Like the embroidered pin cushion, I'm not apologizing for my mess. I accept it.
Last week was a challenge for me.
I was playing a silly made-up game with cards to identify our past, present and future. When I excitedly drew the card that would represent my present, it was blank. My present was blank. And my immediate reaction was “That’s exactly how I feel right now.”
Last week I was consumed with emotions that I just went a bit numb. I was low energy. I wasn’t completely present with people. I was just trying to get through.
What brought this on? I had an overwhelming confrontation with my own shadow. If you’re not familiar with the term shadow, let me start with an example. You know how in Peter Pan he gets separated from his shadow? Peter doesn’t feel whole without his shadow, it’s an important part of who he is. His shadow is mischievous and playful. It enjoys making Peter chase him, and it doesn’t really want to be captured. When Wendy sews the shadow back, Peter feels whole again.
Carl Jung really popularized shadow work, and while it has taken many forms in the self-development world, I still resonate most deeply with his work. "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." The shadow is the part of oneself that we do not see. Just like when an object stands in the sun, the shadow is cast behind and mostly stays out of view. A person’s shadow is the dark side that is hard to see in oneself, but easier to see in another person.
The shadow is normally the place where we have disowned parts of the self, and may contain what we categorize the more “negative” emotions like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, etc. The more we hide them and fight against them, the stronger they grow.
Last week, my shadow hit a point where it would not be ignored any longer. It stepped out, loud and clear, and demanded my attention. My shadow was reflected back to me as clearly as my own reflection in a mirror. The veil I use to hide this part dropped and there it was:
I’m self-righteous and have high expectations
I’m a know-it-all with a holier-than-thou attitude
I burn white hot and I don’t care if you get burned in my process
I’m more stubborn than a pack of mules
I give way too many fucks, and it drives me crazy which I sometimes take out on others
It’s hard to write this because I have a tendency to beat myself up for my flaws and be way too hard on myself. I do not share them as a way to do that, but as a way to free myself from the shame I carry with my shadow. It’s hard to write, and it feels as vulnerable as stripping naked in front of you. Nowhere to hide. Look, like or don’t like, leave or stay. This is me, fully and completely. My intention is to bring in the light and to integrate these parts more fully into myself with compassion.
I spend a lot of my time trying to mask these traits or keep them in check, like a shirt that doesn’t want to stay tucked in. And I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting them, so I’m giving up the fight and accepting them as a part of me.
It’s important for the process and for my own mental health to accept that the shadow isn’t wrong. Part of the process I am going through is to see them for the purpose they are serving and their benefits. For me, these traits are actually what make me a great coach. It also helps me to be an achiever and accomplish a lot of things that other people don’t attempt. I can make decisions quickly, and I’m comfortable in leadership roles. I get shit done.
They also protect my heart. When I feel like I’m in danger of being hurt, the shadow lashes out to protect me. Sometimes these protective dogs are a little too eager to jump out. Last week my shadow was unbalanced, and overeager to protect. Thankfully I have support from my coach to help navigate it. I know I don’t have to “fix” or “heal” my shadow.
But what I feel called to do is to soften.
I don’t need Dobermans on the attack anytime someone gets close.
Danielle LaPorte says, “Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence.” Brene Brown says, “Strong back, soft front, wild heart.” I’m not great at soft. It’s practice. It’s opening. It’s making missteps when I lash out and feel like I’m in danger. It’s relying on old practices instead of questioning and discovering what is really working for me.
And here is what is helping me. Here is my personal pep talk.
Process. Progress. Not perfection.
Courage, dear heart. The journey of living a life full out doesn’t come without pain and mistakes. It’s messy. But we hope that if we use those mistakes to learn and grow, that we become more of our authentic self. That we can live our best life each day. And that the people who love us forgive us for our missteps (and we extend the same to them) because we are going through this as an individual and as a pack of humans.
Next week I will talk more about identifying your shadow and how to begin to dance with it. It’s not a fight or a struggle, no one wins in that. We want to find ways to embrace all of ourselves, even the stuff we hide away and feel ashamed of. We are whole beings, full or light and dark. That’s what life is. We want all of it to be a part of our experience.
What resonates for you from this? What is your takeaway? I'm going to continue talking about our shadow- how to identify it and how to accept it- next time. What questions do you have about your shadow?