The work of Debbie Ford was instrumental in helping me to integrate the shadow side of myself during my healing process, and she is one of my most honored teachers. Debbie Ford’s life work was focused on understanding the shadow. The shadow is something we all must face, all of us who suffer from Post-Traumatic Soul Distress. For some, it’s the encounter with the Beast; for others, it’s those things about ourselves we don’t want to admit, or we hide from others, its secretive, it’s everything we don’t want other people to see or know about us. It’s the thing we lie about to others, it’s what we lie about to ourselves, and it’s what we are hiding.
The I Ching says:
“It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of the events by which the path to success may be recognized.”
For time sake, I’m going to go through the highlights of the movie “The Shadow Effect” by Debbie Ford, which I have all my clients watch and which I encourage all of you who are reading this blog to watch as well before you go into the work with your shadows, with your traumas, with the pains of your past. It will give you some awareness of things you may not have known before, and it will help ease the process as you navigate through the dark recesses, these secrets that you keep from yourself and from others. I’m going to hit on some of the key notes from the film that I believe will be of so much value to you. My goal is when you finishing reading this post, you will have received valuable information you can immediately utilize in your lives as you begin to face your shadows. Again, I don’t recommend doing this alone, find someone you can relate to, who understands and has been there, who gets it, who will stand with you as a sacred and honored witness as you travel through the Underworld and retrieve your light back.
To experience one aspect of the soul you have to experience its counter-force. The shadow comes from thoughts, from emotions, from impulses we find are so repulsive and are distasteful to accept. So instead of dealing with them, we repress them, and it shows up as: drinking too much, cheating on your wife or your spouse, or getting into fights, screaming at your kids, verbally abusing your partners, and it can even get to the point where its dangerous, where you are thinking of taking someone else’s life.
There are hundreds of millions of people living in denial of their own shadow. And all of us are being affected by the collective shadow. And this manifests as evil, as war, as terrorism, and social injustice.
The birth of the shadow begins when we are very young. When we don’t have the rational mind quite developed yet to filter out the messages that are coming in and we are shamed for behaviors that we do. These messages get ingrained in our subconscious and, like a virus, it gets stuck there and sabotages our sense of self. It wounds our otherwise healthy egos and then we end up suppressing these qualities, we don’t want others to see these qualities in us, so we build a false self around it.
We build a false self around these negative ideas we have about ourselves to show everyone we meet that we are not this person. We create these personas so that we can belong. We build masks, and live life behind them, and they become our prisons. When we deny ourselves an outlet for our dark side, it builds up and it builds up, and it becomes a very powerful force that is capable of destroying not only ourselves but the lives of others as well.
You are either going to use it or it is going to use you. As my dear friend and healer, Miguel Rivera, who runs purification ceremonies for veterans says, “The Beast is a propellant. If it’s not related to you, it will come after you.” We must find a way to make friends with it, and by uniting the head with the heart, gain control of the shadow part of our own humanity, without allowing it to dominate us. The purpose of confronting our shadows is to complete our initiation, our transformation. We lost our innocence during the events which traumatized us. These shadows of the past haunt us until we face them. We need courage, compassion, and empathy for ourselves as we do this. The key though, is when we meet our shadows, we mustn't stay stuck, and we must find the meaning in the experience. When we are able to identify the meaning these experiences had for us, we come to understand both good and evil and the part we played; we then can begin the process of transforming ourselves through integration of the lessons learned, which allows the charge of the past to fall away, as our souls become larger than the events that occurred, and we are wiser for the experience. And then, we can use these experiences to bring about the greatest good for all within the community.
Every quality you see in someone else is in you. The sinner and the saint; someone who is worthy and someone who is unworthy; someone who is lovable and someone who is unlovable; someone who is brilliant; someone who is stupid; who is a winner; who is a loser; who is kind; who is mean; who is selfish, or who is selfless; who is forgiving; who is blaming; we possess it all. We are everything. Rather than confronting our own darkness, we project these unwanted qualities on to others. When we project these unwanted qualities onto others, we lose bits and pieces of ourselves, and they hold on to some of our unclaimed light as well, because we projected it away. What we judge in others or condemn is a disowned part of ourselves, and we attack it because it is the part in us that we hate. And, this is a really important part to get, when we react to a projection, you become that projection. When you react with an equal force to the aggressor, you become the aggressor.
I think it’s important here to understand what the difference is between a response and a reaction. The root word of response is responsibility, it comes from a French word which means ‘standing on principle.’ So when you are responding, you’re coming from a place of being. My being is stable, at peace, connected, creating harmony. These are the principles that I stand for. And when I’m responding, I’m responding from that space. I’m breathing in, I’m checking in on an unconscious/subconscious level with my principles, and then I’m responding.
When you react, there is an action happening, which is re-enacting a belief system, an exchange. A reaction is taking an action that has occurred before and happening again. It’s an automatic way of being for us, for society. It’s not principle based. So, what you want to do is re-stand on principle, dig in deep, and find a principle that you connect with. You are constantly looking at what do I stand for? What do I stand for? And as other things come up, and they are going to come up, you dig back into the work, the bliss list you created, the value system that you created for yourself. Everything is an opportunity to reflect, to share, to connect with what you stand for. Everything is trying to give you something, and this includes the yelling, the screaming, and the traumas.
If we don’t face what’s in us that needs to be faced, the darkness, and shine a light in the dark, by ignoring these destructive patterns and impulses in you, you will self-destruct; you will implode, rather than explode.
Traumas affect our brains, they change our brains functions, and consequently, this changes the chemicals and hormones released into the body, which is not a good thing. So it’s important to express any kind of pain. Without that expression and how we express it, it stays with us, it gets lodged in the body, and causes us to react and live unconsciously. If these emotions and what you think, the things that have not been processed from the pains and traumas of your past, it will pollute your system. These are the most toxic things to our bodies and lead to all the physical, emotional, and psychological impairments that show up later in life. Our thoughts and emotions affect the organs of the body, there is indisputable evidence. If we repress our anger, it might seem like it’s a good solution, but pretty soon we run out of places to hide. By repressing our shadow, it can lead to destructive behaviors.
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. Everyone has gone through some kind of trauma. And if we dig deep enough, there is gold to be found in every experience. Bad experiences can be enlightening experiences because they help us to be who we are. They help us to be more compassionate, they help is to be forgiving, and they help us to be more loving. So the gold that we seek, it’s hidden within the dark. We have to embrace our totality, all that we have disowned, and when we do, we experience freedom, and we embrace it with love. The more we move through the shadows of our past, the painful memories and experiences, the more light we reclaim. And we do this kind of work, leading you through your Underworld to reclaim your light, to get you to the point of catharsis. Which is the true moment of forgiveness. You forgive yourself, you forgive others, and you are transforming that pain into the material to be used for the manifestation of, the full embodiment of, the greatest version of yourself, the greatest expression of yourself.
You don’t have to carry this shame with you all alone, you don’t have to keep it secret, and there are people out there who are willing to shine a light for you so that you can see who you really are beyond the shadow. You've got to fight your way out of the darkness. And I honor people in that way, in that most vulnerable level, because I understand, I've been there, and I will walk with you step by step to get you to the other side. I took my own medicine. I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t already done. We will find what you have learned that gives value to your experience and helps you to transform those wounds into gifts.
Debbie Ford reminds us in the film, “Forgiveness doesn't happen in your head, until it happens in your heart.”
I want to move forward now to one of the most important exercises I have my clients do when I work with them in healing the pain of their past. This is just one of many tools I have to help you unlock the prison doors which keep you locked up in the painful recycling of memories, triggers, and images from the past. I could spend several hours going over how to embrace your tragedies, it is a process one must be willing and ready to do, and have the commitment and dedication to do it. You must want to heal more than anything, and be willing to invest the time into your own healing, for yourself and for others.
When you look at your traumas, and when you work with me we will look at all of them, we are going to ask the question, ‘What would you like to re-shape?’ With just this one question, you give yourself the opportunity to re-shape all of your conflicts. You want to look back at all the conflicts in your life and at the genesis of the conflict, where it began. And then, you are going to write an essay about it. At the top of the paper, you want to write ‘I am Whole. I choose this experience just the way it is.’ You put this at the top of the page, and then you write about it and what you take from the experience.
It’s important to take the time to find the gifts wrapped up in the tragedy. Ask yourself these questions as you are going through this part of your life story: ‘What is the gift?’ ‘How does it serve you?’ ‘What is it trying to teach you?’ What you are looking for is the gifts in the wounds. There is something to be found in there.
It’s our secrets that keep us sick. Unlock these secrets. And while you do this resist all temptation to shame yourself. Shame is what keeps us doing the same thing over and over again. Shame is a destructive force, it is the most painful feeling connected to the feelings of unworthiness, it is the lowest energy of the universe. A healthy shame is designed to support us when we are behaving well or badly. However, when it becomes negative, it will destroy. The antidote for shame is true empathy. Shame cannot survive empathy. You must have compassion for yourself as you work through these dark places, and have someone there whose empathy and love is totally unconditional and non-judgmental to guide you through to the other side.
The only thing we have to heal within ourselves is to tell the truth. To become an honest person we must own our shadows, we must own our own darkness, and bring the light of truth to the darkness. When you shine a light in the dark, the darkness goes away, because ultimately the darkness is nothing. It is merely the absence of light. Tell the truth from your whole heart, speak the truth of your experience from your whole heart, and as the adage goes, ‘it will set you free.’
The gold is in the dark. There are things there to be found which can help you to detoxify the toxic emotions that have kept you imprisoned by these events. There is something there to teach you, there is something there to reclaim. Trust in the process as you write your story out, trust in the things I am asking you to do. This is one of the most effective ways in which I healed myself, by examining the areas in my life that had traumatized me and found the lessons to be learned. When I got the lesson, it broke the emotional and psychological stranglehold these events had on me, and like a river of ice which suddenly breaks, the water began to flow again, the ice began to melt, and the flow and joy of life returned. This process works.
I want to say something about emotional triggers. Emotional triggers, whenever you feel triggered, these are alarms – they are cues to your shadows, they are cues to the secrets of your past, they actually have nothing to do with what is going on in front of you right now, it has something to do with what happened in the past. It shows you something that you need to uncover and reclaim about yourself. So, when the triggers come up, start identifying them, and go back to where it originated. Put down the internal bat, and investigate where and how this began, how it has affected your life, and uncover what it is trying to teach you. One of the keys for this process to work is you must take full ownership of your life, all of it. Being at the source of your own life, you are finally able to make the changes necessary to bring about the things you want to experience. And to clear up the past, you must own up to the part you played in it, and that, on some level, you created it. This will be different for each individual. We are not the same, your story is yours, and your traumas are yours. You know you have grown beyond what has happened to you when you can stand up and say, ‘This is my past. This is what happened. And I am better for the experience. It has given me everything I need to be the greatest version of myself today. I am grateful for it all. I wouldn't change a thing.’
The most commonly suppressed emotions turn toxic when we suppress them. You've got to take on the self-hate, the guilt, the shame, the anger, and see it for what it is. All the hurt, the hopelessness, the sadness, the jealousy, anger, and hate – you want to ask yourself when confronted by these messengers, ‘what would I have to see, what would I have to know, to digest enough of my history that is stored in my body so that when new emotions open up, new feelings, that they aren't triggered by the 42 events in my past’. You've got to look at your negative emotions not as enemies, but as friends trying to tell you something. They are trying to guide you, help you, and support you into becoming something better, something greater.
Another great question to ask yourself when you look at these events is ‘what do you think you made it mean about you when this happened?’ Did you shame yourself? Did you think of yourself as a bad person? A failure, a reject, a killer? The story is emotionally charged by the meaning you have given it. You want to understand what you made it mean about you, and why you no longer believe this to be true utilizing universal spiritual truths based on love, peace, and forgiveness as the new baseline for your life. Eventually, when you have purged the story out on paper, the next step is you want to reduce these painful stories to their elementary facts. You made it mean something about you that was going on back then, and because you haven’t fully digested it, it keeps coming back, until you get it.
We all have a unique recipe. You must learn to love those parts of you that you have disowned; you have got to integrate them back into you. Discover, as you are writing about your traumas, the good that came out of it. How did you grow? What did you become good at? What lessons did you learn? What are you grateful for? What wisdom can you gain? There is life wisdom to be gained.
We learn our lessons in the valley, not on the mountain top. And, if we don’t learn how to forgive ourselves and others, the train stops. So look at the life wisdom you can take away from the experience. What was this experience designed to teach you? What is the lesson to be learned that you can extract from the experience and turn into a blessing? What did you gain? What qualities did you develop? What relationships opened up to you as result of this experience, and what do you know now as a result of having this experience? How can this new wisdom contribute to your future? And how can it alter the way you see yourself, the way you see others, the way you see the world?
These questions, along with the ones I spoke about earlier, you need to ask and answer for yourself as you examine the traumas in your life. This is challenging work. Ease into it, be gentle and kind with yourself, when emotions come up, and they will, feel them, let them out and run their course, and when you come back to a place of balance and equanimity, return to the work, get to the cause and source of all your pain, and uproot it. Go at your own pace, and leave no stone unturned. The reward of total freedom, peace, and release from your past awaits you on the other end.
Charlie Pacello is a PTSD, Depression, and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.' He can be reached by visiting his website at www.charliepacello.com