Our shadow side represents the person we don’t want to be, all the aspects of ourselves we don’t want to express because of feelings of shame associated with them. We lock away the parts of ourselves we believe are unacceptable and we disown them. They lie dormant, rejected, and their absence leaves us less than whole.
A Golden Shadow
Sometimes what’s in our shadow isn’t dark at all, it’s the positive aspects of ourselves we’ve rejected because they shine too brightly for those around us, or because a calling to a noble cause overwhelms us and we aren’t sure we’re up to the task. Jung referred to this as the Golden Shadow – our beauty, knowledge and power which we reject and even project on to others instead. As with all shadow projections, we see these aspects in others instead of ourselves. We may idolise a famous figure for their beauty, talent or altruism, while denying our own.
We may also feel strong negative feelings towards others and criticise them or feel superior, not realising they represent denied parts of us. For example, we envy others their creativity and self-expression and criticise them for not following the rules, all the while suppressing our own creativity and denying our own outlets for self-expression. Maybe we were told as a young child that we couldn’t draw, or we made too much of a mess, and so we put our creativity aside and forgot about it.
What’s In The Shadow?
My own struggles with shadow aspects began early when I learned it was ‘wrong’ to not be a morning person, and that being an introvert was something to be ‘worked on’. I tried to hide these parts of myself, feeling ashamed of them, and whenever they surfaced I felt like a failure. I also denied my competence and capability to some degree because I learned that no matter what I did, it was likely to be criticised or mocked.
It wasn’t until I found other night people, other introverts, and learned that it was nothing to hide from, that I let these parts of myself back into the light. I feel no shame around them now because I found a tribe of people who accept these parts of me and allow me to own them without fear or shame. I also began to notice evidence of my capabilities over time as I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and noticed that I didn’t fall in a useless heap.
Magic occurs in the shadows, bringing the dark into the light. Doing shadow work means bringing the unloved parts of ourselves into the world again, reclaiming and integrating them into our being so that we can be fully whole again.
Mining The Gold
Let’s stop punishing ourselves, robbing ourselves of important aspects of who we are, and mine the gold in our shadows to bring it to the surface, back into the light. The best way to do this is to look at the things you fear most. This will lead you to your shadow.
What are your greatest fears? Challenge yourself a little by asking yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if you were to confront these fears?
What message might these fears have for you? What parts of you need love and attention? For instance, if you have feelings of jealousy or anger, what might there be for you to learn around this? Many clients have told me there depression came along to show them where they needed to make important changes in their lives, such as slowing down, or paying more attention to the health or relationships.
In reflecting on these prompts and even journalling about them, you may gain a new perspective on these unwanted aspects of yourself. Becoming aware of these parts will help you stop projecting them on to others, and over time you might even realise that these parts of yourself are actually treasures in disguise.