Monday, June 27, 2011
Out of the Shadow
I've been thinking a lot lately about our "Shadow Selves" and the human tendency to split off the parts of ourselves that we most dislike. I see this all the time with my clients-- not so much in myself, because those unlikeable parts of myself are separated away from consciousness! Carl Jung talked about our Shadow Selves, as the aspects of our personality that we don't want to claim. They are very much there and in daily operation. If we see someone else displaying a feature of our own Shadow Self, we may find ourselves feeling very angry or even disgusted with this person. A strong reaction like this has become my own first clue that I am encountering myself in these people.
I wrote several entries ago about one such Shadow Self, my Know-It-All side. A few weeks after sharing this Shadow Self with the whole world, I began to notice that I wasn't feeling so triggered by a certain person who displayed that trait himself. I realized that bringing my Know-It-All Self out of the shadows made me feel less disdain toward her/the Shadow Self. I shared in that post how the Know-It-All Self came to be and maybe this increased my compassion toward her as well as fellow Know-It-Alls I meet daily!
I often see parents, who encounter in their children, an aspect of their own Shadow Self. This is always difficult for me, because all people have intense reactions to people who display certain shadow traits we find reprehensible or repulsive. It's hard to watch a parent feeling this way toward their own child, yet I know the parent cannot help the way he/she feels. I once worked with a parent that had suffered horrific abuse as a child. She learned to suffer silently under the abuse, behaving as perfectly as possible in order to avoid further abuse. As a child, she learned to disown feelings labeled as "unacceptable" by her abuser-- primarily anger. She was not allowed to demonstrate any sense of outrage or injustice at what was being done to her or she was likely to experience even harsher physical punishment in return. This woman grew up to have a child with serious anger problems. It's probably no accident that the child learned to adopt this particular affect as his primary personality trait. Being an angry kid, however, left his mother feeling very threatened by him and made him unlikeable to her. This, in turn, also triggered her to adopt certain other aspects of her own abuser (i.e., becoming harsh, unjust, overly critical and controlling). This was a complex and unhealthy loop that the mother and child operated within and one that left me feeling very powerless in therapy.
I wasn't trying to zap the power of my Know-It-All shadow self by discussing it openly. That is exactly what seems to have happened, however, and hooray for me! I don't know if the parent I mentioned above would have been thrilled had I suggested she share with the internet world all the ugly aspects of her own angry Shadow Self. What I'm realizing though is that bringing that aspect of herself into consciousness is exactly what she needed-- as painful as it would be to do so. Maybe this could have been done through talking about the angry self, journaling, painting her, or acting it out. Some therapists might have used sandplay, psychodrama, or various other modalities. In our daily lives, we often do the same work without the guidance of a therapist. When we are writing, playing with our children, or creating in various forms, we are dipping our hands into the realm of our own subconscious minds and drawing out forgotten people from those dark places. It is in the birthing of these Shadow People and incorporating them into our conscious selves that we become whole.
Photo above found at: