“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — Carl Jung
How well do you know yourself?
In society today we seem excessively concerned with projecting a certain self-image. We go to great lengths to portray an image that will be free from criticism and judgements.
But with all this effort are we projecting a true image of ourselves?
Could it be we are repressing certain aspects of our true selves so we can just fit in?
Expectations of Society
Society expects us all to behave in certain ways that are deemed socially acceptable.
To meet that expectation we wear a number of masks. These are our visible behaviours, as well as beliefs, displayed to the world around us.
We go to work and to protect ourselves we wear our professional mask. People see a certain type of persona. Then, at the end of the day we go home to re-unite with our family and friends. This transition allows us to change our mask. The work masks drops into the background to be replaced with a more relaxed social mask.
But is that the real you? Who is the person behind the mask?
Have you created a persona based on what you want or what you think others want or need?
Repression of our Undesirable Character Traits
All the undesirable characteristics we don’t like, or we think society won’t like, we repress down into the dark depths of our unconscious.
Carl Jung called this dark place of collected rejected parts ‘The shadow’.
The shadow is a result of the imbalance between whom we want to be and who we really are.
It functions outside of our full awareness. While the unconscious takes control the conscious part operates in autopilot mode.
Remaining unconscious of the shadow can damage our relationships with ourselves, spouses, family, and friends, and also impacts our professional interactions.
For example have you ever rashly said or done something out of character that you later regretted?
Any part we reject within us can turn against us at any given time.
We’re not necessarily aware of those parts of our personality that we reject.
Rather than confront something that we don’t like, our mind pretends it does not exist or we react impulsively.
Here are a few examples of common shadow behaviours you may relate to:
- A tendency to harshly judge others or ourselves.
- Pointing out one’s own insecurities as flaws in another.
- A quick temper with people in lesser positions of power.
- Frequently playing the “victim” of every situation.
- A willingness to step on others to achieve one’s own ends.
- Unacknowledged biases and prejudices.
Projection: Seeing Our Darkness in Others
Seeing the shadow within ourselves is extremely difficult, yet we’re really good at seeing our undesirable shadow qualities in others.
Although our conscious mind denies our own imperfections, it still wants to deal with them on a deeper level, so typically we spotlight those very flaws in others.
A good example that I see regularly pop up with my clients having relationship issues relates to communication. One side may feel their partner does not communicate, however when we look deeper we tend to see the one pointing lacks the skills to converse in an appropriate manner.
First we reject, and then we project.
These psychological projections distort reality. To protect ourselves from experiencing any pain our mind suppresses all evidence of what we perceive as our shortcomings. To limit our painful exposure to these areas of our life we store them away deep within our dark unconscious mind.
But what causes us to take these actions in life?
Origins of the Shadow Self
Consider how nice you are to people when they behave in a manner that is acceptable with your expectations. On the flip side consider how you behave when those expectations are not meet.
No doubt you distance yourself physically and mentally and form a negative opinion about that person.
What happened and why?
From a very young age society teaches us what behaviours are deemed as socially appropriate and acceptable.
When we expressed certain aspects of ourselves, we received feedback from our environment. Maybe as a child we had a tantrum over something or we did nothing naughty and our parents reprimanded us for our behaviour.
Through these interactions we start to learn what is expected of us. We are constantly trying to fit in and conform to what is deemed acceptable and normal.
When we over step the mark or step out of line we suffer the backlash of society. People judge us; condemn us, gossip about us.
The emotional pain generated by these experiences can cause us to feel isolated and overwhelmed.
The only escape to protect ourselves from suffering is to where a mask that hides the real us. We tell ourselves stories about who we are, and who we are not so we can fit in with society.
So what can we do to find some level of comfort with our life?
Removing the mask to reveal your Shadow Self
To come to terms with impact of how your unconscious mind is running the show we need to find a way to make the unconscious conscious.
We need to gain an awareness of our unconscious reactions and then choose how to respond to them.
We begin this process by taking a step back from our customary patterns of thinking and behaving and learn to observe what is happening within us.
When we start to see our negative reaction to psychological triggers, or events we need to learn to pause and ask ourselves, “Why am I reacting this way?”
Once we identify the sources of our psychological triggers (e.g. repressed fear, pain, aggression, etc.), then we can begin to heal.
This means we stop rejecting parts of our personalities. We find ways to bring them forward into our everyday lives. We learn to accept our shadow self.
Our actions and decisions are then informed by this new found knowledge.
We begin to understand that much of our shadow is the result of being hurt. We are trying to protect ourselves from re-experiencing that same hurt.
What are the Benefits to be gained by Exploring our Shadow Self?
Exploring our shadow side gives us fantastic opportunities for growth and self-development in many areas of our lives.
As we come to terms with and learn to accept our darker self, we start to see things more clearly in ourselves and others. As a result, we are less prone to becoming easily triggered by other people’s behaviours.
Relationships with your spouse, family members, friends, and business associates may noticeable improve over time.
Untainted Perception of the world
In having an undistorted perspective of ourselves and others around us we have a lens that sees the world much clearer.
Integrating all rejected parts of our shadow self allows us to become more authentic. It gives us a more realistic assessment of who we really are.
We see others and assess situations with greater clarity, compassion, and understanding.
Greater Energy and Physical Health
It goes without saying if we are constantly dragging around this invisible bag of mental and emotional stuff behind us it is exhausting. It takes a lot of effort to continually repress all of the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to face.
When we let go we release a great amount of energy we have been unconsciously investing time in protecting ourselves. We gain a greater sense of balance, making us better equipped to take on life’s challenges.
How Can We Go About Exploring our Shadow Self?
There are a number of effective ways that allow us to shine the light into those dark shadow areas that we try to avoid.
Here are three techniques that will make it easier to approach and explore your shadow self:
1. Meditation and Your Shadow Self
Meditation is a great way to develop this ability to step back from ourselves and gain insight. As meditation deepens, our attention begins to sink deeper into the subconscious.
The conscious mind starts to become less busy allowing our awareness to start shining the spotlight into those dark shadows where we have repressed things in life.
These can include, among other things:
- difficult emotions
- hidden traumas
- negative thought patterns
- shame, guilt, regret
- aggressiveness, anger
- unconscious fears
- unresolved emotional processes
If you are new to meditation this can be challenging. This type of meditation requires you to explore deep into those dark places we may not have visited before.
If this is an avenue you wish to explore I strongly recommend seeking help to guide you in right direction. My services are always an option or you could start with this link to a guided shadow work meditation to help.
2. Cultivating Self-Compassion
Before you get to know your shadow, it is helpful to cultivate a sense of self-compassion with one’s self. Without self-compassion, it is difficult to look at our darker side with a sense of acceptance.
If you’re hard on yourself when you make mistakes, it is difficult to face your shadow. If you’re accustomed to feeling shame or guilt, you need to transform these emotions with self-acceptance, and self-compassion.
Again meditation is a great way to develop self-compassion. The guided meditation linked here is one of my favourites that I regularly revisit.
3. Cultivating Self-Awareness
Seeing the shadow requires the ability to reflect and observe our behaviours, thoughts, and feelings.
Mindfulness meditation helps nurture nonjudgmental awareness. It’s the ability to stay aware of the present moment without involving the inner critic or other modes of judgment.
Self-awareness and self-reflection are forerunners to shadow work. They help us observe and evaluate feelings and emotional reactions without judgment or criticism.
Take Away Message
The shadow is elusive; it hides behind us. Our defence mechanisms are designed to keep our shadows repressed and out of view.
The more we learn to pay attention to our behaviour and emotions, the better chances we have of catching our shadow in the act.
Remember one of the best ways to identify our shadow is to pay attention to our emotional reactions toward other people.
We are all born like blank canvases. But at some point during our childhood development, we learn to separate things into good and evil. We begin to sort out those traits within us that are acceptable to society and those that are not.
We repress aspects of ourselves that do not fit in with the structured ideal of our society. However, this comes at a great cost to us.
We slowly learn to live fractured lives, accepting some parts of our nature but rejecting and ignoring others.
The repression of our negative traits or emotions in society is one of the biggest barriers in any person’s journey towards living an authentic life.
The true goal is not to defeat the shadow self, but to incorporate it within the rest of our personality.
When you work to heal and integrate your shadow, you find that you stop living so reactively and unconsciously, thereby hurting yourself and others less.
Would you like to explore your shadow side in a safe, friendly environment with a trained professional therapist?
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to make that commitment towards uncovering your true authentic self.