Why We Must Embrace Our “Shadow Self” to Become Whole.
“A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps… living below his own level.” — Carl Jung
An entrepreneurial friend of mine keeps coming up with great ideas, does the hard work of initiating projects, connecting buyer and seller, but somehow manages to get nothing out of it. Either the deal falls through, or somehow, he doesn’t get his cut. He keeps doing this repeatedly.
Whenever I ask why he lost out on the deal again, he comes up with some absurd excuse he has convinced himself to believe. One day, it was because, at the last minute, the government security agency intervened. Another time, the person who collected the monies suddenly had a heart attack. There was always a fantastic story awaiting.
I’m convinced that deep inside, he doesn’t want to succeed. He always finds ways to self-sabotage and loses a deal even when it seems harder to do so. It’s as if part of him wants to succeed, but another greater force wants him to fail.
He wants to feel like a victimized hero — a modern-day Robin Hood. He loves saying that he made X money and Y got that contract because of him etc.
Why, you ask, would anyone wish himself to fail? Because we are human and just like an iceberg, we are not aware of a lot of things going on below the surface.
Carl Jung brought us the concept of ‘The Shadow’. The shadow is all the parts of ourselves that we hate and so consciously or unconsciously hide. It’s all the aspects of ourselves that our parents, peers, and society didn’t approve of, so we rejected them out of fear, shame, and ignorance.
After adolescence, we develop an idealized sense of self. What doesn’t fit this self goes to our shadow self. However, this shadow follows us around, behind us and is forever attached to us. We can’t outrun it or lose it as it is part of us.
The famous poet Robert Bly described the shadow beautifully: “as a long bag we drag behind us . . . We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourselves to put in the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.”
I think that my entrepreneurial friend kept sabotaging himself because he had repressed parts of himself since childhood. He had always wanted his parent’s admiration as nothing was ever good enough for them.
They would compare him to the other kids. Or when he got a high grade in class, they would brag, often embarrassing him by asking him to explain how the teacher complimented him in front of all their friends.
He wanted their love and approval so much that he started making up stories to appease them. Saying he came first in a school run or that his teacher had said he was the best student in the class.
The more he lied and created stories that he was always the hero, the more his parents loved him. The more he pushed his insecurities back into his consciousness, the more he forgot them.
He then grew up with the same pattern of behavior, only now he had to impress everyone else and not just his parents. He was desperate to be known as the coolest, most popular kid at school, always wanting to one-up everyone else.
As a grown-up, he continued wanting to please others and be known as the main guy for deals. In his business transactions, he’d instead gain nothing for himself but be known as the one who got X the contract so that everyone sought his company.
The thing about him is that he’s a great conversationalist, has a large heart and is always in positive spirits. The only damage he does is to himself and, sometimes, my ears.
However, no shadow can exist without its light. If you want to remove the shadow, you must remove the light that shines in you. We can’t have light without the dark. We can’t have success without contemplating failure. How can we value what we have if we can’t also value the lack of it?
Jung believed that rather than extinguishing our shadows and thus our light, we must integrate it into ourselves. We must embrace our darkness — fears, desires and shame — the very things we are most afraid of facing. We must own our shadow, accept its ugliness but respectfully disagree with its worst aspects.
Our shadow is here to guide us to completeness; it is here to remind us that we are human and have many imperfections. It is here to teach us love, compassion and forgiveness for others and also ourselves. When we embrace it, we can be healed.
Debbie Ford, an expert on shadow work and famous author, said in her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, that: “there is a “light shadow,” a place where we have buried our power, our competence, and our authenticity. The dark parts of our psyches are only dark when they are stuffed away and hidden. When we bring them into the light of our consciousness and find their sacred gifts, they transform us. Then we are free.”
Most of us have spent most of our lives denying our shadow self. Instead of chasing the light, hoping that it would extinguish the darkness, we should bring forth our shadow and face it.
Just imagine how my friend would be like if he could integrate his wonderful prominent personality with having enough self-love to feel like he deserved one business deal now and then. Don’t wait too long before you meet and befriend your shadow.
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