Happy Halloween: Learning to Meet My Shadow Self
Thoughts from Dr. Nadine:
This was the week I got in touch with my “shadow”.
Carl Jung, one of the earliest psychologists, used this name when referring to those parts of us that are the negative aspects of personalities, or as he succinctly puts it: “That which I do not wish to be”. It’s everything about ourselves that we strive to keep hidden from the world – and from ourselves. The shadow is our naughty impulses, our negative emotions, our not-so-altruistic attitudes that we’ve invested lots of energy to disown.
Well, guess what? Those parts of us never really go away. We spend lots of time and energy trying not to look at them. We push them away by literally not seeing those qualities in ourselves. We can’t imagine that we can be so, well, bad! If we can’t see those characteristics, how could they exist in us? And, if we can’t see those characteristics, it’s more troublesome that others can. So we’re shocked and horrified if someone else sees them and points them out to us.
So this week, I had the occasion to be reflective with my Dear One. We were talking about some difficult issues, and how they were impacting both of us individually and together. In talking about these important concerns, I reluctantly came face to face with my shadow self. I could feel myself trying to “duck and weave”, to maneuver away from her. Yet I knew that I had to muster the courage to meet her. I knew I had the difficult responsibility to take a close look at myself so that my shadow-self did not morph into a block to the relationship.
That’s what happens when we’re in relationships. They challenge, encourage, thrill, devastate. They become mirrors in which we see ourselves—all of ourselves—the good and the shadow. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that we often look at our partners, our friends, our family members and ask how they benefit us. I also suggested that our responsibility is to look at ourselves as contributors to those connections. Relationships are one of the potent ways we learn about our true selves, and through which we can grow to love ourselves.
We have to dare to look at what we don’t really want to see. We must find the courage to meet our darkness, to at least begin to peek at it through squinted eyes. In the spirit of Halloween, we will indeed encounter that evil witch, raving lunatic, Frankenstein monster, werewolf, and vampire who hides by day and hunts at night in the shadows.
This we do in order to embrace our whole selves, to discover our authentic, genuine, beautiful “self”. This we do in order to have the best relationships, first with ourselves, and then we will be able to have the best relationships with our “dear ones”.
Reflections from Dr. Zan:
Well, first of all, Happy Halloween! What lurks in the shadows, indeed!
I am captivated by this notion, especially given my very recent return from a week long training to be a Mindful Self-Compassion teacher. For many of us, it is much more palatable to offer compassion to others than to offer it to ourselves, especially given the shadow self that Dr. Nadine so eloquently describes. When we encounter our own beings and all of the accompanying foibles and failures, it does not take long to engage criticism, to dismiss and diminish, and often to harshly reject ourselves. When we practice chronic unkindness to ourselves, what makes us think that we can “switch that off” when interacting with others that we presume to love? It is not selfish or conceited to love ourselves fully. In fact, it is a sacred act of generosity to others when we discover the capacity to practice self-love consistently.
When we can observe ourselves genuinely, in the shadow and in the brilliant light, and still offer love, we can embrace who and what is present now, promoting healing and wholeness. So often, our human condition would lead us to see people and experiences as all good or all bad. We want to lump all into categories without benefit of the nuance that makes life both interesting and rich. Yet, in being honest with ourselves, we know that every person we encounter, including self, has both positive and challenging qualities. As we learn to accept and embrace both, we can manage what is and stop grasping for an elusive what it should be or what I wish it were. Perhaps we can loosen the grip on that crazy-making notion of, “If only…”
One of my Mindful Self-Compassion teachers tells the story of struggling with crippling public speaking anxiety. He had practiced meditation consistently for decades by the time he was finally able to overcome this fear. The turning point for him occurred at a retreat when his own teacher said with conviction, “Just get on the cushion, and love yourself!” Ah, the healing power of love. When I was a child, my mom often said, “My love for you does not turn off and on like a light switch.” Nor should self love be conditional. Love yourself fully, both the dark and the light. The rest will follow.