The Shadow Self

Many New Age concepts and ideas focus on the love and light side of human nature and neglect dealing with the shadow self. In ancient esoteric tradition the shadow self is as important to master as forging a connection to the higher self is.

By the shadow self, I mean the dark side of ones nature, the place where pain, childhood scars and wounds get hidden. Often it is this part of the self we work very hard to keep in the dark for fear of seeing ourselves as imperfect, wounded or incapable. It is the shadow self that plays the trickster giving us a visceral dislike of someone who reflects this part of us, or seduces us into a relationship that opens up the closet full of familial negative patterns and self-sabotage.

It is not that the shadow self wants to destroy the self, it is the shadow’s job to make us face our deepest pain, fear, sadness, remorse, shame and grief in an effort to heal and move past these events that marred our sacred wholeness. 

We live in a culture that promotes easy answers, quick solutions, magic pills and 7 steps to success. Oprah talks about “light bulb” moments, as if one moment, one concept or one idea can actually change the trajectory of someones entire life. In reality our experience is built in layers brick by brick, no one piece of information will solve everything, no one solution is right for everyone and while there are helpful principles and lessons, there is no Secret behind all of life’s dilemmas and no simple solution to just visualize what you want. Sure all those things are helpful tools that can transform a person’s life, but all the visualization in the world of meeting the perfect mate isn’t going to work if one is an agoraphobic shut in whose only human contact is with a handful of relatives who go grocery shopping for them. Unless that person’s soul mate is their mail carrier visualization isn’t what’s holding the person back from their dream, it’s their fear — their shadow self has overtaken and eclipsed their ability to do anything productive, including leaving the house. 

We all are on different journeys and have different shadow selves to heal, and be tricked by. There are no mistakes in life, just opportunities to learn and grow created by the part of us that needs to be healed. But when we judge ourselves based on these past experiences as failures, or idiots or whatever, we fail to see that what happened was perfect.

As painful as any situation maybe, it is a chance to go deeper, learn, grow and connect. Negative experiences afford us the opportunity to re-evaluate and stop the unconscious script we are playing out by becoming more conscious, so that we can make better decisions in the future and individuate fully without the constraints put on us by our ancestors’ issues (parents, grandparents, etc.)

When evaluating any spiritual system it is always (in my opinion) important that that system has taken into account all sides of the human psyche. Systems focusing so much on being positive without understanding, or reconciling the internal negative conflicts we all have can be very dangerous to our spiritual and emotional well being. These systems are more akin to drug addiction than actual spiritual work, affording people the chance to slip into a world of fantasy and narcissism where the ego is dowsed in positive affirmations without the proper reflection and integration necessary to actualize and manifest a person’s dreams.

This is why ancient mystic traditions were not only secret, but required intense study, dedication and meditation. People were brought through layers and levels of teaching depending on their innate wisdom and ability to grasp lessons on multiple layers. Not true of many of the easy fix New Age medicine shows offering a cure to everything in the form of some numbered panacea. (The 3 steps to ultimate weight loss, the 8 steps to becoming a millionaire, the 9 steps to happiness, etc.)

It’s easy to understand something intellectually, but without understanding the emotional and spiritual elements of a problem, it can’t be solved. For example one can not choose who one falls in love with. Intellectually, a person might know that person A is bad for them but love is a feeling, not an idea and therefore no amount of logic can remove that feeling. Instead that person has to go through all the feelings necessary to get to the place where they can let go, usually after immense grief and intense pain, to the point where those negative feelings eclipse the feeling of love and the person can no longer hold onto the warmth they felt for the other person without causing themselves great distress. Does that make the person stupid? Absolutely not. Yet we judge ourselves and others as if we should somehow be able to spontaneously turn into robots and be able to use logic to solve our emotional issues. 

I suppose my point here is the importance of knowing your shadow, of confronting it, making friends with it and letting it teach you. Otherwise if the shadow is ignored it will eclipse a person’s life and lead to terrible heartache, destruction and pain which hopefully will ultimately lead to understanding. But there is a better way, don’t ignore the darker side of your nature. I’m not saying to indulge it, actually exactly the opposite. I’m saying, know it, listen to it and reflect on it so you don’t feel the irrational urge to act on those feelings. This actually works believe it or not. Awareness is the first step, self-acceptance the next, toward controlling your life rather than being controlled by outside influences (actually more accurately your shadow self which if you’re not fully aware of, will feel out of your control as if stuff is happening to you rather than you are co-creating your life). Not that we always have the choice, the shadow self is a trickster and it tricks everyone at some point or another. But the better a person knows their dark side and allows communication with it, the clearer and the healthier the choices are as well. 

And best of all comes the realization that you are a God/Goddess of your own life. Meaning you are co-creator with the divine, part of the divine and given this tremendous gift of consciousness which you can use to achieve whatever goal you set for yourself as long as you are truthful with the wholeness of who you are.

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The Shadow Self

4 thoughts on “The Shadow Self

  1. brightgarlick says:

    To be whole, we must integrate everything in our life – both what we see and know and what remains hidden. The following practices have been usefull in my own life and in my previous work as a psychotherapist : Voice Dialogue and Big Mind. See what you think.

    You’re right aboutthe importance of communicating with the shadow. It’s unhealthy to deny and block it out. It has much to teach us about who we are and how to live.

  2. Tina says:

    Thanks yet again, Denise, for articulating what I’ve been feeling about the best-selling teachings of Abraham and specifically, “The Secret.” What these get-rich-and-happy-quick schemes don’t take into account is our shadow or, if you’re so inclined, our soul lessons and contract as expressed in astrology by Pluto and the north node (among others). Simply put, if we were capable of perpetual happiness, we wouldn’t need to be here.

    Thanks again, Denise!

  3. John says:

    Very helpful. Thank you. In a meditation one can ask one’s Inner Guide to call forth one’s shadow self and negotiate a truce with one’s shadow self.
    This would be repeated several times until the shadow self is balanced.

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