After a brief introduction about shadows and the New Year, I’ve begun to explore my own Shadow Self and the importance of merging with it. There’s so much we can talk about, and we’ll continue to explore other areas of the shadow concept throughout the coming months, but today let’s start with a curious searching.
What is our Shadow Self?
The Shadow Self is made up of what is commonly condemned to our inner shadowlands, the undesirables we stuff into a bag early in life and carry around behind us. This can include all of the “ugly parts” of ourselves such as anger, irritability, impulsiveness, wildness, weakness, greed, envy, bossiness. It also includes hungers, pliability, creativity, sexuality, our masculine or feminine side…this is not a comprehensive list. It includes anything that is instinctive in us that we repress.
Why is it important to merge with our Shadow Selves?
This could be a discussion all on its own (and may become one), but it can be summed up in a few key points:
- Projection. We make others bear our shadows for us. Everything is connected and when we begin to see our shadow parts in our neighbors – other classes, ethnicities, cultures, etc. – we contribute to a collective shadow that affects all of us. When we don’t own and actively engage with our personal shadows, we create monsters in others.
- Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson’s story is a great example of how destructive your “darker nature” can become when it’s ignored. It becomes hostile, not only to the people we encounter and unleash our black moods on, but to ourselves. Jekyll and Hyde is an extreme example, but I know that if I’ve repressed certain things for too long and they start to bleed out of me, I feel like I turn into a completely different person.
- Yin-Yang. Inseparable opposites. Balance must be reached in order to achieve harmony, and in a state of imbalance, chaos ensues.
How do we begin the merging process?
Gently. Creatively. Playfully. It all begins with getting to know your shadowland, becoming familiar with it. Merging with our shadow selves is a long and difficult undertaking; don’t embark on it unless you feel you’re in a place for it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and seek professional help if you need it. But for those who feel ready to dip their toes in, here are a few tactics I’ve been playing with:
- Who do you irrationally dislike and why? This can be a good clue into the areas our shadows lie. Whether it’s someone who’s very forthcoming in their sexuality or someone who’s in a position of leadership and power – who and what irritates us most may reflect a hidden impulse of our own that we haven’t recognized or don’t utilize. Start noticing these things and explore if there’s a familiar truth of it in your own self. (Can also be true with what you do or don’t like in literature)
- Write about each individual quality hidden or projected. Art therapy is useful for many things, shadow work included. It is an active approach. You are hunting, using your imagination to ask questions and seek answers.
- Talk to them. I find this very helpful. I sit the particular quality I’m struggling with down in front of me as if they were a real person, and ask them what it is they want from me. I find that saying these things out loud really resonates with me.
- Explore where each shadow lives in your body. Where are you holding these things? Does everything sit on your shoulders, under your sternum, in your stomach? Different qualities may live in different places. Sit with it. Meditate with it. Let your whole body burn with it, neither expressing nor repressing it. Then, when the meditation is over, you can choose if you want to bring it into the playful light of expression or not.
We’ve spent years shoving all sorts of things into the dark and will spend the rest of our lives trying to pull them back out. But it can be done, one day at a time. It takes time, patience, courage, and in the end we’ll hopefully reach a more balanced state of love and acceptance.
“Medieval heroes had to slay their dragons; modern heroes have to take their dragons back home to integrate into their own personality.” – Robert A. Johnson
*I’m curious to further explore the concept of projection. If you have any thoughts or resources, please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org!