“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. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” ~ Carl Gustav Jung
Negating the Shadow
If just two words could summarize the guiding principle of my entire childhood, they would be: “Be sweet!”
It was the message I heard every day being dropped off at kindergarten.
They were the words that followed me as I walked out the door to go hang out with friends.
Apparently I couldn’t be trusted to listen to my own instincts when it came to interpersonal matters. Being sweet was the only option on the table.
The truth is that I started out in life rebellious. I had a lot of energy as a toddler, and you couldn’t stop me from creating a disaster scene out of the lower kitchen cabinets. Not surprisingly, I was met with a lot of discipline and punishment.
By the time I was in school, the persistent conditioning of my caregivers, school teachers, and church had gotten the best of me, so my rascal days came to an end. I was just another rule-following good girl, and the imprint that stayed with me into adulthood was a deep fear of upsetting others.
As fate would have it, I had several bosses in my first few jobs with uncontrollable and misdirected anger. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stand up for myself. Fighting back rubbed against the edges of my pleasant and sweet personality.
It took me many years to understand that I had pushed away my “inner bad girl” into the far recesses of my psyche in order to cope.
It’s not a huge surprise that many of us are constantly placating each other and walking on eggshells to avoid disappointing or upsetting each other.
“Don’t take up too much space, because that would be so embarrassing for you!”
“Be sure to use lots of exclamation points and extra fluff in your emails, so people won’t think you’re mean!”
It’s exhausting when you think about how much time and energy we put into upholding our image of being seen as thoughtful, generous, and caring.
We all develop a personality and a shadow as part of a normal, healthy upbringing. The shadow represents the parts of ourselves that we’ve abandoned, pushed away, or forgotten about. We do it to survive, because somewhere along the way, we learned that it wasn’t safe to be a certain way.
Which is precisely why our shadows hold our true power, especially if you were raised to be a well-behaved perfectionist.
You might have a “baddie” inside—and this is a good thing!
“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Gustav Jung
The real problem lies in our fear of being seen as the qualities in our shadow. For many of us do-gooders, that includes being selfish, lazy, angry, confrontational, insensitive, and you get the picture.
When you integrate your shadow and release the fear of being judged or shamed a certain way, then you can feel confident and assertive about taking up more space, speaking your truth, standing up for yourself, and setting boundaries.
There’s a challenge to becoming more conscious of our shadow-based patterns and changing them. A whopping 90% of how we experience the present moment is informed by our past, and it’s unconscious. This keeps us stuck in our usual ways.
But with the right tools and inner work, you can uncover the power in your shadow and take more control of how you show up. Here are some steps to get started.
5 Ways to Uncover the Power in Your Shadow
1. Start with what you know about yourself
You can get a good indication of what’s hiding in your shadow by listing the traits and qualities you use to describe yourself. Think of the positive qualities that you love most and are central to your values. Then, list out the opposite traits for each one. For instance, if you pride yourself on being “an empathetic listener,” then what kind of person would be the opposite? There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer.
2. Explore a shadow quality
Ask yourself how it would feel if someone judged or shamed you for being any of the opposite traits. Perhaps this has happened in real life already. If you can recall an instance where someone accused you of being selfish, for example, or even if you feared that someone was secretly doing so, how did you feel?
3. Find the everyday patterns
Identify the ways in which you avoid being seen a certain way to the point that you’re overextending or compromising yourself. What do you do to avoid feeling judged? What efforts do you habitually make in your life to maintain the image of yourself as having the positive traits? For example, if you refrain from being seen as “unhelpful,” do you perhaps over-give or overcommit yourself?
4. Root into the possibilities
If you woke up tomorrow and you didn’t fear being judged as selfish, rude, insensitive, etc., what would open up in your life? What would you do differently? How would your behavior change? What would it feel like to be free of those fears?
When we imagine what could go right and what would open up if our fears didn’t limit us, we get to root in the powerful feelings of possibility. Set your eyes on this goal.
Affirm that you deserve to be free of old patterns, and visualize how incredible it is when you’re able to step into your power. Visualization is a great way to remind your brain of what’s possible. When you’re inspired and motivated, you can press forward with making changes.
5. Take small steps to integrate your “inner baddie”
Now think about what you want to do differently in specific instances of your life. How can you use your voice to advocate for yourself? What responsibilities have you taken on to please others, but you’d rather get that time and energy back to yourself? Who do you need to confront or say “no” to? What boundaries need to be set?
6. If it gets too dark, seek support
Our shadows can sometimes dredge up past traumas or other emotionally painful experiences that are too much to handle on our own. Consider seeing a counselor or other practitioner with trauma-informed expertise.