, and set new goals for PEACE within for all.