What do I admire about other people?
What about other people really triggers me?
While these questions might seem to be about other people, the answers are actually pointing us back to a hidden part of ourselves: our shadow.
The shadow is the parts of ourselves that we have deemed “unacceptable” and therefore we have pushed those parts of ourselves away – and out of conscious awareness.
Growing up, we are told that certain parts of us are “acceptable” and certain parts are not.
For example, if our parents said “Don’t be angry. Anger is pointless and never gets you anywhere” then you would probably repress anger and put it in your shadow.
What is and is not acceptable can also be subtly communicated such as with teasing or eye rolls toward certain behavior.
The shadow is really a survival mechanism that helps us fit in to society, our parents, our teachers, or whoever sets the standards of our life when we are growing up.
It is all the things that we “should not be.”
In order to make sure we are not that which is “unacceptable” (and thus “fit in”) we hide those parts of ourselves so that we don’t have access to them.
However, they are not completely hidden forever.
They follow us around, and are still part of us, like a shadow.
With mindful awareness, we can begin to see our shadow arise.
The main way we do this is through projection.
Projection means we see something outside of ourselves (in other people) which is actually within us.
If we see another person that is very angry, and we have a strong reaction to it, for example we feel intense fear around someone who is angry, it is likely pointing us back to our shadow.
This is because our shadow is still a part of us. Our anger cannot be completely pushed away.
When we are triggered, we can ask ourselves: “What part of me is coming up and asking for attention?”
It is a part of ourselves that is saying “Look at me! I’m still here.”
With mindfulness, we can slow down and be curious about our reactions to other people.
Despite the name, the shadow has both a positive and negative quality to it.
The Positive Shadow
The positive shadow refers to all “positive” aspects within ourselves that we have put in our shadow.
For example, if we were shamed for one of our talents, such as being “too sensitive,” we might put our sensitive and empathic nature in our shadow and try to toughen up.
We might have been told to not be “too successful” and that we need to be humble. Or that we should not be “too masculine” or “too feminine.”
Either way, we may have positive talents that we put into our shadow that are not fully expressed.
To uncover the positive shadow – ask yourself: “What do I admire about other people? Who do I look up to? What qualities do they have?”
The answers to these questions will point you back to yourself – to your unexpressed potential and positive shadow.
The Negative Shadow
The negative shadow refers to the “negative” qualities that we put in the shadow – such as anger, fear, sadness, laziness, etc.
Anything that we feel if we did express, it would be a bad thing.
To uncover the negative shadow – ask yourself this: “What do I strongly dislike about other people? Who really triggers me? What is it about them that triggers me?”
The answers to these questions will point you to your negative shadow.
Owning Our Shadow
The point of shadow work is awareness and integration.
It is to look within and notice these parts of ourselves that we have hidden in the shadow and shine a light on them.
When we become aware of them, we want to start to own them and reintegrate them into ourselves.
This is how we start to become whole again.
We can realize – I have within me, the full potential of all human aspects. I can uncover and own all human aspects within me.
I have the potential for greed, fear, envy, sadness, joy, success, abundance, family…
All human aspects are within me.
If you don’t own your shadow, your shadow ends up owning you.
Are you willing to step into your fullness?
Uncovering Our Shadow Exercise
Complete this exercise by writing down the answers to the following questions:
Who is someone I admire greatly?
What is it about that person specifically that I admire?
What qualities about them, are also within me?
How could I express those qualities within me?
Who is someone that triggers me strongly?
What is it about that person that triggers me so much?
Are those qualities also within me?
How could I express that part of me in a healthy way?
Bonus question: Take a look at your current and past romantic partners. What about them did you admire? What triggered you? How does this reflect your shadow (positive and negative)?
Thanks for reading. May you uncover, own, and integrate your shadow to become more whole within yourself.
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.
If you, or someone you know is struggling in life, I offer therapy and mindfulness groups in Oakland, CA. Contact me for a free 15 minute consultation.