There’s Gold In Your Shadow

There’s Gold In Your Shadow

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.


Are You Just Trying To Get Attention?

Are You Just Trying To Get Attention?

As a therapist, I’ve often heard this phrase:

‘Oh he/she is just trying to get attention’.

I’ve heard this said about children and teenagers who are struggling with major transitions, adults who are battling depression, people who have threatened or attempted suicide, and so on.

They are just trying to get attention.

Most of these people were genuinely  struggling with life situations that were proving too much for them to  handle, and doing it in an under-resourced way with very little support.  Illnessses such as eating disorders and depression are not something  anybody would consciously choose to have. They are incredibly painful  ways to live.

But when loved ones struggle to make  sense of what’s happening, they feel helpless. If they’re encouraged to  view behaviour as ‘just attention-seeking’, it can reduce their worry  and stress.

Research shows that up to 80% of people  who later went on to attempt suicide had talked about it within the  month prior to doing it. This challenges the common belief that if  someone talks about hurting themselves, they won’t really do it. The  truth is they’re often working up the courage, and many in this  situation would dearly like someone to step in and give them an  alternative.

But society’s tendency to view these  behaviours  as ‘attention-seeking’ means we miss crucial opportunities  to genuinely understand what’s going on for a loved one, and to find an  effective way to help them.

My Attention Seeking 

My aunt tells me about the only time she saw my grandmother cry. I was 3 and we were living with my paternal grandparents. I had my first bout of tonsillitis, and my mother insisted I eat everything on my plate, even though it took me up to an hour to do. It hurt.

My grandmother was one tough woman – she lived on the land, rode horses, and I still have a photo of her proudly  holding up a snake she killed by herself. But my mother managed to reduce her to tears more than once with her behaviour towards me.

The second time I had tonsillitis I was  8. I’ve always been a slow eater but I was getting even slower. My furious mother took me to a doctor to prove there was nothing wrong with me. The doctor ordered me up to the hospital immediately. My tonsils were so  swollen and infected they needed to come out the following morning.

I was told I would be asleep when they took them out. So when they came and gave me an injection, I expected to  go to sleep. When I didn’t, I lay there alone, worrying they wouldn’t realise I was still awake, or worse, maybe they had decided not to put me to sleep while they took them out.

I became more and more anxious as I waited for them to come and take me to surgery. Of course when I got to theatre, they put the mask over my face and the ether blessedly put me out. I woke up feeling like a truck had run over me. They removed my adenoids as well,  so the first thing I saw was blood on the plastic lining under my head.

My mother, who was a nurse, was there but quickly announced that since I was obviously just going back to sleep, she was leaving because  she had things to do. I begged her to stay – the blood scared me because I didn’t know why it was there, and I felt so awful. But off she went.

The nurses were lovely to me. There was no room in the children’s ward so I stayed in the adult ward and they loved fussing over me. This was new to me, being treated as though I was special, surrounded by smiles and concern for my wellbeing.

I decided I wanted to stay.

My father told me not to be ridiculous,  and I went home the next day. But for years afterwards, I became obsessed with the idea that I had appendicitis. The doctor must have had some idea what was going on, because he gave me what I think were placebo tablets – for ‘wind in the  appendix’.

It wasn’t a conscious thing at the time,  but I was trying to get back to the place where I felt loved. To this day I still have a perfectly healthy appendix.

I recently watched as a friend posted photos and updates on Facebook as her little boy went into hospital to  have his tonsils removed. She stayed with him the whole time, fretted while he was in surgery, and shared how proud she was of him afterwards.  I was stunned.

What’s Your Need?

It was easy to dismiss my fixation on my appendix as ‘just trying to get attention’. It’s true, I was. I was  trying to get a need met the only way I knew how.

Of course there were more effective ways to feel loved and supported but I had no experience of them, so I tried  to return to the only experience I knew. Many of us are very clumsy about this, but is that a reason to dismiss somebody’s very real pain?

If you’ve been told you’re just trying  to get attention, think about what it is you really need and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If my life was exactly the way I would like it to be, what would be different to the life I have right now?
  • What are some ways I could go about bridging this gap, even a little bit?
  • Who would I need to ask for help, and how could I best go about that?
  • What other resources do I need to utilise?

Then do what you can as soon as you  possibly can.  For me, it meant building a big friendship network around  me. Knowing I had such great friends meant that I couldn’t be as unlovable as I felt, otherwise why would these people bother with me?

I also learned to change my self-talk,  and to question the negative views I had of myself. Once I did this, I  forgot all about my appendix.

Reach out. It’s ok to seek attention, as  long as you do it as constructively as you can. It could improve your  quality of life. It might even save it.


Are You Too Sensitive?

Are You Too Sensitive?

Have you ever been told you’re ‘too  sensitive’? People often say this as an excuse for their bad behaviour. They do something disrespectful and when you point this out, they respond  with ‘you’re too sensitive’ – suddenly it’s you in the wrong.

Don’t believe it. You probably are sensitive, but who decides what’s ‘too’ sensitive? If you’ve told someone their behaviour bothers you, the useful thing for them to do would be consider whether they need to continue this behaviour.

If they do continue, that’s fine – it  just means you probably won’t be spending much time with them in the  future. It doesn’t mean you’re ‘too sensitive’, it doesn’t mean they’re  wrong – it means their behaviour isn’t going to work for you.

Some Triggers

Here are some examples of things you might object to which often leads to the ‘you’re too sensitive’ label:

  • being made the butt of someone else’s derogatory jokes
  • being made fun of because of a belief or habit you have, for example being a vegetarian / intentionally childless / an introvert / a late riser / a chocaholic / a church-goer / supporting a particular cause, etc
  • being spoken to in a challenging or confronting tone on a regular basis, for example ‘how stupid, why would you do that?
  • being constantly corrected or contradicted about things you say or the way you do things
  • being told to ‘lighten up’ or ‘get over it’ when you try to share your feelings about something
  • being interrupted and spoken over the top of.

I’m sure you can add more examples to this list. The implication is that if you were tougher, you wouldn’t object to these things and they wouldn’t bother you. Remember that you have the right to let someone else know if their behaviour is upsetting or harmful to you.  Don’t judge the success of your efforts by whether the other person  heard and understood you though. The only criteria for success is  whether you spoke up respectfully about how you felt.

How Do I Do This?

The best way to do this is to focus on  your feelings rather than on making their behaviour wrong. Avoid labels and stick to what you felt and observed:

I felt uncomfortable when you told us we were doing everything wrong.

is more effective than:

You make me feel so uncomfortable when you think you’re better than all of us.

The first example shows someone speaking  about him or herself, not about the other person’s motives and not on behalf of other people involved. They have focused on their own feelings and what they observed the other person do.

The second example is all about the other person. This statement makes assumptions about why the other person behaved the way they did, and gives all power to the other person for how they now feel.

Stick to what you’ve observed when sharing your feelings about someone else’s behaviour and avoid  criticising the other person. They aren’t actually doing anything wrong  (unless they’re deliberately causing harm). They’re just doing what they know to do.

Toby recently shared with an acquaintance that on two occasions when he had wanted to share with her something that had happened in class, she had started to tell him what to do, which he didn’t want. He told her this in the hope that she’d then understand he just wanted a friendly ear.

She responded by telling Toby what he was thinking and feeling – ‘you don’t like others to be honest’ – something  we can’t possibly know about another person since we don’t  read minds.  She also told him he was too sensitive, which is a handy way to avoid  dealing with his request for behaviour change.

Unfortunately when Toby let her know what he really needed she heard this as criticism. This happens often because many of us have experienced so much criticism, we hear it everywhere, even when we’re not actually being criticised. I’ve certainly had to learn what’s criticism and what’s genuine feedback about someone else’s experience of  me.

What’s Criticism and What Isn’t?

Criticism can be constructive, especially in the workplace, but in personal relationships it’s often framed as a statement that starts with ‘you’ and is followed by an outline of what we’re doing ‘wrong’.  Genuine feedback focuses on the speaker’s feelings – when you did this (observable behaviour) here’s how I felt about it.

If we can get past the feeling of being  criticised and hear this for what it is – a courageous sharing of someone else’s experience, someone who has taken the risk to be honest so they can connect with us more effectively – we can learn a lot about ourselves and  others. This is where true intimacy occurs.

If you do this and you’re told you’re too sensitive, chances are the other person wasn’t able to recognise or participate in this genuine sharing, and that in itself gives you  information about how much to expect from that relationship in future.