Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow.
—T. S. Elliott
The mystery and paradox of being human is that you hold both the dark and the light. Carl Jung describes how the human psyche is split into the persona, which is the aspect of the self of which you approve and with which you identify, and the Shadow, which consists of those dark, unbearable, hated characteristics. He describes the Shadow as those parts of the self that are cut off from the rest but are attached in the unconscious mind just as a real Shadow is attached to the body.
Jung’s concept of individuation is the process of coming to terms with the unacceptable aspects of your personality such as hidden impulses, desires, selfishness, hostility and greediness which are merely aspects of the ego. Individuation is the longing for the essence of one’s self. Integrating the Shadow parts is a major part of the spiritual growth process. The evolutionary process is to return to the wholeness of the Self--the return to the wholeness of all which is the Oneness.
Playing Out Each Part in Turn:
The Fragmented Self
The Shadow parts are born of trauma. The original trauma is called the activating event – those overwhelming life experiences out of which the child forms his view of the world. Traumas and debilitating experiences in early life often have a profound effect on an individual’s personality and subsequent life decisions. A trauma is an event of such confusion and terror that the individual feels helplessness and can’t process its meaning to make sense out of it.
The fragmented self is developed by this splitting of the self due to conflicting messages associated with trauma, threat and shame. The fragmented, multiple selves are formed when the child feels threatened and needs to protect him or herself during traumatic events where he cannot escape. In a sense, he “runs away in his mind” thus creating an energy field that is separate from the rest of the personality. These subparts, identities or alters of the personality are created when the vulnerable child becomes traumatized by shame, criticism, rejection and physical or sexual abuse. A subtle magnetic field is set up in the brain which holds the trauma memory and the overwhelming emotions of terror, fear, anger, shame and confusion.
If the child’s early years are spent in an irresolvable conflictual state where reality shifts from moment to moment according to the whims of an inconsistent, cruel parent, the child learns to devalue his own experiences. In his continual distress, he learns to discount his own sensations and interpretations, taking as truth what is said to him instead of what he sees and feels.
Often in unhealthy families, there are rigid rules that state that negative emotions should not be expressed. This is the “Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel" pattern that has been described by Claudia Black, an expert in the area of families with addictive patterns. The child learns to emotionally detach from any experience that might be painful. As a mechanism of self-defense, the child learns to shut down a major part of him or her self – the feelings. Yet the feelings remain. They just are not allowed to be expressed and are repressed. Energy must go somewhere. Shutting down the negative emotions or splitting binds them to the person’s physical body and helps create the energetically-defined subparts.
The subparts represent the different expressions of two basic emotions: love and fear. Layering of trauma after trauma creates the fear aspects of the person. Polarization occurs and events, others and your own nature are viewed negatively. This angry, self-debasing subpart develops if the child was raised by a negative, critical parent and some part identified with that energetic pattern. A negative, self-critical side of the personality is developed resulting in dysfunctional communication and behavior patterns.
These fragmented parts have potent energies, which results in the person playing out the negative behavior pattern again and again. Sigmund Freud first described the repetition compulsion, which is behavior that represents a re-enactment of the childhood trauma. Having their origin in learned messages and internalized beliefs about self-worth, different parts continue to play out their function, rising to meet current situations, which are similar in nature to those experienced as a child. Carl Jung said that what is unresolved and not made conscious will come back to you as fate. Freud’s concept of repetition compulsion is that negative ideas hidden deep in the unconscious mind that are not brought to consciousness and addressed are played out in your life.
These subparts carry different vibratory rates of energy, i.e., the confused, spaced out part is different in terms of the amount of resources that are available to the person than the self-confident part. They may each hold their own emotionally-laden memories of pain and trauma. The subparts represent conflictual pairs of opposites (from bad to good) that operate within your consciousness and are seeking resolution. Seen simply, they are disowned energy patterns that are out of harmony with the integrated self. Conflict between the parts requires energy and draws from the total reservoir.
During early traumatic events, the person formulates core powerful beliefs or scripts (“I am unlovable.” “I am not worthy.” “I am not safe.”, etc.) that will play out consciously or unconsciously in life. Often there is a cluster of other negative beliefs that become fixed to the central negative conviction. These core beliefs then run the life, playing out what the person has decided is true at a time when his resources were nonexistent or small. Core beliefs center around not being safe and ideas about the self, others, the environment and/or God. Some are unknown, stored deep underground in the unconscious mind. The Shadow holds these core negative beliefs, keeping you stuck in denial, discouragement, desperation and despair. It holds the not knowing that prevents you from knowing.
These negative core messages show up as primitive defense mechanisms such as passive aggressive behavior, whining, splitting, anger reactions, addictions, and blaming others. A common defense is playing out the victim core script by being unsuccessful in a career or in relationships. Anger is another typical defense incurred with trauma.
Unresolved emotions that arise during traumatic events typically are shelved away somewhere in the body-mind complex and acted out as behavioral or physical symptoms. The disruptive feelings remain on the shelf until the time comes to deal with them. Ongoing intrusive experiences trigger old undigested emotions and memory fragments bringing them to the surface. They come back with a vengeance in play backs such as dreams, intrusive thoughts, dreaded memories, acting out behavior or physical problems.
The highly-charged emotional memories of the event are held in check by the defenses, which help the mind distract from and evade knowledge of the traumatic event. The previous energy of wholeness becomes the energy of defense with the mission of not allowing the self to become hurt again. This defensive energy takes the form of moving toward the threatening stimulus as in anger or moving away from it in withdrawal. Defensive energy is best understood by the basic instinctual fight, flight or freeze response of the caveman. If you cannot fight or leave the situation of threat, then there can be emotional withdrawal into a dissociative state of confusion. In times of terror, the mind leaves if the body cannot.
Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the family systems movement, used to say that all behavior, no matter how distorted it was, has a purpose. You are purposeful beings, although you cannot always understand why you do the things you do. Much of the underlying purpose of seemingly irrational behavior lies hidden in the unconscious mind. Each symptom or behavior pattern, whether it is physical or mental, has its own underlying meaning and function. Even the so-called negative aspects of the personality exist for some reason. The submissive part, the aggressive part, the acting out part, the sick part, etc. were each learned in childhood as a survival response to a threat in the environment. Seemingly nonproductive parts continue as a fragmented energy pattern in your behavior as an adult as over-learned autonomous patterns. They continue because you are in denial or don’t know how to release the negative unconscious content behind it.
Ye Suffer from Yourself,
Nothing Else Compels
This Shadow content, which the ego tries to suppress and repress, reeks of terror and absolute dread. It is of your worst childhood fear. The fear is that when you look at that which you most secretly hate, you face the possibility of destroying yourself or others. The Shadow appears to be the bad and the ugly. It is dark and rank. It may even feel demonic. But it is much, much more than the negative that you perceive. The dark is a stepchild of chaos. It is the ferment of movement, of the swirling energy. It is certainly of power but one that takes you out of your True Self. T. S. Elliot understood the evolutional purpose of the Shadow when he said, "I said to my Soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you. Which shall be the darkness of God."
The Shadow is comprised of fear which comes from the small self and the ego. The ego is comprised of both planning, organizing and “figuring things out” to make life go smoothly and all-consuming fear beliefs. The ego has a dual nature and must analyze and divide. It makes distinctions and hierarchies based on the need to survive and the need to distinguish “less than” and “more than.” The ego analyzes a situation and determines that what it concludes about it is real. It develops beliefs which may or may not be true and pronounces, “This is so. It is real. Yes, that is how it is and I must act accordingly.” The negative part of the ego has a closed mind and does not want new information to come in that might refute current opinions. It sets things in stone and then believes the writings it has made. To wander into ego territory is to be on a constant vigil with roadblocks, seemingly inaccessible peaks, sudden drop offs and ever-present illusion.
According to Alcoholics Anonymous, the ego stands for ‘Easing God out.” The ego is the mechanism of attachment. It is the chatter mind part of the greater whole that incessantly says, “It’s about me. I hold the trauma story. I know the problems and must obsess about them. I must run the show. Me! Me! Me!” The ego is the fear-based part of the self that must defend, rationalize, nag, scold and judge. It holds the repository of betrayal that holds onto the hurt, the pain and the defiance. When there is fear in a life, the ego is the problem. It holds a narrow view based on fear, loss and pain and can’t experience the vast expanse of the Total Self which is connected to God. The ego tries to prevent you from recognizing your Shadow parts that hold greed, deceit, denial and self-importance.
Born of your deepest human nature, you might hate the dark side for the raw power it holds and the possibility for destructiveness. Our religious traditions steeped in the concept of original sin have long demanded that you try to control or destroy the more animal-like aspects of your nature. When society did not have techniques to work through anger, lust, hatred, manipulation and greed, the only answers seemed to be denial or control of the negative emotions.
The Shadow aspects are not bad; they merely are a part of the sum and total of the complexity of the human condition. They hold power over us only when they operate deeply in the unconscious mind, misunderstood and unexplored. Ken Wilber said that there is strong opposition to owning negative aspects of our personality. “All of us have a dark side,” he said. “But ‘dark side’ does not mean ‘bad side’; it means only that we all have a little black heart... Those items in the environment (people or things) that affect us instead of just informing us are usually our own projections.”
What you resist, persists. When you refuse to acknowledge your dark side, it clings tenaciously. What you are ashamed of or deny in yourself gains great power just through the energy it takes to contain it. You are conflictual when you must hold something strong at bay all of the time. The conflict between wanting what you want of the ego-based personality and the longing of the Soul for purity and simplicity uses up much psychic energy; we call this confusion, depression or anxiety.
In looking at the Shadow part in ourselves, we are reminded that there are always moral decisions. The behaviors that you abhor can be brought forth and examined in the light of day. There are choices on how you live. The spiritual journey is bringing forth the unhealthy, neurotic and selfish behaviors and confronting them with acceptance and determination to release their hold on the personality. This is the Shadow work that Jung called individuation.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Ignoring or attaching to these Shadow subparts by ignoring, denying or projecting them often gives rise to physical and mental symptoms. You stay attached to the darker fractions of who you are principally because of the horror with which you perceive them. In this fashion, attachments again become the source of isolation and separation from others; the parts may become autonomous, appearing to have a life of their own. In buying into the fear that you are bad, you unknowingly add to the disintegration of unity and consciousness. As Jung said, “Whenever we are still attached, we are possessed; and when we are possessed, there is one stronger than us who possesses us.”
Some individuals are aware of these different subparts of their personalities, most are not. Amnesic barriers to remembering the terror of the trauma or parts that hold the pain are put in place so you won’t feel its impact. The more conscious you can be about the disparate parts of the personality you can become, the more centered energy is available for helping others and living a balanced life. What you do not know about the more dysfunctional subparts can hurt you. Heraclitus, an early philosopher, said, “Our character comes to us as destiny.”
The imagery, feeling states, and messages received during altered states of consciousness allow for the remembering of who you are and what you have been. Dissociative states allow for the opening up of the good, the bad and the ugly within us. The horrors as well as the beauties of the mind are brought forth when you go into an altered state for the purpose of healing a disowned self. You cannot perceive things except when there is contrast. Dark Shadows and figure-ground contrast are needed for the sense preceptors and the nervous system to understand what is there.
Knowing both extremes of your nature can open you up to the wonderful variations of all that lies between the two poles. To understand and accept your own rottenness is a significant step on the way to healing. If you do not go into the dark you cannot expect to be of the light. You can flip the coin over to see the other side to find that it is one and the same; this is the union of the opposites. The greatest pair of opposites has to do with Soul and personality, according to author Alice Bailey. Your soul wants you to address the shadow parts to evolve while personality is that part of your ego which wants pleasure and escape from suffering and pain. Bailey describes this division between soul and personality/ego as a psychological cleavage which has the goal of becoming integrated. The process of integrating the many unresolved shadow parts to become aligned with the Soul’s purpose is often a rocky one.
But I Just Want Everything
to be Goodness and Light!
Some spiritual people focus only on the light and the positive side of life. In doing so they ignore an essential part of themselves. They thrive on myth, beauty, visualizations and rituals which make them feel good. They say positive affirmations but never do the deeper work and then wonder why their negative emotions do not subside and why their lives do not improve. They are attached to the romanticism of spirituality and to rituals, techniques and workshops that make them feel good but are not transformative in nature. They can’t address the negative polar opposites of their personality and thus miss out on the deepening of the journey. This is “woo, woo” spirituality. This “sweetness and light” phase may be a part of the process when entering into a spiritual framework to life but don’t let yourself get too comfortable there. Getting stuck here in this fantasy land of your own mind keeps you from the depth of growing personally and spiritually.
Spirituality is not only about being positive. Discovering your spiritual nature is not spiritual highs and feeling good – it is deep Soul work. The spiritual path is a serious undertaking which is concerned with all aspects of who you are as a human being, including detachment from both the positive experiences of life as well as dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors. Those seven deadly sins of greed, lust, envy, stubbornness, hatred, denial and sloth are certainly Shadow material to examine. To gain the balance and integration of the body/mind/spirit, the dark must be addressed. Walking the Shadow side of the spiritual path helps you come to terms with the Shadow parts. In coming to terms with them, the Shadow side loses its power over us.
Unresolved issues and trauma lay buried in the unconscious mind outside the realm of knowing. Jungian therapists Elizabeth Howes and Shelia Moon described their understanding of the Shadow parts: “But these dark powers have their particular healing qualities, if you learn of them, and sacrifice your narrow ego defenses. You are the child of the below as well as the above. As we explore in the depths of our darkness and begin to accept it, we come to realize that it is not evil but rich and full.”
The crafty ego is resistive every step of the way. Jung said, "The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made consciousness, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become consciousness of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn in opposite halves." The deceptions of the ego are like the layers of an onion to be peeled away. Jung believed that healing is moving past the entanglements of the ego and moving into self acceptance: “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”
Befriending the Shadow
Parts of Yourself
These feelings and their originating memories can be brought forth to be examined and expressed, thus allowing for their release. Misbeliefs can be re-framed to cancel out old emotions of hurt, anger, jealously, shame and fear. There is a reorganization of a conflict situation and a shift to a higher state of consciousness. The individual moves from the narrow, self-limiting, fear-based reality to seeing the total cosmic plan is at the heart of the healing process. During states of relaxation and trust, you can gain a new energy-activated perspective. Emotional patterns are transformed through the infusion of spiritual energy.
The acceptance of the formerly-abhorred subpart is transferred into a state of neutrality through acceptance, which is a higher energetic state than fear. By owning the deliciousness of being of the dark you can release judgments against the self, and resolve the pairs of opposites and reclaim the fragmented parts. Spiritual writer Matthew Fox describes the acceptance of a negative subpart as a process of making friends: “Learning to befriend the dark means learning to befriend nothingness, to reverence it. To let nothingness be nothingness. To trust nothingness. For in the ultimate of darkness, in what Meister Eckert calls our “unknowing knowledge”, wisdom itself is often tasted...we need to recall how holy nothingness is, how it deserves our respect and attention, how nothingness needs to be allowed in our lives.”
The patterns formerly passively ignored or denied now become active resistance. As energy fluctuations which are vibratory in nature increase, the instability of the individual increases. Illness, physical stress, fatigue, sensory deprivation and threat of harm render the person into heightened conflict and a weakened state of the ego. In this vulnerable state, the system can collapse allowing new ideas to take form. Preconceived notions or distorted versions of reality fall away, which sets the stage for new patterns of health to be suggested. The moment of release comes when the individual can give up the rigid structures of the defended ego in order to view the events and situations of his existence with acceptance.
Surrender: Giving Up the Story and Glory; Giving Up the Fears and Tears
The process of surrender is to die to the separate sense of self. It is the willingness to accept reality as it is. To go beyond attachments and accept life just as it is. To surrender is to continually release both ego desires and ego fears. Surrender is saying “Yes” to the moments of life as they arise before you and living in the present even when there is pain.
The evolutionary process is to go from willfulness to willingness to reconnect with the Whole and Holy Self that has been there all along. Surrender is the asking for and the process of releasing the ego defenses that were born out of feeling abandoned. Surrender is the Self Absolute seeking itself. Separation melds into wholeness. “When we go beyond ego, we experience the Ground of Being,” said spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen.
Surrender often brings deep relaxation. When acceptance breaks through the fear, you can feel gratitude that brings the shift into a clearer vibratory field. It’s an Ahhhhhhh feeling as the conflictual energies drain out. An internal quieting response happens when you recognize that there was no harm, only experience. What was made of the event which seemed harmful – the perceptions, beliefs and reactions of what happened is fluid and therefore moveable. “Decisive thinking is a release of energy,” said teacher Jack Swartz who described how the energetic process works. “As soon as one decides, one releases.” The whole body shifts into a more relaxed state when a decision is made. What is released is a fear state and accompanying beliefs. Letting go of the emotional charge cultivated by duality thinking of harm/no harm frees you for other priorities such as creativity and joyfully living in the present.
Keys to Integration: Understanding, Forgiveness
All experiences hold opportunities for learning and you are here to get the lessons. Attachment to strong feelings and life experiences either good or bad is but an invitation to see the situation differently. Lessons are for learning and they are always about stretching and growing and dismantling the ego defenses. There is always a deeper message behind the surface feelings. "I am never upset for the reason I think," The Course in Miracles reminds us. This search for deeper understanding of your pain is about your search for wholeness and love. The Shadow work need not be intense and serious; it can be held in the light with a sense of humor of the absurd nature of what it means to be human.
Seen from a higher perspective, our subparts, projections, neurotic behavior and seemingly irrational thoughts hold gifts for us. They can be windows into the darker regions of the self which are still unresolved. The disappointment, hurt, betrayal and anger that you feel at others’ misdeeds can be an invitation to look within at an aspect of the Shadow Self which is waiting to be reclaimed.
Deep spiritual work is about the surrender of the opposites in you as your attachments to the highs and lows of life are released. You stop attaching to the ego’s identity with the joyous and blissful times of life as well as the betrayals, traumas and dramas. You begin to see that all that happened to you, good or bad, are just experiences that the ego gave meaning to. Hermes Trismegistus said, “Bring together in yourself all opposites of quality – then you can apprehend God.” Self-involvement and selfishness as well as self-doubt and self-hatred can be understood and released. With surrender and forgiveness, there is a leap to Higher Consciousness where personal energies go into creativity, self-expression and service to the greater good for all. Doing the Shadow work is a dis-identification process which allows for old scripts from the various parts of the personality to be integrated into the total being.
The Course in Miracles tells us "Forgive, forgive, and then forgive some more." Forgiveness is the final step in anger release. Yet forgiveness can never be a “should” imposed on you by yourself or someone else. Sometimes anger has to be expressed before forgiveness comes forth. Other times, forgiveness comes of its own accord. When the deep longing to touch into love is tapped, the heart opens and forgiveness can happen.
When you forgive someone else or yourself, you are cleaning out your own Shadow – the part that is disliked and disowned. You may have to experience forgiveness for someone who hurt you more than once, depending upon the number of betrayals that have been perceived. You may experience an overall forgiveness, releasing the bonds of negative energy between you and the other person.
Yet in a larger sense, there is no need for forgiveness, as all is perfect. You can touch into the greater whole of your Soul’s journey and experience the perfection of it all – even the side roads where you believed that you experienced betrayal and pain. You can learn to view the choices and behavior of others and yourself as a product of many lifetimes which is perfect in its own right. Virginia Satir said that we all are doing the best we can with the resources that we have in the moment. If we could do better in a moment of transgression, we would.
Fortunately you are being given the help to understand these more unusual aspects of the spiritual journey. At times you may choose to go to a healer to help accelerate your process. Sometimes it is easier with a guide who has explored the deeper aspects of their own being. Symbols, metaphors, fairy tales and myths bring out the language needed to bring forth and acknowledge your dark side.
The healer’s true capacity is the art of seeing the state of health in the person seeking healing. Knowing the perfection and wholeness of the individual creates an energetic field where all such things are possible. Sitting as a compassionate witness to another’s pain helps create acceptance of what seems horrible. Kahil Gibran described this process in the autobiography of his life, Beloved Prophet, when he said, “People’s faults can only be cured by loving them. You can love a greenness into ripeness...or have the owner or sufferer from the greenness into such ripeness as is in him to develop.”
The Divine Plan is for
As you move into the higher aspects of the spiritual path, you come to realize that the dark is part of being human. The dark is not empty, but rich and full. In accepting these disowned parts that you have kept hidden away, you allow them to become part of your healing resources. Integrating the Shadow parts and assimilating them into the totality of the Self is part of becoming whole. When you face the dark aspects of your nature in a different context than you faced them previously, and move in love and non-judgment, the energy of these dark aspects dissipates. You can own the deliciousness of being of the dark, and in doing so, claim the polarities. As you live in the dark and accept it, you come to realize that it is not evil but rich and full. Carl Jung said, “To confront a person with his own Shadow is to show him his own light.”
The Shadow parts must be brought out of the hidden recesses of the mind and be moved into the light. “Give light and the darkness will disappear of itself,” said Erasmus. Integrating the Shadow parts and assimilating them into the totality of the Self is the path to becoming whole. The Shadow parts also carry inherent goodness in them once you traverse the fear. The positive possibilities come forth when you sit with them, bringing them into the light with positive intention. This developmental process of seeking to return to the Source by transforming the Shadow parts is tied to the maturity and depth of consciousness of the person.
This experience of experiencing wholeness can be savored. The Soul’s longing comes shining through with a leap to Higher Order. There can be a shift of energy and vibrational level resulting in bringing those fragmented energies into the total aspect of the personality. When you become tuned into your Higher Self to listen to the Soul’s message, you remember what has been forgotten: “I am intact. I am whole. There is nothing to fear.” That indeed is the Higher Order which is Perfection Itself operating in the Universe.
The Divine Plan for each of us is to bring the dualities within us that appear separate to come together and celebrate one as all and the same. Honor the dark corners of your mind. View them with compassion and touch into the hurt deep within that caused them to form. Dialogue with them and ask them what they need and how they would look if the fear was examined. Offer them forgiveness and grace. Bring them into the whole body/mind/spirit. As you participate in your own healing, you contribute to the overall positive energetic changes that are helping heal our planet.
This is an exciting time in which to live for those of us who are in the opening up process of finding our true identity. The Course in Miracles reminds us, “To heal is to be made whole and what is whole can have no missing parts that have been left outside.” And so you remember who you are as you travel the spiritual path. You are both of the dark and the light. Each must be addressed. As on a narrow razor’s edge according to the metaphor, you traverse through the darker aspects to integrate that which has been withheld from the light. Yet you need not get stuck there nor fall to the depths in fear. You can learn to observe the dark aspects of your personality with compassion and not get caught up in destructively playing them out. The choice is to keep moving, to go on through the darkness into understanding and move towards your True Self.
Lynne Namka has a shamanic practice in Tucson, Arizona where she also has a separate psychological practice (www.AngriesOut.com).