Where Is Your Shadow? And What Does It Look Like?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

To say that I’ve gone through some personal stuff over the last few years, would be the understatement of a century. In my relationships, in my own mind and in my parenting, I’ve run into several triggers and painful moments, some less impactful (getting into a conflict with someone) and some on a much larger scale (falling into a depression, for example).

When you do a lot of self-reflecting, and when you do it honestly, you are bound to run into parts of yourself that are less shiny. We all have the potential for bliss and enlightenment in us, but we also all carry the potential for darkness and evil. We have both of these forces within us, allowing us to harness the power of each when it’s needed, and giving us the freedom to make our own choices.

I used to believe that I just had no angry bone in my body. In my early 20s, I didn’t really get angry or even irritated, and when I did, I usually brushed it off quite easily. I put a positive spin on most things, and always put complaints off as being a product of the complainee, and not having much to do with me.

Fast forward a decade and then some, and it seems as if I’ve discovered a dark mass of pain, anger and trauma within that is just as much a part of me as the love, joy and grace.

And I believe we all carry a darkness within us. Why? Well, for one, it’s impossible to grow up without trauma of some kind. Unless you had 100% perfect parents and never ran into any difficulty in your life, you grew up with pain, disappointment and frustration. We all do. It’s part of our common humanity. And no, this doesn’t mean that you had a ‘bad’ childhood or ‘bad’ caretakers. It just means the people around you were fallible, like we all are.

Part of growing up is recognizing in which ways you have been hurt. Discovering what lies underneath your triggers, why you get so mad at the driver cutting you off, or why you can’t stand seeing a child throw a tantrum in the supermarket (‘can’t that mother get her kids to behave?!’) What makes you fall in love so quickly? Or what makes you run away even quicker? What leads you to believe authority is safe, or that it isn’t?

Over the past few months, I’ve found myself owning up to more and more thoughts, inclinations and even emotions that come from a not-so-pleasant part of myself. Not that I go shouting out every time I see myself act greedy, or hypocritical, but I have an easier time confessing those thoughts to my partner, and to my therapist.

But why make an effort to look at all that dark stuff? Why not just focus on the positive and letting the light within grow stronger? Because you have to do both. Yes, letting the light grow brighter, cherishing your inner innocence and cultivating love are of vital importance. I look for rays of sunlight, I pray, I cherish the people in my life that I hold dear. Yet, if you stay ignorant of the darkness within, it will affect you in ways you don’t know. It will surprise you and you will have no control over it.

My anger no longer surprises me. When I meet my own jealousy, rage or cynicism, I’m no longer taken aback. I recognize it, I know it (all too well), and I at least have an idea of how to deal with it.

When someone now tells me that they were just born without anger or never get angry, there’s a slight shudder running down my back. Because I know that anger is an inherent part of our emotional make-up, and if you haven’t felt it, it’s because you’ve suppressed it (because you were taught to, for example, like I was.) Suppressed anger is far more dangerous than expressed anger because it is impossible to predict or handle. How can you deal with something that you don’t see? Something that is denied?

Looking at your own shadow, at the parts of you that are dark, is not easy. If you have any issues with low self-worth (and let’s face it, who hasn’t at one point in their lives?), then it can trigger strong feelings of unworthiness. It is therefore important to know that it takes a lot of courage to look at your own darkness and that the part that is looking, the part of you that decides to be completely honest with yourself (or with someone else) is the part that shines brightest of all. By shining light on your shadow, you are able to diminish it. You can love yourself more deeply, more fully, than ever before because you no longer require yourself to hide the part of you that carries your shame and your guilt.

Looking at your shadow, recognizing how you fall short, seeing the parts of yourself that are dark and holding those aspects within the light that is also part of you, is the way to truly accept and love yourself. And by extension the way to accept and love all others around us.

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