Professional Student of Life
Musings from the path of personal growth
How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole. ~ Carl Jung
This month, I wrote a short essay about living with a birthmark for another coach’s website (you can read it here). One of the things I wrote is that I sometimes feel like I’m “passing for normal,” because most people don’t even know that I have this birthmark, which can easily be concealed. My sister pointed out that the same is probably true for everyone: we all have scars and imperfections and unwanted parts of ourselves, internal or external, that we desperately try to hide so we too can “pass for normal.”
Jung called these our shadows. They are like ragged, unwanted children living under a railway bridge in our psyches. Rather than extending them kindness, we try to hide their existence or even to actively exterminate them. They spoil the image of perfection we’re trying so hard to pull off.
Shadows play a huge, if unacknowledged, role in our lives. The thing that drives you crazy in someone else is inevitably a part of yourself that you dislike and/or actively repress. I used to vehemently resist this idea, but I’ve since become a reluctant convert. Fortunately, we also have “shadow gold,” which are traits that we admire and honor in others, and which we only recognize because we too possess them to some degree.
So what do we do with these little raggedy children? Can we give them a home in ourselves? Often, it seems that all they want is to be seen and loved. This is a perfect extension of what I’ve been working on in the past few months. First, tolerating the discomfort. It’s not comfortable to acknowledge that these shadows are really a part of me; it’s so tempting to disown them (which is why I so resisted the idea that people who drove me crazy were mirroring my own shadow!). Second, extending self-love. Seeing them for what they are: simply unloved, unwanted parts of myself, and then making room for them in my psyche.
It helps to remember that, as my sister reminded me, we all have our shadow sides. I tend to forget that when I fall for the carefully curated images on Facebook. Ironically, it’s the shadows that give an image reality and depth. Without them, we become flat and two-dimensional, much less interesting than our whole, perfectly imperfect selves.
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