In the last blog I defined the shadow, described how the shadow develops and talked about the importance of shadow work in the journey to wholeness.
In this blog I will describe a way to integrate the shadow. However this is just an overview --an entire book could be written on this topic!
Shadow work requires us to identify with parts of the self that don’t seem to be “me”– but really are. Shadow work reclaims parts of oneself that have been disowned and forgotten.
One of quickest ways to recognize the shadow is to work with the phenomenon of projection. One way the disowned shadow presents itself to us is in the form of projection: that which we refuse to see within our self will be perceived to be outside of us--typically embodied in other people. What we refuse to see within us, will appear to be outside of us—and will seem problematic in some way.
To begin the process, look for any situation where you experience strong and enduring emotions or desires. This may appear as strongly attractive desires (obsession or infatuation) or as strongly repulsive emotions (fear, anger or judgment.) Look for any situation where a particular emotion seems to be out of proportion to the circumstance.
With projection a trait or quality will appear to be 100% within someone else and 0% (zilch) within me. The perceived quality is typically seen to be either highly desirable or highly repulsive.
Once a projection is identified then, 1- notice what it is that you are thinking and feeling when you get triggered; pay close attention to your self-talk; 2- notice what the quality is that you see in others—and that you believe is totally absent within yourself.
Here are some examples.
Adam is a quiet, peace-loving individual. He will tell you that he never gets angry, but he does become very anxious whenever someone else is expressing anger--he wants to “run and hide”. Adam sees anger as totally unnecessary, dangerous, and wishes that it never existed. Adam’s father was a rageaholic who controlled his children through threat and intimidation. Adam learned that anger was inherently ugly and dangerous. Adam’s shadow holds a great deal of repressed anger.
Betsy has an obsession for men who are in positions of power. She has fantasies of marrying or seducing men in power positions and has occasionally acted on some of these desires. Growing up in the Old South she came to believe that women were never powerful in and of themselves, but always derived their power from the men in their lives. Betsy has the qualities of repressed power/authority/self-esteem in her shadow.
Charlie has no problem with anger but does have a deep disdain for “wimpy” men--especially for men who openly express their sadness or pain. He perceives these guys to be “feeling sorry for themselves.” As a child Charlie was often belittled by his family for showing feelings of sadness. Charlie has repressed sadness/hurt in his shadow.
Once you have identified a quality imagine that quality as if it were a part of yourself: consider it to be a subpersonality with a life of its own living beneath your awareness. Then begin to dialogue with this subpersonality. You can do the dialogue in writing or spoken aloud. Speak/ write as yourself and then give a voice to the subpersonality—the shadow quality. Continue this process as long as necessary.*
Be patient. Stay with your feelings. Do not judge or edit the results. It becomes more fluent with practice. Do it regularly.
Then, allow yourself to actually become the subpersonality--the projected quality. Let yourself feel the “hidden and forbidden” feelings, without acting them out. Feel both the pleasure and the pain that arises in this process.
Shadow work is never easy--it takes courage, patience and persistence, but the benefit is a new sense of freedom and empowerment. The journey to wholeness is an arduous one but the end result is to become infinitely more alive than you can imagine.
* Ira Progoff’s book At a Journal Workshop is an excellent resource for this process.