“Do you sometimes say about what you’ve just done, ‘I don’t know what got into me?’ Do you sometimes feel like you’re being run from ‘behind the scenes’ or are stuck on automatic? At such times, it’s very likely that your shadow is in charge. So what is shadow?” – Robert Agustus Masters Phd
Connie Back in Gary’s Office
Connie’s anxiety seemed to build as she sat waiting for her Life Coach, Gary, to open the door.
“Maybe this was a mistake,” she said to herself. “No, I have to talk to somebody and Gary already knows my situation.”
She continued waffling back and forth. “Should I stay or should I go?”
Finally, the door opened a young man walked out of the door, turning to speak to Gary, “Thank you. I feel a lot more at peace than I did when I got here.”
“I’m glad,” Gary replied. “Keep doing the exercises and you’ll feel even better.”
“Connie. Come on in. How long has it been, a year, a year and a half?” he said as he motioned for her to take a seat.
“It’s pushing two years,” she said as she sat in front of his desk.
“You look and sound very disturbed. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Well, shortly after my last appointment with you, James and I got married and moved back to Cincinnati so James could finish his work contract. We moved back to Knoxville about three months ago so I could finish up my degree.”
“Good. I’m glad you decided to finish. But, that doesn’t give me a clue as to the look on your face. Your body language is very stiff. I’m sure you did come to tell me that you moved back.”
Connie paused and looked down at the floor for several moments before continuing. “Well, no. I just don’t know what to do.”
Gary tilted his head to the side and leaned forward propping his elbows on the desk.
“Married life was great for maybe a year.”
Gary nodded with a little smile.
Problems In Paradise
“Then a few months ago James made an accusation. He proceeded to tell me how I felt, what I thought, what my intentions were in a certain situation. I can’t remember all the details. But, I do remember my thoughts and my actions. I exploded, asking him who he thought he was, God. God is the only one that knows all those things about me, I told him point-blank. Nobody else can see inside me. He didn’t ask how I felt or what I thought. He just accused. But, I can’t believe I exploded like that. I’ve never been explosive before. I don’t understand what happened.”
“Is that the only time it’s happened?”
“No. Since then it’s happened several times. Every time I’m being accused of something that feels very derogatory and he never asks how I feel, what I think, or anything.”
“When you blow up, what do you do?”
“I started yelling at him. Telling him off and pointing out his faults. It actually gets us no place. Then we’re both hurt because of being falsely accused on both sides.”
“How quickly do you kiss and make up?” Gary asked.
“This last time, just the other night, we still haven’t made peace. He accused me of some very nasty things. I remember every detail. I can’t believe he thinks that way about me.”
“What did you accuse him of?”
Connie paused, “Well, I accused him of having an anger management problem. He came to pick me up at school the other day and saw me talking to the guy I’m supposed to do a project within one of my classes. He accused me of getting to close to him and that I’d end up having an affair with him before the end of the semester. I went ballistic. That never crossed my mind until he accused me of it. I was yelling and screaming at him. I really can’t believe I went so ballistic. I’ve never gotten angry like that until recently.”
The Shadow Side
“Have you ever heard of your ‘shadow side?’ Gary asked.
“Only in horror movies or things dealing with witchcraft or the devil.”
“No. That’s not the same thing. Our shadow side is our negative emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, jealousy, desire, and the striving for power. As a child, we cut off or lock away every emotion or characteristic that does not get acceptance or approval from our environment including our parents, teachers, extended family, and friends. All these qualities that don’t fit into our culture get locked away in our shadow. Robert Bly, a poet, called it our invisible bag that we drag behind us since childhood. Since we can’t easily identify these qualities within us, our mind projects them out onto others. It’s called Psychological Projection.”
Connie wrinkled up her brow and sat forward a little in her chair, “Are you saying that I’m projecting me having an affair?”
“No,” Gary said with a little laugh. “You are both projecting. You are projecting the anger of being falsely accused. If someone has had adulterous thoughts or feelings or if they are jealous, they will accuse their partner of infidelity.”
Gary typed something into his phone, “Here’s the definition. Neurotic projection is the most common variety of projection and most clearly meet the definition of a defense mechanism. In this type of projection, people may attribute feelings, motives, or attitudes they find unacceptable in themselves on to someone else.”
“So, it’s a defense mechanism?” Connie asked. “Does that mean he’s had an affair?”
“No. It means he’s had some thoughts or feelings that he feels are unacceptable, so he accuses you of having or will have an affair.”
Anger In The Shadow
“I get what you’re saying about his thoughts, but what about my anger? It doesn’t seem the same.”
“You’re right. Anger is a little different. Some people who get really angry project it onto those they are angry with. Others try to maintain a cool and collected exterior. Some go as far as to tell others to ‘calm down’, as they deny the anger raging on the inside of themselves. Some use the actions of others to justify their anger, even when they could have chosen a different approach. Projecting anger onto someone else is shifting the blame, at least in your own mind. In your mind, you aren’t the cause of the conflict. You see yourself as being attacked, not the attacker. So you blame them for your anger, ‘you made me angry.’”
Connie sat quietly for a few moments. “Okay. So I’m telling myself that James is the whole problem, in essence, he made me angry, it’s his fault.”
“Right. By saying it’s all James’ fault you are projecting your anger. You then are consciously avoiding identifying, taking ownership, and dealing with it.”
“I see that now, but what do I do about it?”
“It’s called ‘Shadow Work,’ facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. Jesus called it ‘the log in your own eye,’ in Matthew 7:3-5. His advice was to ‘Take the log out of our own eye, and then we can see clearly enough to take the splinter out of our brother’s eye.’ The first step is to become aware of our shadow. It takes effort and continual practice. The more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions. The better chances you have of catching and changing your shadow.”
“Okay. What do I do? I’m beginning to see, but I still don’t have a handle on what I’m supposed to do.”
“The first step is to become self-aware by practicing self-honesty. It’s not easy, but it is a prerequisite for working with your shadow. Whatever bothers you in the other person is likely a disowned part within yourself. Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you, and next time it may not evoke a strong emotional charge when you observe it in the other person. Here are some exercises to do that will help you. It’s based on ‘Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet by Byron Katie. Here’s a copy of the worksheet. Let’s start it so you have an idea of how to do it at home,” he said handing her the worksheet.
Connie sat with her eyes closed for quite a while. Tears began to run down her cheeks. When she finally opened her eyes she said, “Okay, let’s do this.”
Your shadow self is any part of yourself that you try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. There is no shortage of opportunities to discover your personal shadow. As Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates you about others can lead you to an understanding of yourself.”
Get comfortable, but be able to write.
- Think back to a stressful or conflict situation that is still fresh in your mind. Close your eyes and return to the setting in your mind. Name your emotion. Was it frustration, fear, disappointment, anger? Describe the object of this feeling in a simple sentence. For example, I was angry with James because he accused me of being unfaithful.
- Name your frustration, fear, or disappointment, and the object of this feeling in a simple statement.
- For example: I am angry (emotion) with James (name) because he never listens to me.
- Now answer these four questions as honestly and truthfully as possible:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If your answer is no, go to #3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, and what happens when you believe this thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
- As you look at this situation, how would you want the other person to change? Or what would you want the other person to do?
- For Example: I want James to see that he is wrong, that I have not been unfaithful.
- In this situation what do you need from the other person?
- For Example: I need James to listen with understanding to what I have to say. I need to hear some a verification that he understands that I am not having an affair, but that I must work with him on a project and that I will give him all the verification he needs to know that I am not having an affair.
- As you are answering these questions, view the situation in three different ways:
- pull yourself in the other person’s place,
- put the other person in your place,
- state the exact opposite. For example:
- I am angry with myself because I was falsely accused.
- James is angry with me because he feels falsely accused.
- James is not falsely accusing me, he’s just concerned or afraid.”
You might want to ask God to help you see as He sees as you go through these exercises.
- Father, please help me to see what you see, help me to understand what you understand and show me what I need to change. Thank you.
Connie’s different Feeling
Connie put down her pen and wiped the tears from her face, “You know, as I read the last statement I had a different feeling inside, more peaceful when I thought that maybe James was scared. He’s having a problem getting a good job. Right now he’s only driving for Uber. I know he feels bad that he hasn’t gotten an engineering job or contract. I can see how he would feel insecure seeing me talking to the guy from class. This really helped.”
“I’m so glad. It shows on your face that you are more at peace. Keep this worksheet and work it every time something comes up. Eventually, it won’t come up as often or not at all.”