The “shadow” is a psychological term for everything we cannot see in ourselves. The shadow side are essential aspects of our personality that we have learned to hide or suppress in order to protect ourselves.
I understood how important knowing my shadow was when I began my journey in 12-step recovery and again in my clinical professional training as an Imago therapist. Working with my shadow has been rewarding and challenging.
I also think of the shadow as the “dark side” of our personality because it consists mainly of primitive, undesirable human emotions and impulses like, rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.
It is all the stuff we deny and fear in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—becomes part of the shadow. Anything we deem incompatible with our preferred conscious attitude about ourselves is exiled to this dark side.
In Imago therapy, the “shadow” is the disowned self. This shadow self represents the parts of us we no longer claim to be our own, including inherent positive qualities.
These unexamined or disowned parts of our personality do not go anywhere. Although we deny them in our attempt to cast them out, we don’t get rid of them. We repress them; they are part of our unconscious. Think of the unconscious as everything you are not conscious of.
But here’s the problem and the thing I really try to impart to my clients: The shadow side can operate on its own without our full awareness. It is as if our conscious self goes on autopilot while the unconscious assumes control. While being in a relationship can bring many riches it is the surest way to bring out our unconscious shadow self.
We do things we wouldn’t willingly do and later regret (if we catch it). We say things we wouldn’t say or our facial reactions express emotions we don’t consciously feel or we’re not in touch with.
Staying unconscious of the shadow-side hurts our relationships with our spouses, children, family, and friends, and it will impact our professional relationships as well as our leadership abilities.
Remember Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Dr. Jekyll was a respectable gentleman (the “good,” conscious side of the personality) who took a potion to separate out his darker impulses to create a creature devoid of a conscience named Mr. Hyde (the personal shadow). The Dr. Jekyll in us cannot control the actions of our darker half, thus leads us to commit unscrupulous acts.
“What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse. Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away. And because it is true it is what is there to be interacted with. Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.” Eugene Gendlin
Let’s be real. Shadow work is not popular, and it is not a popular topic. Who actually enjoys owning their flaws, weaknesses, selfishness, nastiness, hate, and so on?
We prefer to focus on our strengths and affirming qualities. Still, exploring our shadow side offers tremendous opportunities for healing, growth and development. Here are some of the benefits:
As we integrate our shadow side and come to terms with the darker half, we see ourselves more clearly. We become more grounded, human, and whole. When we can accept our own darker parts, it is much easier to accept the shadow in others.
As a result, other people’s behavior won’t trigger us as easily. We also have an easier time communicating with others and we begin noticing an improvement in our relationships with our spouse, family members, friends, colleagues and business associates.
In seeing others and ourselves as we really are, we have a cleaner lens with which to view the world. As we integrate our shadow self, we are in close proximity of your authentic self, which gives us a more realistic assessment of who we are.
We don’t need perceive ourselves as being too big (inflated) or too small (deflated). When we are self-aware we can assess our environment with more accuracy and make better choices. We see others and evaluate situations with greater clarity, compassion, and understanding.
As long as we deny our shadows and repress certain parts of ourselves, a sense of wholeness and unity is intangible. How can we feel a sense of wholeness and balance with a divided mind? Integrating the shadow brings us one step closer to realizing a sense of wholeness. It’s a critical step to achieving mature adulthood.
Wishing you love and light,