Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beware of the Shadow

The shadow is the part of yourself you want to keep hidden, what you wish didn't exist.  Everyone has one, like it or not.  Twentieth century psychologist, Carl Jung, coined the term.  In his words, "As individual attention is habitually and excessively focused on the facade of the persona, the deeper, neglected aspects of the personality continually sabotage the individual's conscious intentions."  It's not that the facade is necessarily phony, just that the outward appearances don't tell a complete picture of the whole personality.  
I used to wish that I could always be sweet and loving.  Being sweet is part of my authentic self, but so is anger and sadness, which I avoided like the plague.  Life was easier for me when I was sweet and happy, or so I thought.  Keeping the shadow hidden is like trying to hold balloons under water.  It will eventually rise because these unconscious parts of us want to be known.  The more we try to keep them tucked away, the more they will appear when we wish they wouldn't.  Anger and sadness are my shadow, and they kept popping up as guilt trips I would lay on someone who didn't please me, intense criticism of people who had "anger problems", and I would find myself getting angry way beyond what was called for by what just happened.  No matter how hard I tried to be sweet and loving, the anger would find its way out.  
The key to becoming more whole and balanced is to get to know the shadow and allow it to play an acceptable role in our lives, rather than trying to hold it down.  Anger can be a warning sign that something is wrong and can be an important motivator of change for the better.  It's important to pay attention to when we feel angry because there's something there to look at within ourselves.  It may be that the current situation is wrong for us or it might be that an old wound is being opened, providing an opportunity for us to heal.
Since we don't want to own our shadow self, we become critical of it in ourselves and others.  Someone who believes that seriousness is desirable while playfulness is not, won't allow himself to be playful.  He will criticize himself for desiring to be playful and criticize others for having too much fun.  He will likely secretly detest them for being able to express that part of themselves.  If he were willing to know and love this side of himself, he could find balance between seriousness and playfulness and enjoy a richer life.
Sometimes we try so hard to hide certain qualities, we make ourselves believe that they don't exist within us.  We simply can't see them when they show up, but they certainly affect our relationships and lives.  We all have light and dark within us.  The more conscious we become of all the parts of ourselves, the more we can live with the purpose we desire.
In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus asks his disciples, "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?"  Jesus' wish for us is that we take a closer look at our own experience rather than focus on the faults of others.

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