“I really believe that all of us have a lot of darkness in our souls. Anger, rage, fear, sadness. I don’t think that’s only reserved for people who have horrible upbringings. I think it really exists and is part of the human condition. I think in the course of your life you figure out ways to deal with that.”
– Kevin Bacon
In the quote above, Kevin Bacon is describes what’s known as the Shadow. And it turns out that we need to embrace our Shadow to become whole, to express our deepest creativity and to connect with our higher self.
The Shadow is all that you think is not you. It’s those qualities we deny in ourselves. The Shadow is everything that we refuse to accept as being part of us. “I would never do that. That’s not me. I am not that way.” It’s a little like denying that your BM’s have odor. Yes, they do – as does everyone’s!
For most of us, the Shadow is not so obvious when we’re young. The Shadow begins to show up as adults when we’ve clearly defined ourselves as the ego or the persona we show to the world. Prior to meeting our Shadow, life is very one-dimensional. “I’m a banker.” “I’m a trainer.” “I’m a husband.” “I’m a wife.” As we develop and define our own ego, we can also become one-dimensional emotionally. “I’m very responsible.”“I’m open-minded.”“I’m loving.” Really? Always?
Deep down inside, we know life is more than our titles, roles or our most virtuous personality traits. Deep down inside, we realize that we are more than just that one-dimensional being. And when we start to venture out to become more than we have been, that’s when the Shadow will rear its lovely head, sometimes wreaking havoc on our lives.
Why? The Shadow has a purpose. It’s there to balance you. To bring you to wholeness.
I love a quote I saw from Amy Grant: “Without black, no color has any depth. But if you mix black with everything, suddenly there’s shadow – no, not just shadow, but fullness. You’ve got to be willing to mix black into your palette if you want to create something that’s real.”
You’ve got to embrace your Shadow aspects to live a rich and fully expressed life.
Don’t get me wrong. Embracing the Shadow doesn’t mean we’re supposed to throw out our current belief system or values. The Shadow doesn’t have any judgment about either end of any spectrum of qualities. It doesn’t prefer tolerance over intolerance, cranky over happy; extroverted over introverted. The Shadow doesn’t care. It just wants to balance things out, to bring you to wholeness. The Shadow, with its not-you, appears so we can notice that our current set of values, beliefs, roles or preferences are too restricted.
How does the Shadow show up? Often it’s in the external. You’re determined to be calm, cool and collected, and immediately crazy, overly-emotional drama Queens and Kings show up on your doorstep. Or you vow to move on from your wild past and instantly run into every one you ever knew back when “Party!” was your middle name.
If the imbalance is extreme, people start acting out themselves, becoming their own polar opposites. Ghandi, one of the world’s most revered peacemakers and advocates for non-violence, confessed to being abusive to his wife in his younger years. More than one Bible-quoting minister has committed the“sinful”adultery he rails against. Good guys are exposed as bad guys everyday — and vice versa. As Jung said, “Every extreme psychological position has the potential to flip into its opposite.” And this flip is a lot easier than you imagine.
There is a real danger in holding onto a rigid belief system that the world is one way and only one way. When we perceive the world as one way, we attempt to fit everything into nice, tidy, clear-cut categories. We divide the world into clear-cut opposites and embrace one side. It’s right versus wrong. But the truth is that the world is not black and white, good and evil.
Anytime you say, “That’s not me. I could never do it,” it actually is within you. And as scary as that may sound, the Shadow is something that you do need to acknowledge and reconcile. Take the most peace-loving activist. He needs to admit the countless instances of harm being done in the name of peace. As peaceful as you might be, if someone you loved was being threatened and in danger, I’m betting you’d find a violent urge inside yourself that would make Rambo look like a wimp!
So how to embrace this Shadow?
Your first step in working with the Shadow is to recognize the Shadow. Look for emotional outbursts, especially ones that seem all out of proportion to whatever is going on. Notice if a certain person or a certain type of person consistently gets on your nerves. That’s your Shadow.
Whether the Shadow appears externally or internally, own it. This not-you is you. This doesn’t mean you have to act out as the Shadow. And accepting the Shadow doesn’t negate your sense of right and wrong. Rather, it enhances your own ability to be pono (aligned and clear) with yourself and to know where your boundaries are.
People like artists and actors know that by fully experiencing Shadow emotions of anger or grief, they can more fully tap the passion they need to create and express. By accepting the value of Shadow emotions, you can actually unleash real passion and experience true intimacy in your relationships. The trick is to accept the Shadow and to experience the Shadow’s emotions voluntarily rather than letting them run you!
Best wishes from me and my Shadow!