Have you ever wanted something, but then sabotaged yourself trying to get it? We’ve all been there, countless times. On the one hand we can visualise what we want and get excited by it (which is necessary to manifest change), but then we don’t follow through or we behave in a way that keeps us from that goal. We seek love and connection with someone, but we unconsciously push the other person away. We want to life a healthier life, but find ourselves gorging on ice cream in front of the TV instead. That self-sabotaging aspect is the shadow.
Jung defined the shadow it as “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.” Within our shadow self is all the wounds and false beliefs we haven’t healed. I’m not enough. I’m not lovable. People always hurt me. I can’t have what I want. I’m a bad person. You get the drift.
Most of us have these same core false beliefs that stem from childhood. And because on some level we believe these to be true, we often stop ourselves from achieving what we want. Even if you have no conscious awareness of these beliefs, they will still affect your behaviour because they are a part of you. An often used metaphor is that of an iceberg – the part floating about the water is the conscious mind, while the much larger part below the water is the unconscious. Becoming conscious is to uncover these unconscious aspects (which can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’) and bring them into the light.
This brings us to the concept of the dark night of the soul. This is when we go into that shadow self, or more often, when it comes over us. We face our fears and our pain, and come to understand where these beliefs came from, and then we can change them. It’s a painful process. Sometimes it can last days and feels like it will never end, but it will. The shadow will lift and you will come out the other side, this time with the knowledge and healing you needed. This is also the mythological journey of the Hero – journeying into the underworld, defeating the forces of darkness, and then returning home – changed and with some magnificent new treasure.
I started my own shadow work as a teenager. I had shut off all my negative emotions because, well, who wants to feel that shit right? But I’d also managed to shut off any positive emotions. I was numb. I intuitively realised this was wrong, and so began a long process of shadow work. Music and writing were my primary tools to reconnect with how to feel, and my feelings were my navigation upon the path.
So what was lurking in my shadow? Let’s go digging.
My mother left my father when I was young, and as a child in that egocentric stage of development, I thought it was because of me. So I would struggle to truly open up to someone, keeping parts of myself hidden away because I was scared of judgement; scared that they would leave too. This affected many relationships through the years, and still affects me to some degree. I’ve come to accept and love myself more over the years, peeling back a layer at a time, but on some level it’s still there. I know this work is a process that continues over time, so I can accept that too.
We’ve all done bad things. Picked on other people, called them names, lied and cheated, been scolded by our parents. This behaviour makes us think that we are a bad person, and that we’re not worthy of good things in our life. In my case it went a bit further. I had a lot of anger growing up (hell I still do, though I try to channel it productively), and it scared me. The first time I truly felt the depth of that anger and rage, I knew I was capable of terrible things. So then I was scared to lose control. What if I really hurt someone? What if I killed someone!? Of course this awareness is why I didn’t let these impulses rule me. Eventually I realised I wouldn’t actually do so because that’s not who I am, and I learnt to trust myself. But I did realise that we all have the capacity for violence – we all have those violent thoughts towards others, and ourselves, from time to time - just be aware enough to not act on them.
On some level I know I’m capable of amazing things, but I hold myself back. After all, who am I to do such great things? I’m just an average person. I’m not famous or special. I felt I needed to do more courses and gain more experience, before I would feel ready to do what I called to. But I never felt truly ready.
Years ago I wanted to help others with energy healing, but I thought I had to heal myself first. I started doing energy work for my own healing and self-development, before I came to really understand the concept of the wounded healer, and that we are never fully ‘healed’. I realised that all I needed was already inside me; I just needed to get out of my own way – to strip away the self-doubt and open to my higher nature. Sure I didn’t have all the answers, but I could already help people, and more experience and knowledge would come with time. In fact the answers often come in the moment when I’m in flow. Now I know if I show up with the right intention, and things are in alignment with my purpose, the rest will flow because I’m already everything I need to be.
There’s plenty more things I’ve worked through, but I won’t bore you with all the details.
You can pretend that everything is love and light all you want, but the truth is we all have our dark side. Bringing these shadow aspects into conscious awareness allows us to integrate and heal them, moving closer towards wholeness and that state of love and light that we desire.