Our shadow contains all the parts of ourselves we have cut off, repressed or denied. These are usually aspects of ourselves that were disapproved of during childhood, or that we needed to hide in order to gain affection. They are characteristics that it might have been counterproductive or dangerous for us to express. In childhood our psychological and physical survival depends on getting along with those around us and being accepted, so we very naturally hide sides of ourselves that may not serve us in this process.
We may hide our anger, our selfishness, our fear, our desire for connection, our chattiness, our playfulness, our sexuality, our deep knowing, our love for people we’re not meant to love…. the list is endless, and different for each of us depending on the culture and the particular family environment in which we grew up. Some of us had sudden shocking moments when we knew we needed to put a side of ourselves away. Others of us had a slow drip drip of ‘hints’ that parts of us weren’t acceptable:
‘Boys don’t cry.’
‘Nice girls don’t do that.’
‘You’re better than that.’
‘Be mummy’s good boy’
‘Don’t be a sissy.’
‘You wouldn’t want to disappoint your dad’
‘You don’t look very pretty when you do that.’
….and so on. Or maybe it was looks or actions that made us realise it wasn’t safe to express certain aspects of ourselves. Maybe we saw others getting punished for expressing certain sides of themselves so we learned from that, and kept those parts of ourselves well hidden. We all have our own nuanced and individual experiences of how we learned to deny or hide parts of ourselves.
Hiding parts of ourselves away like this is an essential process to go through as we grow up. However as we reach adulthood we can find that trying to keep these sides of ourselves hidden is causing us more problems than it solves. The original reason for hiding these parts of ourselves has receded. The way we are behaving makes less and less sense. We may still want the approval of our family and community – but we no longer depend on it for our survival. Instead we find ourselves hampered in life by a lack of access to the whole of ourselves. We may find we can’t express anger cleanly and stand up for ourselves, or we can’t enjoy our free time as we don’t know how to relax and play, or we can’t love freely because we learned there were risks to this…. We now find that we need the very parts of ourselves we hid away. What’s more these sides that we’re trying to hide will leak out in shadowy ways that can disrupt our lives – we explode with rage when we least want to – our shadow anger has overwhelmed us. We are irresponsible at times when we really need to step up – our shadow playfulness has overwhelmed us. We are confused in our relationships – our shadow love has overwhelmed us….
So our shadows are parts of ourselves that we experience as overwhelming or controlling us. Things we find ourselves doing even though we swore we never would. Parts of ourselves we try to hide from others but that burst out unexpectedly. They are sides of ourselves that we don’t feel able to own. Certain aspects of ourselves that we cannot accept, certain behaviours for which we are unable to forgive ourselves, certain personality traits that we deny we have…
This is tender and vulnerable territory. Acknowledging and exploring these hidden sides of ourselves can shake us to our core. These hidden, unexplored parts require a safe and accepting space and skilled and sensitive holding if they are to come out of the shadows and make themselves known. However if we can find the courage, and a safe space to go through this process, it is then possible for the powerful energy and deep wisdom locked away in these unowned aspects of ourselves to be safely released and integrated – bringing about lasting change in our lives and a greater sense of comfort, self confidence and ease.
For further information about Healing The Shadow work, including details of individual sessions, group workshops, couple’s work and therapists trainings visit Marianne’s Website
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