Make Friends With Your Shadow!
Shadows dance on frosted autumn leaves
Have You Lost Your Shadow?
Many of us become so distracted with the bells and whistles of the technological side of our world that we become separated from important parts of ourselves. This leads to our feeling fragmented on a very deep level. We lose parts of ourselves because the demands of our everyday lives keep us too busy to spend time doing things we love, and deepening our experiences with the activities we find life-giving.
We are taught to "be happy" and not talk about the darker aspects of our human experiences. We are blessed if we have friends who are good listeners, yet busy schedules prevent us from getting together with them often enough to sustain each other's sanity.
Fragmentation as a Cause for Illnesses
Constant separation between our Unconscious mind, our Shadow side, and our conscious experience, causes psychological fragmentation, which causes illness over time. We often don't know what's happening because it's done unconsciously, but we feel the effects. when we suffer long low-level illnesses for weeks at a time.
In order to keep ourselves healthy we must accept ourselves "warts and all." We must love ourselves enough to accept our shadow sides, the part of ourselves that we seldom show others and sometimes barely see ourselves. It is important for us to take time to be alone with ourselves, to heal those parts of ourselves that have been hurt, appreciate latent creativity that we don't allow to see the light of day, and integrate that information into the core of who we are. From that, we will feel more of our personal power.
Dragons often Represent our Shadow Side
What is the Shadow?
The Shadow is a concept made familiar to us by the writings of Carl G. Jung. Whether we are looking at our personal shadow or the shadow in our piece of the "collective unconscious," this deeply latent consciousness below the surface of our everyday reality deserves to be respected as an important part of ourselves. It is often a source of wisdom for us and others if we let it be. If we take the time to bridge our conscious awareness with our unconscious Shadow mind, we can heal some of the fragmentation we experience in our day-to-day lives, heal the schism between them, parts of ourselves we've dissociated from, and claim our personal power in the world. Otherwise, if we suppress our unconscious memories, our Shadow will become a troublemaker and make us say or do something inappropriate at the worst possible moment, which we are bound to regret at a later time.
Integration is the Root of Our Personal Power
We have the power to heal ourselves and our relationships, but we must develop the patience to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, and then truly see each other. We are meant to appreciate the wisdom we have gathered in our lives, and the wisdom carried by others. Our sense of empathy for and camaraderie with others has the potential to increase, as well, because we've integrated our own psyches and have begun to live with intention, more mindfully aware of why we do and say what we do and say. In doing this, we develop greater resilience in facing life's challenges.
So, What Lives Way Down There in Our Shadows?
Our Shadows store memories from the events of our lives that bear deep emotional significance. Here are some examples of events that are stored in our unconscious Shadow selves:
* Trauma. This is a single event with a huge impact on our psyche. We often suppress our memories of trauma automatically so that we don't feel so raw and can carry on with our everyday lives. The younger we are at the time of the trauma the more automatic that suppression is, including all of our feelings of guilt and shame around what happened to us. This will often surface as inexplicable feelings of anxiety or panic attacks when we are faced with people, places or situations that tap the memory attached to trauma.
* Shock. We may have witnessed an event we weren't ready to be exposed to and the memory of it has been suppressed because we weren't ready to process what happened. Other types of events that cause shock include the death of a loved one (especially if it's sudden), a sudden death of a relationship (e.g. a spouse asking for divorce "out of the blue "), loss of our home, or a natural disaster. Though we must keep going to work and taking care of everyday business, feelings of depression from the shock may affect how well we function in the world.
* Abuse. This is more ongoing than a single traumatic event, and damaging because of its constant attack on our psyche. Our parents or other family members that we've looked up to may have given us messages that parts of ourselves were unacceptable to them. They may have made fun of us or punished us just for being who we are (though that may not be how they saw it). Abuse has the potential to do the most damage because it affects all facets of our lives and can happen "below the surface" of our interactions. Damage from abuse intrudes upon our psyches over the span of many years, and may take many years to heal from. Nowadays, the type of therapy paid for by most insurances requires that there be a specific therapy goal, and when it is reached a counselor is encouraged to stop seeing us. That approach is often just as damaging as the abuse. It takes time to pull apart the tangle of feelings caused by long-term abuse, and its effects, and help an individual improve the course of their lives so that their Shadow self no longer sabotages their success.
What Do We Do With It When We Recognize Our Shadow?
Now that we've looked at some of the things stored in our unconscious and manifested by actions inspired by our Shadow, what do we do with this knowledge? How can we know ourselves better and create more balance in our lives? The next section gives you some ideas for the journey.
Our Misty Shadow Side Need Not be Fearsome
Ways to Heal Your Shadow
The road to healing from trauma, shock or abuse can be a long one. We must see ourselves compassionately and show ourselves patience. We must begin to love ourselves in ways we may have never been loved by those who mattered most throughout our personal history. We must spend time being our own parent and BFF.
We are not alone. We may be lucky enough to have a great spouse or trusted friend who is a very good and understanding listener and love us the way we are. They are your first line of defense. Additionally, here are some things you can do for yourself, and your relationships.
Ways to Love Yourself and Find Healing
Keep a journal. Writing is a therapeutic activity for many. Give yourself the gift of a new journal to start your journey of healing through writing. It can be as fancy or plain as you desire. It is the place to describe painful memories that you you know you still carry with you, and others that may surface in the process. It is the place to write about what your Shadow may be saying to you and and work out how to heal painful memories by thinking about them and yourself differently, and to take actions to mitigate their effects. It's also a place to write out what is going well, too, so that you can maintain hope for yourself and faith in the process. Using a pen or pencil on paper works best because it is also physical and uses more of your brain for the activity, thus tapping into your unconscious more effectively than typing.
Talk to a counselor or licensed therapist. Having a person to talk out issues with and help you find balance in your life is important. Depending on how much healing you need, you may benefit from seeing someone once a week for a while. An encouraging therapist gives you their undivided attention for an hour a week to help you look at the events in your life, make sense of them, see how they affect you presently, and plan a course of action to bring your life into alignment with your goals and dreams. She or he would help you find ways to mitigate the self-sabotaging aspects of an estranged Shadow unconscious by shedding light on latent fears and motives.Therapy in tandem with keeping a journal can make richer your journey to self-awareness and healing.
Join a therapy group or twelve-step program. If some of your painful experiences are rooted in the effects of a family member's addiction, you may want to find a twelve-step recovery group. They share their experiences with taking the same steps as those advocated in AA, but adapted to the issues they are working on (Al-Anon, Ala-Teen, ACoA, NA, OA, SLAA, etc.). In these groups you can find a sponsor who will guide you through the steps so you need not walk through them alone, and will encourage you when you've made progress. The group also advocates developing a sense of humor about ourselves, which is essential to the healing process.
There are also therapy groups that are not focused on the twelve steps to recovery, but focus on specific therapeutic issues in a group interaction setting. A licensed therapist with training for working with groups leads the process. I attended a group for managing anxiety some years ago and my experience was life-changing, so I recommend it. It can be a source of great insight, especially when it comes to witnessing healthy interactions between people after being exposed to so much dysfunction over the years.
Painting & Labyrinths, a Good Match for Me
More Ways to Love Yourself and Find Healing
Engage in the arts. If you love to engage in a specific art form, such as music, painting or dance, make time to do it. Take classes if you can afford to. Your brain may be starved for the endorphins produced by spending time doing things that bring you joy. Give your brain some love by doing something that makes you feel good. My favorites are music, dance, drawing, painting and drumming.
* Try this: Find some magazines, glue, and plain paper. Make one collage of all the things that make you sad or angry and another of all of the things that make you happy, then compare them. You may realize by looking at them that you must change how you spend your time to promote your healing process.
Read self-help books. If you browse through the self-help or personal growth section of your library or local indie bookstore, you'll find lots of books that offer ways to heal from an issue that has impacted your life.
Watch TED talks. Like the one featured below, there are lots of TED talks that are insightful, full of wisdom around how we can heal and see ourselves differently.
Put down the devices! Spending time with ourselves in order to integrate our Shadow selves into our psyche for the sake of healing takes time and attention. We must put down the devices that cause us distraction and further our mental and spiritual fragmentation. Also, I truly believe that the radiation emitted from our devices messes with our brains. It's a drug that makes us seem so different from each other and distracts us from the work we are called to do in our lives.
Let Go of Stuff. It's amazing how much our "stuff" distracts us from ourselves, and often sabotages our efforts to create the lives we want to live. You may not be addicted to hoarding stuff, but does the urge to buy more and more bring you to the point that your possessions have begun to possess you? Letting go of them and giving them to those in need is good for both the heart and lungs, for the extra space will help you to breathe easier. The money you'll save by not buying more of what you already have and don't need will give you extra in your bank account to attend classes around doing things you love or traveling to a place you've never been.
Spend Time with Nature. The natural world holds the wisdom we need to heal. Its wonders bring joy and the extra oxygen we breathe in when we visit green spaces makes us calmer. Earth needs us as allies in her regeneration, and we must figure out how to help her through close encounters with natural habitats. She is the original and most ancient balm for humans suffering from "information overload." Our healing is connected intimately with Earth's healing, and the benefits for us are phenomenal. The best thing we can do for our relationships with friends and family is to go outside and play in nature together. Our relationship with nature, with wild places, is as important to us as our relationships with fellow humans. Do you hear our National Parks calling your name?
Walk a Labyrinth. Walking a labyrinth is a type of meditation that uses the whole body in the process. It's my form of yoga, since my body just doesn't do yoga, and it's my primary spiritual practice. The labyrinth design is a form of sacred geometry, created from putting together two spirals that face one another. There is one path to walk into the center, and the same path to walk out. The process integrates body, mind and spirit. Walking the path brings us closer to our Shadow selves with love and provides a safe place to integrate the shadow in our everyday lives.
Walking a labyrinth with a group led by a facilitator can be a powerful experience. If you are curious about this form of meditation, there are web sites that offer resources for finding groups who walk labyrinths together regularly. Here's hoping there's one close to you.
Keep in Touch
I hope you take away something from this article that moves you to make better friends with your Shadow self and begin your journey toward healing. We all need healing and greater balance in our lives, just because we're human and society is what it is in the twenty-first century. Please share your thoughts and responses in the Comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you!
Our Power is in Knowing our Shadows
© 2018 Karen A Szklany