The 'Shadow Self' Myth

New hopes and dreams are already within you. Shine the light on what could be rather than what was.

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​Perhaps one of the least understood, yet most empowering, concepts in personal and spiritual development is the shadow self. Too often, people talk about shining a light on your shadow side, as if some foreign aspect of you is a vampire and you've got to slay it. 

The truth is, our shadow side is actually a big part of who we are, of the "self". And it's not all darkness and bad stuff. 

The shadow self holds the uniquely brilliant and creative aspects of yourself. If you let some light shine on it, you'll find a more authentic human experience.


The myth of the 'shadow self'

This is a concept that does not receive the attention I believe it deserves: embracing your shadow self instead of pushing it away or pretending it's not part of you.

Your shadow self is the part of you that seems to be opposed to the rest of your personality.

It may be the part of you that feels like a weakness or a fault. Your shadow self might be selfish, afraid of confrontation, a people pleaser, or can never say "no" to anyone, even when it hurts.



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Either you own your shadow, or it owns you.

You can try to ignore it, hide it, or deny it. But, until you embrace and make friends with it, you will miss the key to optimal living, as the shadow contains what needs to be unlocked and freed.

This is both what is holding you back and what will propel you forward to a more fulfilling existence. My friend and best-selling motivational author, the late Debbie Ford, used to say, "The unexpressed emotional baggage we keep is like trying to keep a beach ball underwater… eventually, it pops up!"

‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote Carl Jung, "is that hidden, repressed (for the most part) inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious."

The shadow is a primordial part of your human inheritance, which can never be eluded.

But the view you should consider is that your shadow self is so much more! What is also hidden in the darkness of the shadow of you are the uniquely creative areas and the parts of who you are that haven't been revealed yet.


It is a yin/yang relationship of good and bad, powerful and scary. But it is just the shadow. It is an archetype that is not real, a metaphor that can be useful rather than constraining.

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Shadow work is the process of illumination.

In addition to the concept of shadow, you might also consider your masks that disguise your true self at various ages and stages of life. When you were disappointed by a birthday gift but smiled and said you loved it anyway, you wore a mask to hide your true feelings. Telling someone you are fine but inside you are seething at them, that's also wearing a mask.

Human beings wear masks all the time throughout their lives. It can seem more difficult to be open, honest, and bare your needs than to smile, lie, and cover up the issue. Every day, you fight as you work toward short and long-term goals in life. How you proceed through and decide how much of the truth you uncover is entirely up to you.


shadow self

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It is a personal battle.

By denying parts of yourself or your "shadow," you may not realize how much you're hindering yourself.

This concept parallels significantly with the writing of Joseph Campbell in his famous The Hero With a Thousand Faces. This book has influenced the writings and creation of many famous storytellers, filmmakers, and artists.


The stories of The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, King Arthur, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and Homer’s Odyssey are all about the hero's journey. This mythical journey includes rites of passage of the hero, his quest, the magic elixirs or swords, or lightsabers, and finding the way back home in the end… the way back to your former self, so you can see how much you've grown and matured since then.

The problem is it's easy to get caught up in the small challenges and the drama in your everyday life. You stop aiming for your overall goal — to be as true to yourself as possible as you face your battles — and instead get mired in putting out tiny fires.

You lose sight that you're not in this challenge alone and stop trying to embrace the parts of yourself that would make you happy. Instead, you allow the fear from your shadow to overwhelm you instead of driving you to bigger, better things.

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If you learn to authentically share yourself and your shadow self with one or a few trusted individuals, you won't risk living with a drawer of masks and a detached shadow. You risk living your life as an incomplete, unhappy person.

It is important not to forget if you're looking at the shadow only as the dark and scary part of your psyche, you're denying many wonderfully unique aspects of yourself and the gifts, dreams, and aspirations you bring with you or discover along your journey.

If you don't begin to recognize all of yourself, you'll let the fear of this unexplored part of you control your actions because you're too afraid to move forward and embrace it and use it to propel you into greater positions or skills.

If you're an office worker who dreams of being a painter, but your fear of failure convinces you that you're doomed before you start, that's letting the fear in your shadow control you.


If you dream of being a novelist but don't know how to start, you keep yourself from achieving the goal because you're overwhelmed by what you think you know" about writing.

Your shadow self is both the urge that tells you to follow your dreams and the fear that keeps you from doing it. By embracing your shadow self you can move toward your true goals.


Even if there is a dream you have given up on, and even if it might not be realized now as it could have been, the yearning is still there to express that unique calling or a unique personality aspect that is all yours.

What greatness in you is unspoken, undiscovered? Human development is more about discovering than it is about uncovering and recovering. Too often, you have created a view that you must have something wrong with you… You begin to do personal archeology, dig up, and rebury your deep secrets and the narrative you live with.

Instead, you can shed light on the positive and unrealized aspects.

Come into the light. Your shadow is with you all the time. Even when the sun is not shining. Perhaps that is what enlightenment is. Shining the light on what could be rather than what was.


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Dr. Pat Williams is a psychologist, Master Certified Coach, and Board Certified Coach.

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