Note: This is Part 2 – for the first part click here.
Carl Jung said, “The shadow does not only consist of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses.” So there are 2 sides to our shadow. There is the “negative shadow” and the “positive shadow.” In to the dark shadow we toss all the things we don’t like about ourselves, as we discussed in the previous post. All the “not me.” All the pieces of ourselves which weren’t allowed full expression growing up.
The positive shadow, however, is all the positive things that you might not be connected to. All the parts of yourself that you say are “not me” but that you’d like to be.
Right now, I am asking you to consider yourself as larger than you currently know yourself to be. Finding your shadow is a process of reclaiming more of yourself. Imagine how much you would have available to you if you could be all the things you think you’re not! You are stronger, more creative, and more loving than you know.
Where do we begin to look for the shadow? How can we find this thing that is hidden from our conscious minds? It is fundamental in this work to realize that what you are strongly attracted to in others AND what you are repelled by are guideposts to examining your shadow. They tell us to pay attention. Think about that again – it bears repeating. What you are strongly attracted to in others AND what you are repelled by are guideposts to examining your shadow. Who in your life do you judge harshly? Note what it is about that person which so bothers you. Maybe it’s an air of entitlement that you notice in them. Perhaps it’s their style. What assumptions are you making about them? Think about all the ways you struggle and build up your identity perhaps to be not like that person.
One thing we can learn from the shadow is how to use it effectively. But there are no easy step-by-step instructions to do this. Shadow work can be tricky business – it’s a lot to ask to face all the parts of yourself you have cast off. And it’s not something you can apply to one area and not to the rest of your life. It requires a steady examination of your self and your attitudes. You need to be able to honestly assess your own fear when you feel blocked or dull in your life: what are you afraid of? Failure? Success? Being vulnerable and putting yourself out there? Criticism? I would examine your envy – part of your positive shadow. Take a moment and think of who is successful at what you want to be doing. Really feel that envy – there is some energy there, isn’t there? Maybe you want what they have so badly. What qualities do they have that you can cultivate in yourself? These things may be latent in you, just waiting to be activated. So instead of not feeling that envy, trying to shove it aside, we transmute it, change it into a movement towards what you want.
Since the origins of the shadow are in the deepest recesses of our psychological formation it is made up of stuff that is pre-verbal. Before we had words we had feelings, symbols, metaphor. So if you’re serious about the Shadow art and play are great places to work with it. You can sit and talk with a therapist all day and the Shadow might stay safely out of sight. But if you draw a picture or play a game the Shadow might show it self.
Your shadow may appear to you in a dream tonight. Anything you repress usually finds a way out in other places – dreams are common as this is where our unconscious runs rampant. You may be confronted with unspeakable horrors, split off parts of yourself. And it is up to you to try to engage them.
Be curious about your Shadow. Pay attention to all your strong reactions. Honor all that it can teach you. The gifts may dazzle you in their splendor – creativity, sex and vitality may all emerge as you activate the parts of yourself you think of as shadow.
David Richo, in his great Book Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side, recommends that before we begin examining the shadow we say “Let me hear this Shadow speak to me without defensiveness. I want to know what it tells me about myself. I want to hear with a childlike sense of wonder and openness as well as with the depth of my adult experience. I am ready for a shadow dance.” I invite you to consider those words and then download the worksheet below for further exploration.
XY Counseling specializes in working with men, couples and teens. Alexander Warnow, Licensed MFT # 92437, started XY Counseling because he saw a need for men to be supported by other men.