When you were little, were you afraid of the dark? Most of us were. And I doubt we ever thought to question this fear. We were almost naturally taught to be afraid of the dark, because the dark is full of unknown things that might hurt us.
But what usually happened when you turned the light on? You learned the unknown things were not so scary. And they were not so unknown. They were just part of the environment.
We learned to associate darkness with scary and unknown, and we learned it’s better not to speak with our dark thoughts and emotions. Turning the light on our emotional shadow is a lot more challenging than flicking a physical light switch on, so we avoid it. Superficiality is easier. But this darkness of our soul has a life of its own that thrives whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. It’s there, and it’s powerful.
This fear of our emotional complexity grew as we grew, and with time became our shadow. It’s a hidden part in us that influences our choices more often than we are aware.
In truth, much effort goes into repressing and hiding it from ourselves and others. It’s our dark side — the parts we are ashamed of and afraid to show. But through denial, we fail to see that in the obscurity of darkness also lies our strengths.
As a result of past experiences, we have decided to negate and hide this dark side without exploring it further. And so in return it keeps us from truly expressing ourselves.
In many ways, hiding our shadow can be considered the highest form of betrayal. By concealing this part of us, we are saying we don’t deserve to show our complete selves, thereby betraying ourselves. In return, secrecy, manipulation, and pretending take over large parts of our lives, out of fear of being ‘exposed’ and rejected for the part of ourself we are hiding.
As mentioned, our shadow can show itself as weakness or strength. Becoming aware of our complete self, however, grants us the opportunity to express strength. Ignoring these qualities, however, will always produce a damaging result.
The more we repress these dark corners of our being, the more we face disorder in our personality. This can manifest as addiction, anxiety, intentionally failed relationships or jobs, or other behaviours that cause destruction to ourselves and others.
To become aware of our shadow is to shed light on our earliest wounds and to give ourselves a chance for healing and transformation. But as long as we choose to close our eyes to this, the wounds will continue to decay while emitting poison into our lives.
To Deepen Our Spirituality, We Must Pass Through the Shadow
Any spiritual work must entail exposure and understanding of our shadow. Solely focusing on finding our light keeps us away from places of shame, guilt, jealousy, greed, competition, lust, and aggression. But it is these very emotions that must be worked through first before coming near our lighter sides.
Even certain spiritual practices like meditation can become difficult when we try to ignore our shadow self. Its repression shows up when we shut our eyes, and we’re left with only our thoughts.
As with all strong emotions, what we don’t want to look at always keeps us contracted and in rejection. Deep down we know these qualities and feelings reside in us, and hiding them leads us to a life of inauthenticity and sometimes incomprehensible self-destructive behaviour.
If our shadow is not acknowledged and embraced, the depth of our spiritual and personal growth is limited. Refusing to look at the darkness means we ignore our need to be received in totality by others.
We start to overidentify with the side of ourself acquired through our own perception of reality. This in turn shapes our personality, the superficial side of us, which the world meets.
Our roles and personality try their best to help us feel worthy and lovable. For some, it is by being intelligent, successful, and powerful, while for others, it is the opposite. In whichever way our personality tries to control life, it remains just another attempt to be loved for something we know we’re not.
As long as this partial picture of ourselves is kept intact, we create separation. The message is, “I don’t want to look and feel certain parts inside me and I prefer to judge others for showing and living what I choose to reject,” hence choosing separation, inside and out. It is a painful cage of continuous isolation.
Embracing the Complete You
The way to our light is through darkness. Whether we want it or not, the dark side in us is very active even though it is concealed from the outside. But we know it’s there, continuously asking for recognition.
The shadow should be met in a safe and loving environment. Otherwise, it is too afraid that its face will cause devastation and result in further isolation. When it’s safe, we can start looking, seeing, and expressing what has been hidden from our awareness.
There are many unpolished diamonds of strength, creativity, and beauty, which we’ve kept limited so that others close don’t feel small, intimidated, or scared. Speaking to our shadow is an immense step toward healing and self-love.
Initially, when we embark on this exciting and necessary journey, we may not be sure of who we really are. But this is only because we are so used to our masks, so expressing our true self is like meeting a familiar stranger. Soon new possibilities, choices, and perceptions appear.
Suddenly we can face the many question marks in our life from a place of strength and authenticity. We strengthen our capacity to be in this world more fully and completely. So, are you ready?
Feature image credit: Hannah Arendt Center