“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. . . . But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”
For the past few months, I’ve talked about the Shadow (Dancing with the Shadow and Uh Oh! The Shadow is ME). By now, you might be thinking of a zillion things that sound more fun than integrating your messy, ugly Shadow-self, right? Is it really worth all that effort?
Yes, it is.
Because, as Carl Jung put it:
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
In other words, if your objective is to become actualized or empowered or enlightened or whatever you call the optimal you that you want to be, you can’t avoid integrating that Shadow.
So let’s recap: In the first stage, you project your Shadow “out there” in the world. All those things that tick you off or upset you? That’s the Shadow rearing its nasty head.
In the second stage, the Shadow creeps in closer and closer. ”We’re surrounded!”That pesky Shadow seems to show up everywhere. You feel like you’re in the middle of a scene out of Arachnophobia!
Most people stop right here. They keep projecting the Shadow outward so they don’t have to face what’s inside. But when you deny the Shadow, you deny a huge part of yourself. You remained blocked creatively, energetically, emotionally, even sexually!
Though necessary, the third stage is tough because you have to acknowledge that the Shadow is within, not out there. You have the capacity to be and express all those qualities and actions you detest or fear. Your Shadow slams into who you believe you are and every value you hold dear.
If you take a really deep breath and admit that, yes, the Shadow is within you, you often find yourself in Stage Four, the “Mea Culpa” stage. You’re now clear that you’ve been pointing fingers at other people and beating them up for being such villains in your life. And now you feel rotten about that because you realize it’s been you all along!
If you’ve done some personal growth work and released a lot of guilt, this fourth phase is a bit easier. This phase is all about guilt: guilt for how you’ve behaved or things you’ve said, even your thoughts! The remorse kicks in: “I shouldn’t have been so judgmental, so unkind, so intolerant.” In the prior stages, we mistakenly blamed others. In this stage, we lay a lot of blame on ourselves.
A friend of mine used to have a motto: “I am only judgmental of judgmental people.” Then one day at lunch, he said to me, “You know, that was judgmental of me, I was really mean.” Definitely a Stage Four realization.
Within this stage, you need to realize that it’s not about being judgmental or mean (or whatever Shadow quality you had). It’s just that you were too rigid. You took such a strong position that you were out of balance. You became so rigid in your position that its opposite had to get pushed out.
It’s important to let go of the negative emotion around that. To realize that the Shadow was just trying to rebalance you. You’ve got to forgive yourself. You’ve got to forgive others. You’ve got to let go of guilt.
Marilyn Manson may not be the person you want to model your life after. But he does have some insight into accepting the Shadow:
“All the seven deadly sins are man’s true nature. To be greedy. To be hateful. To have lust. Of course, you have to control them, but if you’re made to feel guilty for being human, then you’re going to be trapped in a never-ending sin-and-repent cycle that you can’t escape from.”
Take the example of laziness: We might reject a full blown couch potato life-style. But could we accept a little relaxation and down time every once in a while? It’s not “doing nothing” versus being a workaholic. Giving yourself time off to just enjoy life every once in a while might be a good middle ground.
Whatever Shadow quality or behavior you’re working on, remember that the unconscious mind is just attempting to gain balance between opposite or opposing viewpoints.
And if you release the negative emotions and accept those Shadow aspects of yourself, you come to the Fifth (and final!) Stage: It’s All Okay. You just see God in everyone. Everything is valid and has its place. You see that everyone can have their own belief system, their own value system.
There can still be a paradox. I can see people who have negative or bad intention, but it’s no longer a conflict or something that I feel compelled to stop. It’s not my job to stop “evildoers.” I realize everyone has a different path. Recognizing this and reconciling the Shadow essentially helps you to live 100% in the concept of “perception as projection.” You can now say, “This is who I am. And it’s okay that you are that way or he is that way or she is that way. It’s all okay.”
We can hold that paradox with peace in our hearts. We even wonder how that projection (in retrospect, that silly projection) could have become such an extreme issue. Have you ever thought, “I can’t believe how big a deal I made about that”? If so, you know how it feels to have Shadow resolution.
I’ve had students protest: “I refuse to do this because then evildoers will become okay.” No, they won’t. It is definitely not okay that people harm others.
If I saw someone beating up another person, I would do everything in my power to stop it and/or prevent it in the first place. When an action is not appropriate, it should give you a charge. It’s not appropriate to smack someone around. And, after it’s done and months have gone by, if you still have a charge on the event, then you have some Shadow issues to deal with.
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
For more about Shadow work, check out my latest book: Integrate the Shadow, Master Your Path.