(The following is an excerpt from my latest book Journey into a Passionate Life. There is a companion workbook for those who want the tools and guidance to delve deeper into that part of self that they try desperately to hide.. The complete chapter may be read on my website LifeResourceCenter.net)
Try walking down a country road in the summer time without your shadow. You cannot deny it, as it is a demanding taskmaster. Cross the road, it is there; walk backwards, there it is, a constant. Where there is light, there is shadow. In addition to our outside shadow, there is an inside shadow, often experienced as alien, a 'not me' part. The more split off from it we are, the more uproar it can cause us on a daily basis. Within each of us is a cavern of unknowns where our forbidden feelings, secret wishes, and our creative urges are stored. For our lives to be full and passionate, we have to find the courage to meet our inner shadow.
Examples of the shadow showing up includes the compulsivity of addictions, adultery, lying, stealing, eating disorders, depression, blaming, etc. Whatever form it takes, the aftermath is similar, shame, pain or crises. Even if nobody finds out about our darkness, it still exacts its price. We hear about a respected minister who has engaged in aberrant personal behavior that makes the news and a normally-kind woman shows who shows her shadow when she verbally attacks her child for an errant behavior. In addition, the client, who comes to see me in distress saying she got drunk and had unprotected sex the night before, has experienced her shadow, and the father who in denial of his own feelings of vulnerability cannot tolerate such feelings in his wife and children and becomes demeaning and abusive is also showing his shadow. It is not uncommon to condemn in others what we disown in ourselves.
It takes courage to turn around and face the 'shadow' side of ourselves. An imminent psychologist, Carl Jung said, "When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate." (Jung, 1963) He added that this is not a popular concept and rather disagreeable to most of us.
What I have observed, with my own 'dark,' as well as with my clients' shadows, is that we also have light shadows of intrinsic beauty and strength to claim and enjoy when we venture inward and examine. We cannot fully enjoy the light side of ourselves until we embrace our shadow side. It takes an enormous amount of energy to suppress such a cauldron of feelings in our attempt to deny its expression. So tie yourself to the mast, it could be an interesting voyage.
When I am in an important life transition, my unresolved shadow, or the dark visage, tends to show up in my dreams. If the symbols do not get my attention the first time around, they become uglier, more persistent, and graphic, until taken seriously. If these messages were not reflected on and treated as important, I would miss out on knowing about a hidden shadow part of myself, a pattern that is negatively impacting my progress in some area.
The personal shadow is that portion of the unconscious, shaped by a confluence of forces, culture and family, moral and social values. We as young beings absorb and are imprinted by all of the above as if it is the truth. All that we take in this way goes into our unconscious and because we have not been able to examine, we may live out others’ truth that is not right for us, in a faulty way. The personal shadow can contain anything that is forbidden, shamed or taboo, depending on cultural, familial and parental training.
An example of the shadow sabotaging a person's relationship was evident in the life of a client I'll call Ted. Whenever he drank, he was vulgar and disrespectful to his beloved, blaming it on the alcohol. He said that if he had been in his 'right mind,' he would never do such a thing. Alas, alcohol only brings out what is already there. Buried in his unconscious, was a deep anger, many fears, and a deep distrust of women that had originated in childhood with his promiscuous, alcoholic, abusive mother.
As a child, he suppressed his feelings then, as an adult, he had no idea the cauldron of fury that was in his well. He wanted to change, work out his anger and fear, in order to have a real relationship and family life. He wanted to be respectful to women whether he was drinking or sober. He came for treatment with a strong intention to know himself at a deeper level. He dismantled his shadow and felt happier because of the improved quality of his relationships.
Have you awakened in adulthood with a relentless desire for deeper intimacy with yourself and others? You may experience a deep yearning within and feel it is too late for you. It is never too late. It may mean making with intention a change in the external world in order to make space for the inner world to blossom. This inner awakening may occur at any age, and signifies a readiness to explore, and risk change.
"Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner...
For Courage"- (O'Donohue, 2008)
Your shadow then is really an invitation to become something more. Where there is light there are shadows. It has been written that when Michelangelo was faced with a huge block of stone, he saw something more in it, the beauty, the potential to carve the meeting of the light and shadows into a majestic, timeless masterpiece. You are a diamond not fully polished, so embrace your light and shadows. There is only one you in the whole world. If you do not embrace yourself, grow and share, that which you came to do will be lost to us.
To experience the riches of life's tapestry, we cannot pick and choose only the attractive parts with which we are comfortable. "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light," said Carl Jung. (Jung, 1963) It is important to risk knowing yourself at a deep level in order to have more of you available for a full, happy, passionate life. It is only when we come to know our unique wisdom as well as our own dark side that integration can take place and we have more personal power.
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