We each have a shadow, the part of ourselves that is hidden from others or even ourselves. For most of us, it is the part that we don’t like to share with the outside world. It may or may not be known to our families, our physicians or our best friends.
It can be so shameful to us that we hide it away from our own consciousness, but it remains an essential part of who we are.
The shadow includes our closet of secrets; the hidden repressed past; our resentments; our obsessions; our weaknesses; our failings; the negative emotions that percolate below the surface and sometimes at our core – anger, jealousy, envy, anxiety and depression.
The shadow arises from our experiences in physical reality. Our emotional landscape can arise from a physiology that tends towards introversion, melancholy, anger or anxiety or from our past experiences of life events, our upbringing and significant points in our lives, particularly our relationships.
We can lose to the power of our shadowselves by giving in to negative emotional states, surrendering to worry, anxiety, anger or resentment and allowing our thoughts and actions to follow their natural course to self-serving or self-destructive ends.
We may also give greater power to the shadow by denying its existence, by not even acknowledging the traps into which we keep falling, the magnets that draw us off course.
Mastery of the shadowself requires acknowledgement, mastery of our emotions, decisions to act in spite of them or to transform their power into positive energy, a process called sublimation. The negative energy of anger can be channelled into positive action to fight injustice or inequity. When we catch ourselves too focussed on our own self-interests, we can turn our minds to the needs of others. When we feel depressed and feel like withdrawing from the world, we can recognize that we need to do the opposite and seek connection and help from friends and health professionals.
The shadowself is a necessary part of physical existence. We are born into this world as limited and flawed physical, mental and emotional beings. We are raised by imperfect parents. We face unique challenges. Our relationships are complicated and confusing. They all leave a residue.
But our physical, emotional and mental selves can transcend these limits and allow us to be translucent to a greater self – truth, the meaning we find in life; love, unconditional and unlimited; and joy, in the wonder of being alive and connected with all life. Those who have successfully battled addiction can become a great support to others further back on the path. Those who have learned to cope with anxiety may encourage others to do the same. The experience of grief can bring a new appreciation to all our relationships and it can connect us to others who are suffering a recent loss.
This is our ultimate challenge, the unique challenge for each of us – to use our imperfect vessels in this complicated, unpredictable world to be more loving, discover meaning and spread genuine joy in our own lives and in the lives of others.
An exercise in happiness: Perhaps alone in a quiet and dark room, consider your shadow. You may think of it as your Achilles Heel, but in a great reframe, sublimate; consider how your shadow can be transformed into light and strength.