Shadow Work

Befriending the Shadow

When we are born, we are a blank slate. Watch any very young child and you can observe the brazen way they explore their environment - curiously absorbed with everything from how a word sounds, to the taste of a toy, to the sight of their very own hands. At these tender ages, we are virtually sponges, trying to gather as much information as we can from this alien environment that we’ve been born into. Literally not understanding a thing outside of ourselves, and trying to make sense of it all through what we see, hear, smell, feel and taste. At this time in life, we are also in a constant state of presence, and have the closest connection some of us might ever have to our ‘naturalness’ or true Self.

As we grow, our environment ‘teaches’ us how to act whatever way we need to act to get our needs met. Want to eat? Scream really loud until someone feeds you. Need a diaper change, same thing. As we get older, we start getting the hang of things - want a new bike? Ask mom, because dad will likely say no. Children are always watching, observing, listening to their environment to figure things out, and to get their needs and wants met. 

If asking for what we need is met with indifference, or we’re just plain ignored, we may decide that perhaps our needs aren’t actually that important. Perhaps if we act a certain way, our parents will be happy and therefore bestow upon us some much needed love or attention. And if we act another way - perhaps by speaking out of turn, or by ‘being too much’, we get reprimanded, yelled at, punished, dismissed, or in some cases experience violence. 

Out of survival, we learn to suppress our own feelings, certain ways of being, and/or focus on making another happy, or at least less angry, so that we can try to get our needs met or feel safe. This is not without consequence - perhaps we become increasingly resentful as we age, or put our focus so outwardly on others that we ourselves get sick from lack of self care. These are only a couple of the many ways someone can disregard their own true Self in order to survive in the world. 

This is also how our false self forms. How do we need to ‘be’ to get what we need out of life? Who have we been told that we ‘are’? By the time we’re fully grown adults, we have developed many, many ‘truths’ about ourselves that aren’t actually all that accurate. We create a ‘self’ that we have carefully and strategically curated over the years as a way to survive and protect our true Self. The kicker though is that through this careful honing of our created self, we end up losing sight of who we really are. We also banish to the darkness aspects of ourselves that we have decided are undesirable to hide in our ‘shadow’. 

Our shadow is a very tender and vulnerable place for us. The pieces of ourselves that we keep here, are not only things we are consciously unaware of, but also restrict us in our lives.

We will go to great lengths to not have to interact with these parts of ourselves, or allow them to be seen or triggered. This limits our freedom in life, and our self expression. It can impact our relationships, our careers and just plain going after our dreams. 

These shadow pieces of ourselves can be anything from a belief that your opinions aren’t valid, a fear of being seen, to refusing to acknowledge your authentic expression of your own sexuality. These pieces, once determined to be undesirable, or worse, unsafe, are then shoved deep into the unconscious in order for you to survive, and present a more ‘desirable’ version of yourself. We then operate from this created sense of self, which is not only limiting, but profoundly exhausting and unfulfilling. To make matters worse, we can get to a place where we don’t even trust our own Knowing. If you don’t know who you actually are, or what you know to be true, then how can you make choices and decisions for yourself, that are in your best interest? 

As children, we perceive things that are happening with frightening accuracy (like we’re literally just observing all day everyday and have incredibly tuned in emotion barometers, and ‘truth’ sensors) and then are sometimes told by adults in our life that what we're observing isn’t actually true. Something as simple as “mommy’s not upset, she’s excited to go to the park with you”, has a little one starting to second guess their own internal understanding of the world, their Knowing. The more these things happen, and the more significant the discrepancy, we can start to believe that our own inner compass isn’t actually accurate. We start to trust the world ‘out there’ more than our Knowing ‘in here’ and ultimately end up giving up our internal authority. 

I need to stress that the adults in most children’s lives don’t do this intentionally! They’re often trying to protect young ones from ‘adult’ issues. And in some cases want to believe themselves that things aren’t the way they seem. The consequence however from this constant editing of reality, is that as young people, we start to lose trust in our own Knowing and can start a pattern of giving up our own personal authority to the ‘wisdom’ of the ‘outside world’.

Learning about what we’ve tucked away in our shadow, and realizing that we are not alone and that it’s ok to be human, can be the most liberating experience in life.

Not only will it connect you to a deeper sense of your true Self, but also allow you to be able to navigate your own path from a place of what
you need and want, creating a richer and more fulfilling life. 

We all have personas - masks, or images of ourselves that we project in order to feel safe and accepted in whatever environment we find ourselves in. This facade allows us to keep our insecurities and vulnerabilities hidden from view, but it’s exhausting and takes away from our freedom and enjoyment of life. The more one is able to make peace with their shadow, the less one has to hide, resulting in more freedom of expression, and ultimately personal happiness.