Core Counselling - discover your true self

What Lurks in Your Shadow?

James Hollis recounted a story of a man searching frantically for his lost keys under the light of a lamppost. A passerby attempted to help by asking, “Is this where you dropped them?” The searching man replied, “No, I lost them in the dark, but this is the only place where the light is.” What is it about darkness that makes it so difficult to enter?

From a psychological perspective, the shadow is everything that makes you feels uncomfortable or embarrassed. Shadow is all that your ego does not want to know about or be. Shadow material is not evil or bad, and like the lost keys, it is useful and necessary. Jung stated that to “confront a person with thеіr shadow іѕ to ѕhοw them thеіr own light.”

Everyone has a shadow. Remember, in order to have basic childhood needs fulfilled, you had to overuse or underuse certain traits, beliefs and feelings. If your persona proudly shows its qualities publicly, then your shadow hides opposite yet important traits. 

This dualistic nature protects the ego and establishes subsequent coping mechanism. This psychic division is no doubt reinforced by the Judeo-Christian doctrine that is based on the absolute value of good. 

Shadow material is presented in a number of ways. One way is through the observations others make about you that surprise you. Someone may tell you, for example, “You’re really creative,” or state “You seem to get upset when you talk about your brother.” Your ego has difficulty hearing about these traits and thus you may tend to discredit these remarks or even question the validity of them replying, “Really, I’m like that?” 

Another signal that shadow material is present occurs when you deny, minimize or justify your behaviour. You may say, “I never lie” or “I’m not like that.” Remember, you are born complete with all qualities and with both poles of opposing traits; however, taking ownership of these qualities is another matter. Notice the characteristics you have difficulty accepting, even in small amounts or in certain situations. 

Shadow material is also exposed through projection. Projection occurs when qualities that you cannot admit in yourself are placed onto other people; for example, if you value a strong work ethic then you may find yourself repeatedly complaining about a co-worker’s lack of dedication. Look for the presence of shadow qualities whenever strong emotions surface regarding another person. 

Taking responsibility for shadow material challenges you to look humbly at who you are and the beliefs you live by. Jung stated, “The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.” 

When you face yουr shadowy elements this humanizes you, allowing you to be more compassionate and accepting of yourself and others. So, when looking for your lost keys, will you step into the darkness?

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.