What is the Shadow Self?
The shadow self refers to parts or aspects of ourselves we hide from because we deem them unacceptable, ugly, unwanted, bad, or undesirable. These are usually natural and valid parts of ourselves that because of social conditioning and internalized beliefs about what is “acceptable” or how we should be, we try to hide, mask or bury them deep in the subconscious mind. There, they are like our shadow: vague, mysterious, present in the subtle background or periphery of our conscious experience. These shadow aspects want to be acknowledged, however, and knock from our unconscious at the door to the conscious mind through dreams, emotional reaction, choices and other behaviours.
These shadows of ourselves are often represented in mythologies, tarot, esoteric and spiritual teachings as the moon, since the moon rules during the night when things are hidden, mysterious and unclear. Emergency rooms and policy stations are said to be busiest on a full moon, revealing the unconscious influence this planetary body may have on our shadowy aspects.
Nature of the Shadow Self
Since the unconscious mind controls about 95% of what we do, its safe to say our shadow selves come out, regardless of whether we acknowledge them or not. It’s when we are not aware of our shadow we can feel powerless against emotional reactions, maladaptive behaviours and other automatic responses that impede relationships or prevent growth and transformation.
Acknowledging our shadow is the key, for this permits us to know ourselves fully. By acknowledging these dark aspects with love, understanding and acceptance, we are able to become integrated once more, moving in alignment with our most authentic self.
Seeing our Shadow
Shadow aspects fragment our self concept, impeding an expression that is whole and authentic. Our authentic self is whole, meaning it acknowledges the “desirable” and “undesirable” aspects in the full spectrum of being. It’s important to know that our authentic self is always there, but shadow aspects may keep it from shining through.
Why is it important to see our shadow? We can never hide from our shadow. In fact, this will create and attract people and situations that mirror whatever it is we are hiding from.
We do such a good job of hiding what we dislike from ourselves that we often have little insight into our true nature. Indeed it is often easier to see the role of the shadow in those around us. For instance, how often can you recall someone saying to you, “I really dislike X about so and so” when clearly this is a prominent trait in the person complaining about it in someone else. The trick is to extend this insight into one’s own life.
Doing Shadow Work – Tending the Garden of the Mind
If you are serious about uncovering your shadow aspects, a simple way to start is begin to view all negativity that presents in your life as opportunities to uncover these shadows.
Often we make the mistake that things happen to us. When you take the perspective that you invite experiences of all types to learn and grow, you can begin to uncover what’s in your subconscious that’s trying to get your attention.
So the next time someone makes you angry or frustrated, ask yourself, why am I having this reaction? You can also ask yourself, what am I being challenged to learn here?
If you can, try to go beyond the surface and uncover the core issue. For instance, perhaps you react with anger towards “judgmental” people. You may see this anger as resulting from you being so non-judgmental and “judgmental” people anger you because they are so unlike you. Here it may help to consider the 5 sutras above, especially #1:
Remember the other person is you.
Everyone in your life is a mirror. With this perspective, delve deeper and you may find a part of yourself that is somewhat judgmental and harsh towards others. This is where the conflict lies threatening the self concept you prefer, that you are non-judgmental.
When you are doing this kind of deep and honest uncovering of self concepts, use the same kindness and understanding you would with a good friend who is confessing something distressing or embarrassing. As you shine light on these darker aspects, accept them with love. Don’t just love yourself despite but because of all these parts that make up who you are.
Shadow work is much like a kind of gardening of the mind. These shadow aspects, like weeds left unattended, tend to run wild. Doing regular maintenance with shadow work helps us integrate, promoting unconditional love of ourselves.
Shadows in Society
On a grander scale, we are grappling with shadows as a society in events on the planet today. It’s important to remember, we don’t get to pick and choose what is and isn’t one with us. Thus greed, wealth disparity, injustice and environmental degradation are not happening outside of us, they are a reflection of the conflict we hold within each one of us, and collectively as a society. We have to approach these issues in the same way, with compassion, love and understanding.
You don’t have to like something in order to love and accept it. It will go a long way for us to see everything happening in the world as a part of us.
All of it is us, the ‘good’ the ‘bad’ and the ugly. Now that we see it, let us transform it.
And we transform it with love.
The Five Sutra’s of the Aquarian Age1) Recognize That The Other Person Is You.2) There Is A Way Through Every Block.3) When The Time Is On You, Start, And The Pressure Will Be Off.4) Understand through Compassion Or You Will Misunderstand The Times.5) Vibrate The Cosmos, The Cosmos Shall Clear The Path.
More information about the 5 Sutras here
Shadow work explained by Teal Swan
The moon Tarot card – The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck
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