Recently, a friend asked me to explain the meaning of the "shadow" side of one's personality. Since the understanding of the shadow has gone through a few iterations since the time of Carl Jung, I thought it might be worth discussing some thoughts with you.
I'll start by mentioning that, when I showed my 6-month-old daughter to one of my college mentors, I was shocked by his comment, "It's a shame that from now on she'll become more and more limited."
At the time, I didn't understand that what he meant was her upbringing and environment would impose on her certain ways of being that would define what is proper /improper or right/wrong, i.e., set limits. Of course, that is the usual situation for any child, whether its parents are caring or not.
Even if you don't accept that we are both spirit and matter, the fact is, we arrive here inexperienced in matter and start to develop traits and emotional responses to how we are treated and what we are taught. These developments take place within what I have described in an earlier posting as the triune brain and form in either the hunger/fight-or-flight reptilian brain or, later, in the emotion-charged paleomammalian brain.
As we, later, grow into use of the reasoning neomammalian brain, the vast majority of us end up using or "living in" one aspect of our brain, predominantly, letting the feelings, desires or activities that could have been stimulated by the other aspects, be they light or dark, gradually, slip out of conscious awareness into the unconscious ...the shadow.
So, what's the takeaway?
We are always changing in light of our ego consciousness and, hopefully, there comes a time when we feel it's necessary to reevaluate the limits we've put on ourselves; to understand whether we are acting out of rote because we're supposed to do something or because we've chosen to do it. It's the time for peeling the onion and unconcealing ourselves; for finding the hidden aspects, not just of feelings, but, also, of activities that might make our life more fulfilling.
Unfortunately, many have been ingrained, whether out of fear, ignorance, shame or lack of love, with the attitude that such an exercise is unacceptable. When their limits are challenged, these individuals tend to harden the shell of protection they've constructed around themselves or, because the ignored parts of their brains rebel, experience what is known as enantiodromia or a pendulum swing to the opposite of what they've been. And, this course, often, leads to addiction.
I put forth that the better course is to realize the feeling that one's life isn't what it should be is "legitimate" by virtue of the very fact it is felt. However, one must, also, realize that how one expresses those feelings is another matter.
As Dirty Harry said, "A man's got to know his limitations." One doesn't have to become a polar opposite of oneself, just know it's possible. No one can be everything. Others are examples of what we are not. That's why we gravitate to heroes/heroines of sports and entertainment. We are not, as some think, part of a hologram where everyone is the same; rather individual connected pieces in a grand mosaic.
Our purpose is to find our unique gift and be okay with it. Our life process is not a question of proving ourselves, but of improving ourselves.
The best way to do that is to start by accepting the fact we've evolved from an animal state and, since all of us have incarnated with a blank slate, acknowledging that the feelings and emotions we started out with are legitimate and nothing we feel or have felt is off limits. To personally evolve, we must release trapped energies that may be caught in pretenses while, at the same time, understanding that, given we are societal, some aspects of ourselves may be too amplified and will need to be tuned down.
Debaters learn to see both sides of an issue. In similar fashion, we must lose our self-righteousness, become flexible and achieve an inner balance. Knowing you are free to be good or bad does not mean you have to act out something that might put you in jail. It just means your mind is freed from its judgmental constraints; that you are open.
This self-evaluation is the basis of the Emotional Maturation process which my clients undergo. It's an opportunity to achieve wholeness by letting the emotions that were developed in childhood and have become part of one's ego know they are not being abandoned, but are merely taking on a new persona by merging with a transformed view of what will better serve the individual, now.
Bottom line, an unexamined life is not fully lived and a full examination requires embracing one's shadow.
Thanks to Dr. Herbert Holt, Dr. Paul MacLean, Debbie Ford, Jacquelyn Small
and Dirty Harry for helping in the process of informing my thoughts above.