3 Ways to Find Your Shadow

October 25, 2010 — Leave A Comment

I took this shot in late September at a meeting with the Waypoint Coaching Community in our summit house in Breckenridge, Colorado. The theme of this year’s summit was “Courageous Authenticity”…our most powerful and transformative event yet. Having journeyed together now as a community for over five years, being held all that time in the crucible of hiddeness by the Spirit we follow, we find ourselves finally on the precipice. Something new is about to happen…a kind of breaking out, a moving out into the world at last, which is the very desire we have all shared since the beginning. And so, to prepare for this unveiling, we felt it important to explore together–and truly, experience–who we really are, unguarded, with no pretense or facade, and what it really is that we are here to offer the world.

What if you really dropped ALL the pretense in your life–what would be left? Who would you be then?

We examined authenticity on both the personal and the corporate level…not just “who am I without the walls?” but “who are we without the walls?” Naturally, much of our exploration focused on identifying the “shadow” parts of who we are and bringing these into the Light. And this, of course, if where the courageous part comes in.

“The self that God consistently loves is not my prettied-up pretend self but my actual self–the real me. But, master of delusion that I am, I have trouble penetrating my web of self-deceptions and knowing this real me. I continually confuse it with the ideal self that I wish I were.” ~ David Benner, from The Gift of Being Yourself

Zweig defines shadow as “the part of the unconscious self that a conscious mind sees as undesirable and tries to define as the ‘other.'” It is that part of who you are that you deny or hide or suppress or project onto all those other people you mistakenly think that you don’t like…but what you don’t like is really you. And it isn’t just about what we might call negative traits. We stuff our brilliance into the shadows as readily as our weakness. Shadow refers to all that is true about you that you do not own or accept–both the brilliant and the bad. Having an unknown or unowned shadow side is what keeps us from a true and honest experience of life, from authentic relationship and community, from becoming all we were created to be. This is true for both the individual and the community. Organizations have shadows too, which, if unowned, will eventually either spell their downfall or else make them into miserable places to be.

“What you can’t be with, rules your life.” I often say this to my clients, whenever we step into shadow work together. For example: If you can’t “be with” being rejected, just think of all the energy you’ll expend trying to pretzel yourself into all kinds of inauthentic shapes to please others or hide yourself away from those you fear will not accept you. Avoiding rejection becomes the dominant imperative in your life. Your shadow is running the show.

And yet, shadow work is not a witchhunt. The goal is not eradication, but a full compassionate acceptance of all that you are. Only then can you actually change or grow. This is the paradox of transformation: Loving self-acceptance must precede authentic life change. As Benner writes, “Before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves, for no one can give up what he or she does not first possess.”

How can you start to identify your shadow?

  • Begin by noticing where you hide yourself from others or pretend to be something (or feel something) other than is true. What do you fear would happen if you stopped hiding or pretending in the way you do?
  • Also, notice those qualities or behaviors you see in others that upset you the most. How are those qualities projections of what you fear might be true about you? (In other words…are those qualities that you “can’t be with” in yourself? Projection is a sure sign of the shadow at work.)
  • Finally, notice the ways you regularly sabotage yourself. Is there a goal or desire you’ve been going after for years but have never achieved because you keep “blowing it” over and over again? If so, it’s likely that your shadow is ruling you in that area. If you’d like to explore it further with a trained coach, I’d be delighted to do a one-time session with you to help find the way to break that cycle of self-defeat. Just use my contact page to drop me a line, or leave a comment below.

Again, the goal of shadow work isn’t to “fix” ourselves by duking it out with our dark side once and for all. It’s about the compassionate embrace of all that it means to be a real, gritty, beautiful human being. It’s about sharing who we really are with ourselves and with others–having true community. And it’s about extending to ourselves the same quality of grace and love that God has already extended…which is the very thing we most need in order to become all we were meant to be.

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with reality.” The truly spiritual life is not an escape from reality but a total commitment to it. ~ Thomas Merton (in quotes) and David Benner

Michael Warden

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