A note before reading. Our shadow can reflect both positive and negative characteristics. Shadows used in this article reflect the darker or negative aspects we exhibit.
There are two other articles pertaining to this theme: one under Workplace Culture, Working Under the Shadow; and, the other under LeaderManager, Removing the Shadows. This article focuses on how to recognize our own shadow and what we can do about it. First, I think we all have shadows – things that drag us down or get in the way of our relationships with others. Do you agree? Let’s explore our shadow: Can we recognize it? Where does it come from? What can we do about it?
Recognizing our shadow.
Recognizing our shadow means we need to be honest with ourselves – we need to look into the mirror, look into our eyes and see what we see. They say our eyes are the windows of our soul, which means we must look deeply within and be honest with ourselves. What do we see? Are we frightened by what we see? Fear will lead to defensiveness and defensiveness will keep us in the shadow.
In order to deal with our shadow we need to bring it into the light, and light gives us hope, warmth and healing.
People who are close to us, family, friends, advisers, have our interest at heart. They fundamentally want to tell us in a positive way what they see in us, but what they see we may not like to hear. However, that is the benefit of positive criticism, being open to the hearing so that we can look at ourselves objectively and work on those things that get in the way of being our best selves.
When we struggle with our shadow, we can begin to grow. Richard Rohr points out the “human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our own contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness.” (Rohr Meditation, July 2, 2019)
Yes, sometimes the struggle and the criticism makes us uncomfortable but if we expose, name and come to grips with what lurks within the shadow, we can learn to become our better selves.
Where does our shadow come from?
Our shadow may loom up from one or several past experiences. It could come from an early childhood experience that we have buried in our subconscious; negative or toxic peers who have influenced us; traumatic experiences as a young person, teenager or adult that have caused unresolved pain; work burnout that may show up as negativism, edginess, anger, depression and anxiety; personal contradictions that we didn’t want to face such as pride, jealousy, sexism, vanity, bigotry, prejudice and stereotyping.
No matter where our shadow came from, be aware that it does affect our relationships with others.
How do we bring light to our shadow?
One of the first things we need to remember is that it is our shadow, and if it is ours, we are responsible for how we reflect it. In other words we need to take ownership for our own shadow. When we take that long hard look in the mirror, we don’t see someone else’s inner self, we only see our own inner self. It belongs to us. We own it. As soon as we begin to say, “Oh my mother or father caused this, or my peers caused this, or my work caused this,” we must be careful not to enter into the game called blame. Our Understanding about where the shadow came from is important but blaming others won’t remove it. Yes, it may have occurred in the past, but we are letting the memories of the shadow affect us in our everyday lives, so it becomes our responsibility to move forward. We can’t change the past we can only change the future.
Here are four ways to bring our shadow into the light:
Meditation. Taking quiet time to meditate clears our mind and improves the way we deal with others. Spend twenty to thirty minutes a day in solitude. This is easier than you think. Sometime during the day, early morning, afternoon break or evening after the kids are in bed, spend a few moments in a quiet spot. This could be in the back yard or in a room within your living quarters. Close your eyes, clear your mind of all thoughts and focus only on positive thoughts. Repeat a positive affirmation over and over again until it becomes rote and you are not thinking about it at all. Savor the moment. You are at the quiet spot. Stay there for awhile and then open your eyes and awaken to the sounds and life around you.
Meditation opens our inner self to greater compassion, kindness, love and forgiveness. It lightens the shadow by changing our thinking which in turn changes the way we feel, behave and act.
Be clear about purposeful living. During a quiet time, or a sit-down with a friend or life coach, spend time discussing your sense of purpose in life and what you value. Write down a list of things you can do to bring ‘good’ to your family, neighborhood, community or wherever you are. Deep down we all strive to be good. Our darker self grows the shadow when we choose not to do good. Again we are drawn to self-responsibility. Choices determine our direction. It is much better to choose the ‘good’ as this exponentially moves us to better relationships with others and in return improves our negative disposition. Positive purposeful living moves us away from our shadow self.
Set goals. Setting a ‘good purpose’ for our lives gives us overall direction. Setting goals turns your purpose towards action. Setting goals alone doesn’t turn purpose into action, action does. However, writing SMART goals gives us something specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and trackable to work on. Setting a goal to respond to a purpose of ‘helping others in my community,’ might read: ‘I will volunteer weekly (bi-weekly, monthly) at the Santa Maria Senior Citizens Home from June to December 20xx.’ The goal is set, now you need to make it happen.
Seek a coach, adviser an honest friend. We are not an island unto ourselves. The greatest leaders, sports achievers and businesspeople all have coaches or advisers. They recognize that they can always improve and hone their skills. A helpful coach, adviser or honest friend will listen deeply, support your decision-making but also confront you with difficult questions. They will help you peel back your cover-ups and guide you to look into the mirror honestly, and in that way your shadow will be brought into the light.
Thank you for reading
Richard P. Fontanie