Meeting the Shadow
By, Christina Ducharme LAc., MAOM, BHSP
“In the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:
there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
“It is only the darkness in our own hearts that will defeat us, in the end.”
~ Alison Croggon
According to Yin Yang theory we are entering the Yin within the Yin time of year, the darkness and shadow time. These shifting days invite us to embrace the night, go within, and slow down. It is a major energetic contraction and mirrors what is happening in nature. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, and Northern Vermont, the trees have lost their leaves and their energy is collected in the roots, leaving the branches dormant until spring. Many birds have migrated South for the winter leaving our woods quiet and serene. There is a thick blanket of leaves on the forest floor muffling sound when wet. We’ve begun to experience the quiet and peacefulness of the snowfall. The days are short, dark and gray. This can be a powerful time to do deep healing work, explore the shadow, and prepare one’s self for the coming winter.
We have entered the season of embracing the shadow, going within, and of the darkness. This is the time to start to honor the shadow, the parts of ourselves, our communities, and our nation (here in the USA) that are hidden, and bring them to the light for healing. The shadow self are those parts of ourselves that are unconscious, but have a large impact on our lives. They are the parts of ourselves that we do not acknowledge and accept, because they are bad, unloveable, inappropriate, shameful, greedy, prideful, or hurtful. They are the parts that we wish we didn’t have, and are kept out of our day-to-day experiences, or so we think. The shadow self, particularly because it is pushed away and unexpressed, can come out of nowhere to wreak havoc in our lives. The shadow self can appear out of denial, in acting out, or it be can be expressed through unconscious actions that “don’t feel like myself.” For example a person who is normally very responsible and quiet, with a strict code governing their sexuality may go on a binge of sexual promiscuity and feel great shame and remorse for their actions, and say “oh, it’s my mid-life crisis. That wasn’t me.” When what is truly occurring is the shadow self who is full of repressed sexuality is acting out in the moment. The person might feel deep shame and regret out of self-judgements, but secretly takes a lot of pleasure in exploring their sexuality in a way that produces shame. This is the shadow in action. The shadow tends to appear out of nowhere in unpleasant thoughts, hidden fantasies, feelings that are repressed, and tend to sabotage the ego. The more the shadow is repressed, ignored, and hidden the more likely it will be to create discord in your life.
The shadow develops when as children we expressed thoughts, feelings, emotions, or actions that were considered too-much, inappropriate, or unacceptable. As children trying to learn how to navigate in a world of adults we learn to take these unacceptable behaviors and label them as “bad”. These bad parts of ourselves are pushed away and the ego - or good self- is created. Children then internalize the voices of authority in their lives including parents, guardians, teachers, and other adults and thus forms the internalized voices of their adult judgements of the self. These judgements are habitual, ingrained, and relate directly to the adult ego and the shadow. The ego is conscious and striving for acceptance, inclusion, power, and recognition. The shadow is unconscious and related to the hidden parts of our personalities.
In our adult lives the shadow can have great control over our experiences. For example, someone might deeply and unconsciously believe that they are unloveable. The belief of being unloveable may come from childhood when the individual did not receive love from their parents, but received positive attention for grades, looking good, and being well-behaved. In their adult life the person may have a career where they are perceived as very smart, always presenting themselves well, and dressed to the nines. However, they do not feel loved for who they are. Whatever they achieve is not enough to fill this emptiness inside them. This unconscious belief is proved by every failed relationship they have had, where they didn’t feel loved, seen or honored. Their unconscious belief is creating their reality. To heal this relationship issue one mustn’t just work with love and light and finding how they are lovable. Affirmations in the mirror aren’t going to change the underlying belief. It is only by delving deep into the shadow belief of “I am unloveable” meeting that hidden self who truly believes they are not worthy of love and prevents the self from experiencing being loved, and hearing what that inner self has to say, that transformation can truly occur. The person may find that they receive a lot of negative pleasure from proving that they are unloveable while they consciously crave love.
When the shadow self is met, it may feel like a stranger, a demon, a monster, or as a powerful scary person that is not like the self. This is the part of the psyche that has been repressed, hidden, and disavowed. It is by meeting this aspect of the self, having a conversation with it, and asking what it needs that the energy hidden in the shadow and the held in the unconscious can be transformed. For example in the case of someone feeling they are unloveable the shadow self may have the following to say: “I am here to protect you from the disappointment of knowing you cannot be loved. For when you try to open your heart and be vulnerable to love you will be hurt. I protect you from feeling the pain of your childhood and being hurt by someone you want to receive love from. I protect you from the true annihilation of self as lovable.” When asked what this shadow self needs it may say: “I need to feel love and that I am seen for myself.” When you are able to give the shadow what it needs, it lessens its grip on your life and true transformation can occur.
When the shadow is exposed, listened to, and acknowledged it can be transformed and the energy held in the shadow is now available for use to create the life one has always wanted. The shadow self hides the light, our unique essence, what makes us who we are. It effectively creates more shadow and less light. As we work with the shadow and release it’s hold over our lives, we free up and meet the light hidden within. This gives us more of our unique self, more of our own light to create what we truly want. For example, the person who is shut off sexually due to fear of annihilation of self, may find that the shadow was trying to keep them safe, in control, and from experiencing rejection. However, once they’ve met the shadow and released it’s hold they may find that they genuinely feel more safe, alive, they are able to love more freely, to feel the genuine love emanating from others to them, and in control of their lives. What we most fear and hide within ourselves can actually release our most powerful gifts through meeting and transforming the shadow.
As we work with the shadow, embracing our own hidden self, and creating healing and transformation within the self, we enable healing to ripple through our families, our communities and our nation. As we begin to explore the shadow self we often have unresolved issues from childhood trauma surface, to be released for expression, healing, and to receive more of ourselves. This process may be undertaken with a therapist, in a workshop, or in a healing. For information on how to address your shadow in healing please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.blueheronacupuncturevt.com. I offer distance healing, in person sessions, workshops, and year long programs. Exploring the shadow is part of the second year of training in the Year Long Healing Journey. For more information please click the link above, or send an email to email@example.com.
We must not just reach for the light, we must also meet the dark, for it is only within the dark that the light will shine most brightly.
~ Christina Ducharme