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  • Writer's pictureNancy Willbern, PhD

Personal Shadow: Part 2

All you have to do is tell yourself you are going to write a blog post about the personal shadow and all the ghosts and goblins hiding in your back pocket will rise up and shout, “Gotcha!” Seriously, this morning I was in that twilight state between snooze and awake and every humiliating moment that my psyche has collected for my whole life-time came rising up to my awareness, in a whole stream of consciousness – one wincing scene after another. And, it wasn’t like I was just thinking about them. With each memory, I felt my stomach clench, my shoulders folding, my knees rising to my chest. And there I was – a bundle of guilt and shame in full-body fetal position. And I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.

Welcome to the most predictable, reactionary experience that arises for most of us when facing the personal shadow! This initial visceral reaction is why we all want to avoid looking at it, much less inviting it in for a chat – and as you can see, me included. But the truth is the shadow carries with it mighty treasures, delightfully surprising treasures that we buried long ago.

Getting to know the shadow is convoluted. It’s a paradox. It turns reality, as we know it on its head. I introduced some of these ideas in my last post. I am going to slow the process down, clarify some things and show how the the process evolves in this post and going forward. Here’s how this works, as I understand it: When we are little and experience what feels like gaps in love, we will more often than not, make it up that we must have either done something wrong or that we – our very being – must be unlovable or unworthy, not desirable in some way.

When we turn the lack-of-love experience against the self, what we are actually doing is cutting off parts of the truth of the self and then hiding them away in a secret back-pocket.  

What is left after all the seemingly unworthy parts have been hidden is a caricature of the self that we want to believe, and want everyone else to believe is our true self – the me that is acceptable, loveable, worthy and desired.

Our innocent-child-self is hard-wired to keep its focus on the external authorities in its life. This is a built-in survival mechanism. The instinctual body registers when things feel safe and good, and when things feel tense or scary. It is our intuitive body that registers the Life Energies of Truth and Love as discussed in the previous post. When we are young and dependent, the intuititve body registers but it takes a backseat to the instinctual body whose main goal is survival. Our little psyches are designed to take notes from all the signals. In those early years, actually for the full first-half of our lives for most of us, our unconscious goal in life is to notice what brings us the experience of safety, some sense of power and control, and what seems to win us affection and esteem. Whatever those things are we weave into the best version of the self that we can come up with. We learn to identify with that self-made-self and present it to the world. What has been stuffed into our back pockets becomes the shadow.

We typically reduce the shadow to the container of all those unwanted, embarrassing, humiliating parts of the self that bring us a sense of shame, the ones that aroused those all-powerful authority figures, that gave us the distinct message that those parts were not allowed or wanted here. And that is exactly what the shadow is – a container for all of that mess. But if you just go back up a few paragraphs and re-read the sentence in italics, you will notice that the shadow is actually the container for parts of the truth about the self that our authority figures labeled as unacceptable and we agreed with.

There is something vitally important here that cannot be missed: There is a direct relationship between the self that we identify with and the authority that carries all the power in our lives. From our child’s perspective that authority is always external and upon whom we are totally dependent for survival, safety, love and direction. With our innocent little eyes trained on their every move, we silently ask, “Tell me who I am. Reflect back my worth. Show me that I am loveable.” This part of the human experience cannot be side-stepped. It’s built into the fabric of the whole evolutionary process. We don’t have any choice in that part of the journey. What we do have choice about, once we are on our own and usually after some life-rattling experience is who or what we give that power to. That choice-point is where I will begin in my next post.

CODA: It is now 12:45 PM and clearly, I am all better now – no longer curled up in a tight little wad. A lot happened between 9:45 AM, when I finally went down for breakfast (Don’t judge me. It’s a Saturday. I slept late.) and 12:45, now ready for lunch. All that took place in that 3-hour span is where we are headed. In other words, there is hope. There is more than hope. There is freedom. Back with you soon.


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