The Shadow Self

Continuing on from Saturday’s post relating to schemas and the shadow side of our self, by chance, because I have arrived home from another emotionally harrowing day at work, too tired to walk or to mark, and thought I would watch a recorded episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Laughing as Oprah introduced Debbie Ford who has worked extensively with the shadow self. I am hearing you universe lol.

The shadow “is the part of us that has been wounded; it’s what we try to hide about ourselves” (Debbie Ford, Super Soul Sunday). It is the part of us that if we ignore, stops us from living a full life, and feeling real, continued happiness and peace.

Usually we are wounded in childhood, but for some, the wounding occurs in adulthood when you lose a loved one or find yourself in a toxic (or series of toxic) relationships. And the wounding can take many different forms.

As I think about it, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, all endured as a child, left me feeling ashamed of my body and my self. I didn’t feel valuable. It manifested in me protecting others (they are valuable), and doing for others (give, give, give; expecting nothing in return because my purpose is to serve), and eventually I filled that wounding with food.

As an adult I continued those behaviours because people responded positively to me for those behaviours (of course they did, they were gaining without expectation of giving – no reflection on them, it is how I set the parameters of my relationships, and of course, there were exceptions). Doing for others provided me with a sense of my value in the world. I would never be the beautiful one. I would be the giver, the nurturer, the do-er. As a result I wasn’t giving to myself, I wasn’t nurturing my own life.

“I was so busy giving, I didn’t have time to receive love.” – Debbie Ford

When I started to gain a sense of self-worth, some relationships buckled under the new parameters that I was trying to mould for myself. It is only today that I am able to articulate that fully. When I started to demand something in return, people were taken aback and didn’t quite know how to respond to an alternative Tina. Not their fault.

But I am understanding those fractures now. I started to confront the invalidity of my shadow self and confront some of the language I had been using about myself, and as I did that with older and wiser eyes, I had to discard some of it because it no longer served me. Yes, I am a nurturer and a giver, but I also deserved to be the recipient of those same things. And I think that I really started to realise a worth inside of myself, outside of just giving, at the time I miscarried.

Everything happens for a reason. I hate the truth of that phrase now cliche lol.

“When you’re in harmony with yourself, you’ll be in harmony with everyone else.” – Debbie Ford

And so, ironically, whilst I would have said that I was happy before, I started on a new path towards happiness through reconciling the different aspects of myself; blending the positive that arose from my shadow with the healing of the wound that created the shadow, “bringing the light in” to the shadow.

And this continues to be a work in progress. And I am at peace with that. For me.

But if we stretch this notion of the shadow out, knowing it is a wounding that is suffered, and we move it beyond the parameters of the individual and into community, society, the world, what implications does that yield? Can there be a communal shadow?

Quick answer: yes. Think Holocaust. Think genocide. Think racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia.

I had a very quick chat with one of my close colleagues today (a friend that I work with really), and she had been reflecting over the weekend with her husband about how emotional our kids currently are. He suggested that, as silly as it might sound (but it isn’t; it’s really quite perceptive and astute), that with weaker leadership at the helm in our country’s governance, is it any wonder that everyday people feel unsafe and unworthy. Interesting notion when you consider that the core language/belief of the shadow includes statements like: “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable”, and “I’m unworthy.”

When parents are struggling to make ends meet, which causes tension through tiredness in the family making families time poor, and our leaders and elected representatives are ignoring the wishes of their constituents en masse, is it possible that our kids are starting to feel and manifest the impact of the broader world of instability in politics in their lives? Wow, long question. Yikes.

Oprah suggests that we all know that we deserve happiness, but many of us perceive that we are not worthy enough to be happy. Debbie Ford then suggests that worthiness comes from knowing and believing that you are connected to others, and things bigger than yourself. That we need some sort of spirituality to frame our experiences.

So could we then argue that happiness stems from these same things: worthiness, connection, spirituality?

Tina obviously thinks so.

As she has let the light in to her shadow, her sense of connectedness has grown, and she is forging friendships with people that serve these new parameters without foregoing those that have journeyed with her this far. My spirituality is strong and I am starting to believe, almost one hundred percent of the time, that I am worthy of being loved, of being a writer, of receiving respect.

And oddly, these things are manifesting in my life. And my happiness is growing and is really forming a consistency that is unprecedented.

Yes, I still have bad moments and sometimes, bad days, but I am more resilient because of the strategies I have in place: gratitude, prioritising my time, sensible self talk.

The shadow will always be there. Shadows, after all, exist in sunlight. It is with me always, I can’t escape it, but I can let it breathe by letting the light in.

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