It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of the events by which the path to success may be recognized.Her work continues to inspire and is still moving forward, and this blog post is a tribute to the work she brought to the world.
What is the shadow? The shadow is everything we try to hide from the world, it's everything we don't want other people to see or know about us. The shadow is secretive, dark, and sometimes, very dangerous. The term, "The Shadow", I believe, was originally labeled as such by the great psychologist Carl Jung, who defined it in these terms: "On the civilized level, it is regarded as "a personal "gaffe," "slip," "faux pas," etc., which are then chalked up as defects of the conscious personality."  These defects of the conscious personality are then suppressed into the unconscious because it is so disagreeable to our ego-consciousness and represents all that we dislike and/or fear about ourselves, and then, we build up facades around us to keep these defects from appearing. When they do appear, they show up as projections in the outside world, and what we hate in someone else, is truly what we hate about ourselves. The shadow side must be integrated within our consciousness in order for us to move towards full individuation of the individual. We can not disown any part of ourselves. When we do, troubles arise, the shadow hides until it finds the right situation and circumstances to rear its head and demand to be seen and heard. But if we don't heed its warnings and accept its truth, we will continue to endure the various effects it produces in our lives.
How does the shadow show up in our lives? Debbie Ford made a movie about this called "The Shadow Effect." I highly encourage all of you to watch it, and much of what I'm writing about in this blog post comes from that movie. In the movie, Debbie explains how it shows up: it shows up as writing bad checks; a man cheating on his wife or girlfriend; drinking too much; doing drugs to escape the pain in one's life; cheating on your tax returns; screaming at your kids; emotionally abusing your partner after you've been the nice person all day long to your friends; surfing the internet and visiting porn sites while your wife is cooking dinner for you in the next room; eating disorders; narcissistic personality disorders; eating chocolate cake in the middle of the night after 3 days of dieting; cheating on our boyfriends or husbands while they are working hard to provide a place to live; taking other people's ideas and making them are own. These are just some examples of how the shadow shows up. Where the shadow becomes dangerous is when these repressed thoughts, emotions, and impulses become violent, and this manifests itself as rape, domestic abuse, terrorism, war, evil, and radical injustices both economically and socially. In the film, Deepak Chopra stated some shocking statistics about the economic injustices in the world. Did you know that 50% of the world is living on less than 2 dollars a day, and 20% are living on less than 1 dollar a day! In a world with so much abundance, how can this be accepted and tolerated? But we do, because we don't want our lives to be affected by the change this might impose on us to change the way we live, or to be more responsible in how we utilize the resources available to us that benefits all rather than just the few. How lucky are we to be on the other end of the spectrum. A flip of a coin, and we might have been one of the 50%.
The birth of the shadow begins when we are very young. Debbie explained that what happens is "we were shamed for certain behaviors and these messages got ingrained in our subconscious like a compute virus altering our sense of self and wounding our healthy egos." Our minds at that very delicate age are not equipped to filter out things that would be able to protect us from these unhealthy belief systems. The rational, logical part of our minds had not developed yet, and thus, these viruses entered without even our knowing, and as we get older, they begin to shape how we see ourselves in the world. The parts we don't like about ourselves, (I'm not handsome; I'm the problem; no one will like me if they really knew me; I'm not lovable; I'm stupid; I'm never going to amount to anything: it's my fault; I'm worthless; I'm bad, etc.,) gets repressed, and then we try to prove not only to ourselves, but the rest of the world that we are not that which we hate about ourselves. So, we build masks, to protect our wounded egos and "to prove to others we are not as defective, inferior, worthless, and bad as we might fear we are." The masks we construct hide our flaws and insecurities and create a persona which we believe will get us what we truly want: love, acceptance, attention, and a sense of belonging.
The problem is the masks become our prisons. Many of us have a public life and a private life. I certainly did at one time. I was trying to fit in in certain groups because I wanted to belong, to feel loved, admired, and desired, and yet, inside, I felt guilty for abandoning the man who I really was to impress all these others around me. And what did that lead me to do? Self-destructive behaviors because I hated who I'd become. All that stuff I felt was wrong about me, that had been influenced or deemed wrong by others, was now the guard standing outside the prison of my own making. These parts of ourselves that we have deemed wrong are screaming to come out, they want to be set free, accepted, loved, and integrated into who you are. Look at life. It exists in contradiction: light and shadow; up and down; hard and soft; and if life is these things, and we are part of life, then every quality we see in another individual, exists in us as well. We are the totality of it all, whether it is active or dormant, conscious or unconscious, if the good qualities exists in us, so do the "bad" qualities.
Instead of confronting our own shadows, we disown it, and project out all these unwanted qualities on to others. What does that look like? It sounds like this: "He is such a jerk; she is so self-absorbed; He is such an arrogant asshole; these people are all losers; you're such an idiot; she's a bitch." We are so afraid of our own unworthiness, and as Debbie points out, simultaneously afraid of our own greatness, we unconsciously project these unwanted qualities onto others. But, she says, "Those we project on own the qualities of our unclaimed darkness as well as pieces of our unclaimed light. Until we claim back all that we have projected away, what we can't be with, won't let us be."
This is why we want to deal with the shadow. What happens if you ignore it? You self-destruct. You implode rather than explode. Your life collapses in on itself. And this is what often happens to people who have experienced some kind of trauma in their lives that has not been processed and is instead, buried deep within the unconscious. Trauma changes how our brains function, which in turn, changes the chemicals and hormones released in the body. If you've experienced prolonged periods of trauma in your life, whether through combat or emotionally abusive relationships or intense family dramas or rape or being bullied for years and years, whatever it may have been, the way your brain functions has dramatically changed, and this is not a good thing. As the movie points out to the viewers, "It's important to express any kind of pain. Without that, it stays with us, it gets lodged in the body, it causes us to react and live unconsciously." All the things which have not been processed, the undigested emotions and feelings and our thoughts about it, are toxins to our bodies, and without proper treatment, "lead to all the physical, emotional, and psychological impairments that show up later in life."
When we repress our shadows, it can lead to destructive behavior, towards oneself and/or towards others. Examples of how this shows up: alcohol and drug abuse; domestic violence (every day 3 women die in the U.S. as a result of domestic violence and more than half of them knew their attackers); rape; violent assaults by co-workers; murder; mass murder; genocide. As Debbie Ford so eloquently points out, "We have to resolve the undigested emotions that are in our bodies and dislodge the stress in our minds. We have to unearth, own, and embrace the very parts of ourselves that have caused us the most pain. And the moment we do, the light of our awareness will begin the process of transforming them." All of us have gone through some kind of trauma in our lives. It's what we do with it that counts. If we ignore it and bury it away into our unconscious, though we may think it no longer exists, the moment the right situation or circumstances show themselves, the shadow will come out, and we become caught in the maelstrom of its destructive forces. However, if we stop, take the time to look at it, own it as part of us, there is gold to be found.
All the bad experiences we've ever had can be experiences which bring about the greatest of gifts because they help us to be who we are. Those experiences transformed, can help us to be more loving, compassionate, and forgiving. When we embrace all that we are -the light and the dark- we experience freedom. We are no longer chained to the memories or traumas of the past that kept us from being all that we were capable of being. And, as Debbie Ford states, "As we move through our shadows, we can reclaim our light."
As I stated in a previous blog post, shame destroys. But shame cannot survive empathy. We can use the pain of our past to become the greatest expression of ourselves, if we are willing to do the work. You don't have to carry this shame alone. You have to climb your way out of the darkness. There are people out there who are willing to hold a light for you, to see you as you truly are, through your shadow, so that you can reclaim your light. I honor people in my work and in my program in that way, where you can be your most vulnerable without ever having to feel ashamed about it. All that pain and trauma is just covering up the gold that is underneath, and when you chip away at all the dirt covering it up, it shines as bright as ever.
Debbie Ford recently passed away, but her legacy endures. Her pioneering work with the shadow has brought forth new and innovative ways to overcoming the pain and traumas of our past, helped to heal millions from the effects of their own shadows, and helped them to reclaim the light that was always theirs to begin with. She was truly a blessing for all of humanity. Why would one want to do shadow work? It sets you free to be who you were always meant to be. It gets you to the point where you forgive, yourself and others, and when you forgive, your heart is set free again to truly enjoy all that life has to offer. You get to be who you always were, and become all that you are capable of becoming. It allows you to live life with freedom, joy, and love in your heart for all of life.
When we are no longer under the influence of the shadow, we get to stand in our own light, and that, my friends, is the redemption we seek.
1. Jung, Carl. The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, 'On the Psychology of the Trickster-Figure'. Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press. Tenth Printing, 1990.