Shadow Self

Shadow Self: Bringing Light to the Dark in Love

Our willingness and capacity to build a conscious relationship with our shadow self has a huge impact on our ability, or inability. to build a conscious relationship with another. For many, hearing about the idea of the shadow self brings up questions of worth and value as well as shame and goodness or badness as qualities of being. Some consciously fear their own shadow self, and even more so, fear the shadow self in another. Some pretend it doesn’t exist. Others don’t realize how much resistance to their unconscious human nature lies just under the surface. Still others know that embracing the shadow lies at the heart of true love. 

In our closest relationships, misunderstandings and fears of the shadow within cause real challenges, and in some cases even damage. However, if we can bring light to what has been perceived as dark or bad, we will come to know a love like no other. We will come to know a freedom of being and depth of consciousness that can lead to healing within, between, and beyond us. Consciously relating to our shadow sides actually liberates all of us to simply be who we are – in our natural wonderfulness and our innate messiness. We all have the good, the not-so-good, and even the ugly within. Accepting that, embracing that, and being willing to reveal that to another leads to the unconditional love we all seek.

What is a shadow self?

Your shadow self, anyone’s shadow self, encompasses the part of us that we can’t yet clearly recognize. It stands just beyond our capacity to see ourselves fully, transparently, and includes the qualities and characteristics within us that we might prefer to hide or deny. Whether conscious or unconscious, we don’t see these parts of ourselves because we don’t want to see them. We can actually quite effectively overlook them, pretending they’re not there, and even actively denying these dimensions of our personality. Although we may prefer not to know these parts of ourselves, as you’ll see, this resistance or hiding actually becomes “dangerous” to our hearts and the love it both craves and needs.  

Our shadow self contains our blind spots and the parts of ourselves that we repress. It holds the unconscious things we do that create suffering or pain for ourselves, and often for others. It could be our bad habits, especially the bad habits that we can’t, or refuse to see and acknowledge. Our shadow side drives the moments when we’re unkind, the times when we react inappropriately, or the moments where we feel triggered by the actions of another, imagining they don’t care, when in truth the one who triggered us meant us no harm, even if we might find that hard to believe. If we feel self-judgment, our shadow is at play. 

The shadow self arises in our personal unconsciousness, otherwise described as the unknown, and fear of the unknown is one of the greatest human fears. We resist our shadow side because we fear what we might discover about ourselves. Hence, too often, people do everything in their power – usually unknowingly – to keep the shadow self in the shadows. In doing that they limit their capacity for, and chances of, true love. We can’t love, or let someone love, what we don’t know. Resisting the shadow can lead to self judgment and shame, and in the worst cases it drives self-hatred. To fully love and be loved we must get to know the imperfect, messy, and not-broken-but-feels-broken parts of ourselves.

“To fully love and be loved we must get to know the imperfect, messy, and not-broken-but-feels-broken parts of ourselves.”

~Joanna Shakti

On the positive side, the minute we acknowledge, accept, and directly reveal our “unconsciousness” the shadow fades and dissolves. While these shadow parts and expressions of ourselves may not always be supportive, when they’re brought into the light they can be loved. It is this love that makes all the difference in the world. When we bring self love to our wholeness – our greatness and our messiness – we evolve, we grow, we heal. In our self acceptance, our partners can also love and accept even our most challenging parts. This unconditional love for our imperfectness makes any change we desire possible. Without embracing the shadow, we cannot change –  no matter how hard we might try. 

To help us even more clearly answer the question, what is a shadow self, let’s look at some examples. 

Examples of shadow self in love

Remembering that our shadow side by definition lives in the dark, outside of our clear vision, you’ll see the behaviors of hiding or repressing of self throughout these examples, quite directly in the first one. You’ll also see self-judgment, unfair self expectations, and commonly a lack of self-esteem throughout this list. 

  1. Anything you hide (from yourself or another)
  2. Your secrets. In 12 step programs they say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” 
  3. The ways you strategize to protect against your insecurities, including people pleasing, self abandonment, over giving, or saying yes when the true answer is no. 
  4. Pretending you’re not afraid or nervous when you are
  5. Trying to show bravado
  6. Shaming yourself (Guilt is not shadow, shame is) 
  7. Inflating or deflating yourself, or in other words being self-aggrandizing, or conversing pretending you or your experience is insignificant.
  8. Judgment, bias, and prejudice 
  9. Superiority or righteousness
  10. Playing the victim
  11. Thinking you know (none of us every know everything)
  12. Being right all the time
  13. Blaming, defending, and justifying
  14. Conflict avoidance
  15. Seeking validation outside ourselves verses giving yourself self assurance 
  16. Pessimism or Pollyanna complex
  17. Over reactions
  18. The extremes of masculine and feminine energy expressions. 

Every one of these examples reveals the “unconscious”, autopilot, and reactive parts of ourselves. Often created by past hurts, a wounded scared part takes over running the show. Yet, if we want to move beyond the shadow self, we must accept these aspects of our personality and love ourselves beyond the pain that created them. 

What your shadow self is not

Too often we actually judge aspects of ourselves or of someone we love as our shadow, when it’s truly healthy human behavior and communication. These misunderstandings can make it more difficult to embrace the shadow and can even feel shaming. So let’s look at some behaviors that might be misjudged as the shadow self. 

IT is not …

  1. Freely expressing emotions, even strong emotions. If we stay conscious of, and in relationship to, our emotions, no matter how strong, chaotic, or out-of-control they may appear, feeling is not shadow.
  2. Expressing contractive emotions like anger or despair. Anger and despair are just emotions. They are not bad. With that being said, the stories that keep you hooked in these, or any, emotions are however part of the shadow self.
  3. Qualities you believe make you unlovable, unworthy, undeserving. All qualities of self are totally lovable — the belief that they are not is the shadow.
  4. The unknown or any fear of it. The unknown is not good or bad
  5. Things that society might have you believe are unacceptable desires, urges, or emotions. Having a thought, a desire, an urge – no matter what anyone else may think about it or how they may judge it – is not having a shadow. Unconsciously relating to those thoughts, desires, urges, or emotions would be the shadow because we put them in hiding, in the dark. And, you may not always want to act on those desires. Acting on them might take you into your shadow so the greatest antidote to acting on a desire / impulse that might be harmful to you or another is to love it, to embrace it, to bring it into the light.

You are invited to take time to explore, get to know, and truly love all aspects of yourself so you can recognize when your shadow self is at play and when it’s simply just you being you. 

Bringing light to the dark in love

As we have mentioned, the most “danger” lies in the shadow that doesn’t know itself, that hasn’t been explored, that hasn’t been loved. So, to transform your shadow self and experience the most exquisite love possible in yourself, with another, and in the world, you’ll want to learn how to love yourself in the simplest (an most impactful) way.

Practice self acceptance and self compassion. Remember that anytime we feel shame we move into wanting to hide, and the best solution, as Brene Brown talks about, is to tell someone about what you’re feeling ashamed about. 

Finally, you will also be served by getting to know how the masculine and feminine aspects of yourself express themselves in light and shadow. If you feel predominantly feminine, you may want to learn how to connect with and cultivate divine feminine energy beyond the shadow. Or, if you sense yourself to be more predominantly masculine you may want to explore how to transcend the shadow self and step into a divine masculine embodiment

As you practice embracing and loving the shadow side, we can’t say this too many times, the shadow self is not something negative or bad. It is simply a part of you that you need to get to know, that you need to cultivate a relationship with. It only remains a shadow because, on some level, you’ve turned your back on it. In other words, you’ve turned your back on you and you can never live a fulfilled life, an ecstatic life, a genuine love, when you disregard or disown any aspect of yourself. If you do, true love will always remain elusive. 

It doesn’t matter what’s in the shadow. It ceases to be a threat of any kind, to you or anyone else, when you bring it your attention, your acknowledgement, your acceptance, and your embrace. It is not too scary, even if it seems that way. 

*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.

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