The Shadow Self: Embracing your darkness
We all have pieces of ourselves we keep hidden from the world.
Some are benign or even beautiful, like a secret love of country music or thousands of dollars given anonymously to charity. But some are much more frightening and difficult to understand. These parts make up our Shadow Self.
That everyone shares this phenomenon does not seem to lessen the shame we feel when faced with our own hidden pieces in the dark, and so we grab it all and stuff it down and pretend it doesn't exist. But this does not destroy it. And if we don't learn to integrate this Shadow Self, it will come to rule our lives.
There cannot be light without dark, positive without negative, black without white. When we lock our darker parts away, they have not disappeared - they cannot disappear. They simply find another way to manifest. Self-sabotage, self-destructive behaviors, addiction, isolation, anger issues, lack of connection, fear of vulnerability...there are hundreds of ways they can show up.
So how do we avoid all that?
It starts with a deep dive into the soul. (Simple, right?) This is the type of self-examination where you get brutally honest with your own inner world and face up to the things about yourself you're not proud of. And I won't lie - this sucks. A lot.
You've spent your whole life running from something that's tied to you, chasing your every step like a can on a string, and now you have to stop and pick up that can. Examine it. See what's inside. Assess the damage done by ignoring it all these years, and who else you might have hit with it as you were busy running away. It's brutal and painful. And it's necessary. Because that's you in that can - pieces of you. They may not be pieces you want, but they're pieces you have.
And here's where it gets weird - you chose them as much as you chose your compassion, your empathy, and your capacity to love. These dark parts, these things we are ashamed of - they have a purpose. They help guide us, keep us on the path we set out to follow before we were born. To be a fully integrated being, we have to be grateful for all that we are, not just the parts we let others see, and learn to use our wholeness to our advantage.
Let me offer part of my own story to illustrate.
When I finally gave over and accepted that my life was going to be based largely in the woo-woo world, I set out to embrace that fully. I was going to be the woo-woo-iest woo-woo lady there ever was. Only natural food. Only natural products in my home and on my body. Natural, trade-free clothing. More candles and incense than I care to think about. Herbs...crystals...books...Birkenstocks. I meditated every day, and directed all my thoughts to the study of Light and Love. I dismissed all negative thought (for a hot minute). I was nailing this!
But the more I tried to push myself into that paradigm, and to believe there is no Dark side to the Light, the more frustrated my spiritual efforts became. I just could not shake off the heavy human parts that were holding me back, or so I thought. No matter how 'enlightened' I got, I could never manage to reach that state of bliss I seemed to see in others who traveled this path. You know the type - calm demeanor, steady spirit, soft eyes, kind voice. They seem to glide through a room, unable to be rattled. You can just feel it coming off them in waves, the higher energies. I wanted to be like them so I could help people the way they did. I couldn't help anyone with this dumb monkey-mind running the show.
So here I was doing everything I thought I was supposed to do (and going broke doing it all at once, mind you), and my inner self was behaving more like a pissed off toddler past her nap than a guru. What gives? I became angry, frustrated, disappointed in myself and ashamed I couldn't reach my goal. But I was not in a place where I could admit any of it.
I decided it must be the poor, uninformed people around me. Their energy was just dragging me down! If I were surrounded instead by others on the enlightenment path, I could focus my energies appropriately. That had to be it. All these blind humans were standing in my way.
Ah, the ego. Such a silly beast.
This train of though ultimately pushed me away from doing spiritual work almost entirely. Sure, I would do readings or cleansings for friends, but the rest of the world? Forget it. They were screwing up my path. People were just ignorant and not worth the effort, and I wasn't going to bother with any of it anymore.
I started telling myself I wasn't a people person, and it quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I didn't try to make personal connections. I didn't socialize outside of my tight-knit circle. I never actively sought to hurt anyone, but I wasn't contributing to the world, either.
It took some huge life changes and extremely painful inner deep diving to get my head right enough to see the truth - I was never meant to be that person above the fray. That's not what I came here for. I was meant to be right down in it with everyone else, in the dust and the blood, helping others find their way. The fact I couldn't achieve that high spiritual state I sought was actually a gift.
I saw it like this - many people are intimidated by the esoteric nature of the metaphysical world. It seems so foreign, so nebulous and uncertain. This makes it hard to gain access in a comfortable way, and they often just pass it up entirely. Millions of wonderful spiritual journeys have been derailed by fear of the unknown. My having a foot planted firmly in both worlds meant I could be the bridge across.
I could meet people where they were, and help guide them on their next steps without fear.
What I thought was my biggest hindrance to spiritual practice turned out to be my biggest gift. It's scary to think that if I hadn't done the difficult soul work to examine where my Shadow was and how it could be useful, I would still be stuck in that isolated world of disconnection.
It also turns out that I am, after all, a people person. What I am not is a surface person. I'm allergic to small talk. I can do it, and well, because I was raised in politics, but it makes me feel like my soul is oozing out of my ears.
You want to talk philosophy? Religion? Sociology? The human condition? Sacred geometry? I'm all in, man. I'm there. I don't care if we just met in a coffee shop - let's do this. But the stock market? Your resume? The weather? My brain shorts out automatically.
This was a huge discovery for me. I had always hidden this part of myself away, for many reasons. The most obvious one (where I grew up), was that as a female I was socialized to be attractive, not smart. Smart women are intimidating and you never wanted to be that. Thankfully I blew through that part pretty early.
It was the deeper piece that was harder for me to reconcile. I had often been embarrassed by my own attempts to be so intense, when everyone else was comfortable staying on the surface. People would get squirmy and make their way toward someone else in the room. It made me weird. Different. Avoidable. So I stuffed it down and put a lid on it, and went on smiling and nodding.
My shadow work brought an understanding that my penchant for deeper conversation was not a flaw but a prominent feature of who I am, and that is as it should be. It's my soul's way of forcing me to embrace the vulnerability of open an honest communication. It is a call to connect in an intimate way without fear of judgment, and to allow myself the privilege of taking the first frightening step toward that connection.
When we open ourselves fully in front of others, when we stand spiritually naked before them, it gives them permission to do the same. By giving ourselves the grace to bring all of the self to a conversation - dark and light - we extend that grace to others. It is the most beautiful thing to witness. And I am so grateful for this gift.
There was more to it, of course. People are mirrors, and that was something I had (and have) to sit with as well. I struggled with connective communication because I was too busy judging the things I saw in others that I hated in myself. It took the acceptance of my own imperfection - indeed, the celebration of it - to let me start seeing people for who they were instead of what they reflected in me.
There have been many other pieces to my integration, and I am absolutely certain there will be more. This process has opened my heart and mind so much, and has allowed a fullness in my life where it was not before.
I encourage you to seek out your own Shadow Self. Make friends with them. Learn from them. Hear what they're trying to tell you and really listen, then use it to propel forward.
Don't be afraid to be your whole self - it's what you came here for.
All love, fellow travelers.