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The Shadow

As I was growing up, I ‘knew’ even though it wasn’t true, that in order to be accepted and loved by my Mum and Dad and have a safe place in my family, I had to be good – meaning nice, kind, helpful, caring, unselfish, loving and generous etc.

But what happened when I felt angry and wanted to lash out at people and make them suffer for real or imagined hurts? Since this didn’t fit into the image of how I was supposed to be, where did this anger go? Into what Carl Jung called the shadow. In fact, it went so deeply into my shadow that for many years I never felt angry or any other so called negative feelings, let alone expressed them, at least overtly. That is not to say that these negative feelings didn’t seep out covertly in my non-verbal behaviour which research suggests accounts for 93% of communication.

At one stage the Jungian analyst and author James Hollis thought of offering a 12 step program for ‘nice’ people, where they came together on a regular basis and shared when they fell off the wagon into ‘niceness’. I hasten to say that ‘niceness’ is a fine quality, but it is a problem if it defines us and that’s all we believe we are.

So what is this thing called our shadow? It’s the container for all those aspects of our self that we don’t want to acknowledge. And why? Because if we do, it would threaten our self-image – the image, positive or negative that we developed to survive the real or perceived demands of our childhood.

What needs to happen, for crucial aspects of ourselves to remain available to us – our emotions, intelligence, imagination, creativity, spontaneity etc?  And what about those other aspects of ourselves like greed, hatred, viciousness, envy, lust etc which need to be acknowledged, understood and accepted, so that we have choice in their expression, rather than being driven to express them in overtly or covertly destructive ways?

How do we get in touch with those aspects of ourselves that we have relegated to the shadow? One simple and powerful technique which I use frequently, is that whenever we are inspired or repulsed by another person’s behaviour, to at least open ourselves to the possibility that those behaviours are a mirror to some aspect of our self that we have not yet acknowledged and accepted. This reduces the tendency to blame others, a veritable dead end and it encourages us to own our shadow with compassion, rather than projecting it onto others.

As well as not acknowledging the so called negative aspects of our shadow, many of us have great difficulty in acknowledging the gold.  I think it was Robert Johnson who says that ‘it’s much easier for many of us to think we’re a bum, rather than acknowledging our brilliance.’

In acknowledging all aspects of myself, including the most challenging shadow aspects both positive and ‘negative’, I find myself so much more interesting than being one-dimensionally ‘nice.’

Let us celebrate all that we are and the fullness and richness of all that we have the potential to become.

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