What the Hell is the Shadow? 5 Powerful Ways to Heal Your Inner Life
What is the shadow? We've all heard this term. We've all said, "Ah, yes the shadow. Of course, it's my shadow."
But do we really know what we're talking about? If you're a therapist, and you're reading this, you're thinking, "Of course I know what the shadow is!" And if this is you, please add your comments at the bottom and enlighten our minds even more.
For now, though, I'm going to try to give the simplest definition I possibly can, according to my own therapy (and therapists) and study and life experiences: the shadow is the collective parts of you that have been neglected, ignored, denied or outright rejected.
You see, you were born as a bright, calm, clear soul of light/love with the blueprint of a personality (according to genes, makeup, the conditions of your birth, etc.), and that personality is supposed to assist your soul in its mission during this life.
You were born with a personality made of different parts to aid you during different times and projects of your life! To me, that's just so awesome. I love that.
But the soul, your spirit is at the center of all the these parts. And these personality parts surround your soul like chairs surrounding a conference table. Your soul is supposed to be the boss. Your soul gets the last say. And it wants to and should hear all the voices at the table. All the board members and department managers which are the different parts of your personality. Because they all specialize in different areas, they are all necessary, vital to the individual mission of the soul. They are supposed to support, strengthen and help each other. But this doesn't always happen.
In our society there is a hell of a lot of fear, if you haven't noticed. There's also a lot of pain. And because we must deal with and love humans (and need humans), this is both our downfall and our saving grace.
Well, we start to feel fear and pain when we're very young. We see stuff, we judge stuff, we feel stuff, we stuff stuff away that we don't want to feel. Then we think stuff. Some of what we think is fear and some of we feel is pain. This is all evolutionary, and fear had its place in our survival. Pain too. But the personality (made of all the parts) freaks out about all this. This makes the personality parts (which always fear for their jobs) get stressed out constantly. They are fearful a lot.
I love this office or board meeting analogy so we are going to keep going with this.
So the parts of the personality get all stressed out, and start to have meetings without the boss. The boss, the soul is very loving, peaceful, clear and calm so it is not fearful. The reason they do not want to tell the boss is because the boss is always saying all is well (because that's the truth), and the boss always wants the truth. The boss shines light on everyone, on all the parts. The boss is pure light and love and creativity.
This is inconvenient for the parts because...
The parts are fearful, and they want to control. So they have to do things without the boss knowing (unconsciousness). The boss, the soul shines too much light and power on everyone. So they must get quiet and work under the radar. Ultimately, it becomes a power struggle that has its roots in fear. These parts that act in fear make up the ego. They want more power so they can survive.
The soul will equally spread power and light, but the parts don't want this. They would like to take the light and energy from other parts. They need the energy to get bigger and stronger so that they can control outcomes and major board meetings about life decisions. This ensures their own survival because to them, it ensures the survival of the whole personality and its place in the world.
And the soul misses this because of unconsciousness or lack of mindfulness. Unless a soul is awake, it will never catch on. That's why we must teach consciousness and mindfulness from the very beginning.
Anyway, there's a big screen in the boardroom that's playing out all the moments of our lives. Namely, the personality parts are watching relationships, interactions with other humans. They are watching this because instinct who works in the warehouse can handle actual dangers of environment, but the personality parts are responsible for the life mission and for success. Human interactions and relationships are paramount for this success.
Now I am going to reference Into the Wild, when he is dying and thinking about how lonely he is. The whole movie we had been hearing about how materialism and attachment were big problems in society. Then, some of his last thoughts, as he carves them into wood is that "Happiness is only real when shared." Or something very close.
Because the real success is joy. Joy shared. Love given. Gifts shared. Gifts given. The real success is learning to live with others. Real success is learning to love others. Because it's all about love. And unity. And realizing our oneness. A big part of the mission is community.
Plus, survival was always more likely within a tribe. We need people, and we know it.
When watching this big screen, the personality parts fear any type of rejection. So when there is the slightest to the biggest hint that one part is not welcome by the people surrounding the personality, they turn on that one part.
Now I get to reference Inside Out, which is actually a wonderful movie for understanding the shadow. Sadness was a part of her personality that was not welcome because her parents liked the girl to be happy. So sadness took a backseat. But sadness was important for a lot of reasons - one of the main ones being that it alerted the parents when something was wrong.
So what happened is that joy took over and was actually controlling to the point of pushing sadness out of the picture. Then sadness started causing all types of problems, wanting to be involved and tired of being ignored. It led to a full breakdown of the control room and the whole system inside of the girl.
You've got to see that movie if you haven't.
So as you can see, the parts will all put one part in a jail of sorts, out of their fear of rejection because life depends so much on being loved by humans. The part is in a position where it can't have any say at all now. The part is not fed. It is not listened to at the table. The part does not get to exercise and do its job. And then another part, the opposite of the other part, will rise up and get stronger and take over while pushing the other part, the unwanted fragment of the personality, away when it tries to come back.
The wanted part screams to the unwanted part, "It is bad to be goofy/sad/affectionate/creative/weird/different/a leader/in the spotlight. You are not wanted here because you are not good enough to speak at the table." And this little statement becomes a belief of the personality, a false belief that operates to keep the unwanted part powerless.
That opposite, wanted part gets stronger through the pushing and the resisting of the unwanted part. It becomes one of our main personality traits: "Rosy is so sweet, always doing things for others. Nothing for herself." Or... "George is serious and works really hard. He never stops. If something needs to be done, he'll do it." Or... "Mark is so friendly and happy. Always smiling. Always warm and sociable."
So basically what happens is an imbalance. And after this, there will always be a tinge of sadness & pain, anger & fear coming from that part of us that gets ignored and starved. This is the beginning of the shadow. It starts with one part that was cast away, and so the soul never gets to shine light on it. To listen to it during the meetings.
And then another comment is made, another part is made fun of or rejected in some small or big way in the outer world--this is shown on the big screen. So another part is pushed out, must join the other part and become shadow with the other part. This continues, and the shadow builds until the strongest parts of personality run the whole show. But that is not sustainable.
What's more, the soul loved these parts. Needed these parts. So it is always aching for them.
So one of the parts that was rejected and pushed away, jailed and cast into darkness, will start to cause trouble. The rejected part or parts will cause a flood, rip up the walls, damage machinery. It can happen in the body, it can happen in the outer world, it can happen during a breakdown. The part is needed, and the soul knows it, and the part knows it, and the part is going to get back into the boardroom even if it has to cause a crack in the foundation of the building to be freed from its dark corner in the shadow.
The soul gets involved and creates outside chaos and system-breakdown until the part must be called to fix the problem. "We need some out-of-the-box, weird creativity here. We need to show affection. We need a little more goofiness and fun in the life of this personality. We need some decisiveness." The soul shines light on the part, integrates it into the whole. Back to the table. Lets the part speak up with its ideas.
Everyone at the table sees how important the part is. Apologies are made. Forgiveness given. There might even be embraces. Maybe the part even cries or screams about what it's been through since being pushed from the table. Everyone sees that the part needs its fair share of light and love. That it must speak up and use the energy of the soul for its own wonderful purposes.
When all the parts come back to the table through breakdown after breakdown, or therapy, or shadow work, what we have is integrity. All the parts of the personality are integrated. Everyone is working together lovingly, using the light of the soul at all times. Onward for the mission, for success.
And the soul stays awake so that no part of the personality is rejected. We remain clear in our consciousness so that everyone can speak at the table.
So how do we find out what parts of our personalities were pushed aside or rejected? How do we discover and shine light on our shadows? How do we bring these poor, neglected parts back to the table?
5 ways to discover and bring light to your shadow:
1. What is going on in your life? Where are your problem areas?
We have all have areas of our lives that are either breaking down or are just not doing so hot (on the way the breaking down). You know the problem areas. Perhaps, there's a lot of anger in your work life or there are problems in your family. Perhaps there are issues with a friend or a sibling. Maybe there's sadness or depression. Maybe you can't make up your mind about something important. Perhaps there's a money problem.
You know the trouble areas that have been gnawing at you. This is the soul and the neglected part working together to bring it back to the table. Before there is a breakdown, we have the opportunity now to shine a light and find that part. Really think about your problem areas.
What segments of your life feel stuck? Where is there a lack of flow?
Maybe there are many areas of your life that feel stuck or strangled. It could be anywhere. These are the areas where we bring the attention, shine the light. This is where we will find the lack of what we need. By finding the lack, we discover what it is we do need. This can be a painful process, to look at exactly what is wrong, what we are or are not doing that is sabotaging a certain area of life.
An example: Say you are an artist, and you are feeling uninspired or lacking in creativity or imagination. This is a direct indication that you may have pushed down your imaginative side. So we must ask this question: what do I need more of here? The obvious answer: imagination. But let's think more deeply about imagination: what does it require? Any number of things--daydreaming, weirdness, a tendency to be outside of the box, an inclination to be different.
You can think about what's lacking in different ways and realize that maybe the original, unique part of you was neglected because it was "weird." Or the daydreamer was rejected because she was told she needed to get her head out of the clouds or the part who liked to color outside the lines was outcast because he was told to stop breaking rules.
Whatever resonates with you is true. Wake up to every sensation and resonance. Get your spiritual antennae out and don't miss a thing with this tricky shadow work.
Follow the problems. Look at them. Take a solid, long and searching look at what is missing. Then take a look at what is missing in terms of what is missing--the qualities or actions that lead to what is missing. There you are better able to tap into the part that was rejected. You might even have a memory in which the part was cast away by the other parts. Begin healing there.
2. What are your biggest judgments? What are the things that get on your nerves most about yourself and others?
Listen to your complaints and judgments. About the world. About other people. About yourself.
When the judgment is for something outside of you (the world, another person, the present situation or moment), this is a projection from your own shadow. Attracted and created by the shadow.
The judgment you hear is your personality ridiculing the shadow part in a roundabout way. In hopes that the unwanted part might hear it and stay away.
By the same token, this is also how the shadow tries to get attention. Tries to get back a little light. It has attracted this person, this experience, this place, this whatever your personality is currently judging in order to show you it is there. And that these are its misbehaviors if you don't start paying attention. Like a warning. It can stir up trouble from outside of you and inside of you.
When you judge yourself, there is a shadow part that has gotten out of hand in its need to get back into the light. It can't be ignored anymore and will do anything at this point. The warnings were not heeded. No one woke up and welcomed it back in to its place. Now it is wreaking havoc from the inside.
Misbehavior is always an attempt to get attention. Negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Children are a prime example of this. When a child does not get attention, it will try for positive attention. When that doesn't work, he or she will misbehave.
The shadow part will show up to be judged in the outside world or in the inside world. It will cause problems out there and in here in an attempt to get back into the show. When that doesn't work, it will start creating bad habits.
Then the rest of the personality will judge it. Judgment is better than no attention at all.
So let's just use these judgments to shed light and talk to the shadow parts that want our attention so badly.
For example: You might say one of these things to yourself: "I am so sloppy." "People are so rude." "The world is a cruel place." Let's look at these.
I am so sloppy: A self-judgment that looks harmless. But what is the ruling personality saying here? Lack of cleanliness? Lack of care? Complete abandonment to order?
What is sloppiness an exaggerated rejection of? Or what is sloppiness an exaggerated quality of? Maybe it's some sort of autonomy issue. A rejection of authority. "You never obey!" So cleaning up after yourself was rebellion from being ridiculed. Some parts are rebellious.
Think hard about your self-judgments.
When it comes to sloppiness, could the part of you that was pushed away be the wild and free side? The part of you that wanted to make mud pies and get food all over your face but was told not to be sloppy? Or maybe it goes the opposite way and you were very clean, but you got the message that you were uptight or funny with your cleanliness. And you had a big swing in the other direction. This is rarer but possible.
People are so rude: What does rude entail? A lack of manners. A lack of compassion. A lack of care or compassion. A lack of love, even.
Get past the words and look at what you really mean. What part of you is rude? Was there a part of you that was told you could not want things for that you had no manners? That you lacked care for others?
Did you reach for something before anyone else had a chance to reach? Were you told to be polite and not to be selfish? Not to be first? Was the blunt go-getter shunned maybe?
The world is a cruel place: This is a big, fat generic judgment. Cruel implies cold, heartless, mean and lacking in any kind of kindness. What does that say about your shadow? Or even your personality?
What message is this judgment trying to send?
We are all connected. Not one of us is separate, even though it may seem that way from appearances. What you say about another, you say about you: did you do something cruel? Do you need to forgive yourself?
What is a part of you that might misbehave in heartless and cruel ways? A lack of heart and feeling means a lot of mind. Was the feeling, sensitive you rejected at some point? Was the logical overthinker in you rejected at some point? Were you numbed by over-attachment to emotions?
What cruelty do you need to forgive?
The point is that self-judgment and outside judgment are calls to look at the shadow and forgive its misbehaviors. Follow the judgment and look at what this shadow part is trying to say.
3. Really look at your beliefs around EVERYTHING:
This is key. But what is key to this key is consciousness. Being awake to your emotions and thoughts. Your feelings will grab your attention first. They alert you to the thoughts. Whenever you have a negative feeling, follow that train back to your thoughts.
What were you just thinking? What were the beliefs behind those thoughts? Even if you're thinking, "There's no belief behind thinking that I'm in a bad mood" but there might be!
What if the belief is that you can't be happy when you're tired. Something as simple as that. Maybe if you went deeper, the real belief there is that you don't deserve to be happy.
Then you know that the exuberant part of you was dimmed. That a joyous part of you was rejected for whatever reason.
Whoa. That got deep fast. But that's how the process goes. Don't waste any negative feelings. Use them all to take you into yourself. Follow the thoughts. They lead to beliefs. Follow the beliefs as they are always being pushed at the rejected part.
And there you will find your shadow.
4. Once you find the shadow or shadow part, meditate on it:
Talk about shining a light! This is a necessary step. You can't just find the shadow and wish it well. There must be healing.
Sit there with your eyes closed and look at the shadow. Spend some long-lost time with it. Centered on your breathing, centered on the inner body, get aligned with the soul--the space of pure awareness. Nothing but consciousness.
Don't let the shadow run away. Lovingly, meaning with love, pull it to you. Like a mother would to a scared, hurting child. Love that shadow by shining the light of your awareness on it.
You might see your shadow as yourself at a certain age. You might see your shadow as qualities or maybe its own little character. You may see your shadow as a memory. Allow it to be as it is. That is important. Don't try to turn it into you or anyone else. Just let it be as it is.
Tell it: It's okay now. I'm sorry you were neglected. I'm sorry my personality ignored and rejected you. I'm here now. Please forgive me. I needed you. I need you now too. What would you like to say? (Wait for a real answer). What would you like me to do? (Wait for a real answer).
Whatever it says, try to do it. Work up the courage to do it.
Then, in your mind's eye, hold the shadow part in your loving embrace (if it's okay with that) and tell it you love it. See it integrated with all the other parts of you. You can even use the boardroom analogy and see it seated at a prominent place at the table.
This meditation is wonderful. Let yourself cry. Let yourself scream in anger. Let the shadow part in you cry and/or scream through you. A mother and child reunited. It's beautiful.
If you need help getting into meditation, I've got you:
6. Be grateful for your shadow and all the other personality parts (and everything, really):
All your parts are here as employees of the soul. They are here to serve you! To get your individual mission done! This is huge.
Sometimes I just want to scream out in thanks that EVERYTHING is working for me, for my good, you know? Even my shadow. Even the privileged parts of me that long for more power and control. Even they are just working for the good of my soul and life and my mission.
Even the things going wrong. They are going out of love! Even the judgments and ugliness. They have a loving purpose too!
And even though parts of you get lost and rejected, they are always trying to work their way back to the soul and the table. They are dedicated in their mission to love and serve no matter what. No matter how many times those shadow parts get rejected. They are little heroes that keep climbing back up the hill, and getting pushed down most of the time too.
Look around you. Everything around you is meant to help you complete your mission. What is it?
If you don't know the answer to this, just be grateful for it. Be grateful you were born with a mission that will serve all, that will give to the universe, to all souls in God? However you want to think about it.
Gratitude for your mission and calling will bring it to you. Gratitude for all your parts will be bring it to you.
Once you start looking at your natural traits, really studying not only your dominant character traits, but also your lurking, unpopular shadow traits, what can you read from that? Was a shadow part of you the part of you that longs for limelight and stage? Are you actually meant to be the boss, the star of the show? What could this mean for your calling? Are you actually a speaker? Do you belong in the spotlight?
Or were told you had to be the leader and take charge when the follower in you keeps nudging and wanting to relax for a second? Whatever it is, whatever discoveries you make, show your gratitude. Keep showing it with every thing you do. It is quite amazing..the whole mechanism of life. All the gifts you were born with, known and unknown. The important privilege of having a mission, a prominent service that can be done by you and only you.
If you need a little help with starting a gratitude practice, so did I until I made this:
Don't ever stop your gratitude for yourself. Love all of you. Be grateful for all of you. Even the parts that are harder to accept. Work on it. Keep realizing the positive side of that personality trait or part of you.
Keep giving gratitude and watch your world blow up!
Hope this helped, I hope you know you are perfect exactly the way you are. I know that because you were made that way, and the Creator does not make mistakes. You're also important to the whole web of life so please work on realizing this truth.
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Comment below, if you want, about your own shadow work. Have you done it before? Have you ever had a breakdown that forced you into shadow work? Did any of this work for you? Questions? Profound statements.
Related: Why Do People Hurt Other People?
Please tap or click one of the buttons below because we all have shadows that we need brought into the light. Who knows what gifts someone else's shadow has for you?