Inside each of us is a darker side, certain personality traits we don’t want others to see, much less acknowledge and accept in ourselves. Displaying our weaknesses for all to see is uncomfortable, so we hide these unconscious wounded aspects of ourselves. This hidden self is called the shadow self, a concept introduced by the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. He taught that where there is light, there is a darker side, a shadow.
We all have a light and dark side. There is a famous story that depicts an extreme description of the struggle with the shadow self. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he shows the challenge of good vs. evil as it relates to the shadow self.
Keeping our negative aspects hidden can be an unconscious survival instinct. We believe that if our family and friends saw aspects of our dark side, we would not be accepted or loved by them or even ourselves. Yet when we don’t want to look at our shadow, we cast those traits onto others with blame.
When I work with clients, I have them discover the qualities they dislike in others are the same traits hidden inside of them they choose to ignore, reject or block. They wear a mask to hide these traits and their true self. Examples of hidden qualities can be a judgment; greed; envy; rage; controlling behavior; or being the victim. When they notice these behaviors in others, it bothers them. Their buttons get pushed. They become defensive, react and then deny those traits in themselves. Keeping the shadow hidden can wreck relationships and crush dreams.
Getting in touch with our darker side, which can be unsettling for some, can also help us to lead a more fulfilling life. Jung states, “I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole.”Embracing our shadow self is essential for our personal growth. As you become more self-aware integrating your shadow self, your creative, authentic self can step-up and lead. Your relationships improve, you have more energy by not repressing and suppressing your many different parts. You can feel a sense of balance and wholeness.
Embracing Your Shadow
You can start to learn to recognize your shadow and train yourself to accept it and make it a part of you.
- Begin with soul-searching, self-aware mindset so you can be open to observe your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment. It’s important to be honest with yourself.
- Notice which characteristics are not appealing to you and which ones you have kept hidden. List 3 of your shadow traits. If it’s easier, recall someone who pushes your buttons or someone you dislike and list those individuals’ characteristics. Are you aware of these qualities in yourself? Acknowledging your shadow takes courage so be gentle with yourself in this process.
- Ask yourself if you can you begin to accept these qualities as a part of you. Be as candid as possible.
- As you begin to embrace these qualities as a part of you, write down what you are discovering to help you integrate what you are learning about yourself.
- As you go about your day, see if you can notice when your shadow is at play, and your buttons are being pushed. Observe yourself like you were watching a drama and make a note of the which characters push your buttons and all of their qualities. Can you recognize these traits in yourself? Record your insights.
As you begin to recognize and accept your shadow self as a part of you, in what ways do you believe your life would change?
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with your doctor first before starting any new practices or health programs.