We all have a shadow side. A side of you that you don’t want others to see or notice. I know I have a shadow side. There are opinions, feelings, and parts of my personality which I don’t want other people to see. And it’s not just that I don’t want other people to see them, I also judge those parts of myself as “wrong”, “bad”, or “deficient”
Do you know what I’m talking about?
Let me give you an example. I carry around a lot of anxiety. Before any workshop or class, when waiting for a new client, when plans suddenly change, when something surprises me, when I have a perceived conflict with someone, when I’m not doing something “productive”, in trying to write the previous sentence my first reaction is to worry.
Now most of us wish our shadow side would just go away. And we wish that not only because we judge it as “bad” but also because we have had some experiences where this aspect of ourselves has made our lives more difficult. It’s messed up relationships, prevented us from being fully ourselves, and it’s made it hard to experience full joy.
And so you and I judge and evaluate this shadow side as “bad” because we think that the only way to get it to go away, to leave us alone, is to attack it. But what you and I fail to notice is that by attacking this shadow side it only grows stronger and becomes more intense.
One way to respond to my anxiety is to say to myself: “Come on, I need to toughen up. I’m stressing myself out and it’s going to ruin the class.” When I judge and put down my anxiety in this way, it only amplifies the stress. This leads to a vicious cycle of suffering where my shadow side gets triggered, I negatively judge it, this causes more intense feelings of stress and shame, which results in even more of my shadow side getting triggered. This cycle has never worked to help anyone heal or grow.
My other choice is to say to myself: “I can tell that I’m anxious and scared…I’m really wanting people to get something out of this class, I really want to help these people, I really want to be useful.” That way of responding to my anxiety is empathizing with it. And when I respond to my anxiety with compassion instead of judgment my anxiety calms down and I stay in charge. I escape the cycle of suffering.
So let me break down what it means to empathize with your shadow side:
- Notice how you feel emotionally when your shadow aspect goes off. Are you angry? Scared? Overwhelmed? Stressed? Sad?
- Notice what it is your shadow aspect is valuing. Do you want to be safe? Do you want love? Do you want recognition? Do you want to belong? Do you want peace?
- Now reflect those feelings and values back to your shadow aspect. Do so in a loving, understanding way.
Let’s say your shadow aspect is “being lazy” & “procrastinating”. Is that part of you wanting to lie around the house all day looking for rest and comfort because it feels burdened and tired? Or maybe your feeling scared because you want approval for the work you do?
Maybe your shadow aspect wants to be “perfect”. Is that part of you wanting to be liked and loved and feels scared or sad that you might not be? Is that part of you really wanting control and predictability? Maybe you feel excited because you want to be recognized?
Maybe your shadow side is your short temper. Are you angry because you want peace and harmony? Are you frustrated and overwhelmed because you’re looking for respect?
You’ll have to explore for yourself what beautiful feelings and values your shadow side has, and you may need some support in exploring that. And when you find it, and when every time your shadow side pops up you can view it with compassion and love, that is when you will no longer be so limited by this shadow side.