The Feminine Shadow Project – It’s Time to Heal
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“The shadow is a portal — the dark and painful feelings and sensations can point us toward an essential radiance within.” –John Prendergast
Carl Jung coined the language of “the shadow” to describe the part of the human personality that sits outside of our awareness and consciousness. Everyone has a shadow. Every woman has a Feminine Shadow.
The feminine shadow is the part of ourselves that is unknown to ourselves and to others. Jung believed that the shadow contained both positive and negative aspects of ourselves and represents the unlived parts of our lives.
The shadow, while unconscious, is neither passive nor dormant. It wants expression and integration into the personality. We might see the “dark side” of our personalities. Or have dreams that take us to strangely familiar places. We see the “Ice Queen” and the “Wicked Stepmother” in fairy tales representing an expression of the feminine shadow.
Often, we see the shadow as a projector. This projection can be positive or negative. If the shadow element is positive, we may idealize the other, putting them on a pedestal and not recognizing the quality we so admire in the other as something that exists within us waiting to be claimed. If the shadow element is negative, we may be repulsed or vilify the other, not recognizing this quality as something within us that wants to be given voice or healed. In either case, the other is a mirror reflecting back something within ourselves that wants to be made conscious.
The Feminine Shadow Project
Over the past year, I have become especially curious about what women (including myself) have culturally and personally put into their shadows. So much so that I began a personal project called “The Feminine Shadow Project”. This project includes my journey into my own shadow while also learning from other women about how shadow shows up for them.
While this project continues, I have learned that many women, myself included, have internalized the messages of our culture about girls being “less than” boys. Many women have experienced violence and forms of oppression ranging from slighting the feminine through diminishing language and minor infractions all the way to female genocide, and so very much in-between. These slights, infractions, atrocities, and oppression have created trauma within individual women and the collective unconsciousness of the feminine. These unhealed traumas then get passed down through the generations from mothers to daughters, teaching (mal)adaptive ways to live within cultures that do not value a woman for who she is. We hold these internalized beliefs in our shadow.
When I wrote “Why Aren’t More Women Supporting Other Women at Work” for Huff Post Women, the article went viral and I received hundreds of stories about women who experienced other women as harsh, overly critical, and outright destructive towards other women. This does not reflect all female relationships, but rather relationships where women are unconsciously operating out of their shadow.
Now you might look at this and think this is human nature. And, I agree. But to do the healing work required, I believe we can also look at this dynamic through the lens of a woman’s experience of being a woman. Or as Adrienne Rich said, “Of Woman Born”.
In the Grip of the Feminine Shadow
When we are in the grip of our shadow, it’s as though another person has taken over our mind. We say things we later regret. We behave in ways that are contrary to our espoused values. We may later feel shame and embarrassment. The Feminine Shadow contains all the parts of ourselves that we dislike or think are unattractive about who we are. It contains the messages against women from the culture and the ways you were told to STOP being when you were younger.
But these parts haven’t disappeared. They are sitting in our personalities and we have two choices. We can integrate and heal these parts or we can continue to act them out. When we act them out we can be in a defensive, all out attack mode towards others, or we can turn the attack on ourselves.
What do you see and hear when you’ve been hijacked by your own shadow? Complaining. Verbal attacks, even physical attacks. Undermining other women. Criticalness. Harshness. Raging. Trickery. We act out of our fear, anger, or frustration. Addiction. Depression. Drama. Gossiping. Shutting down. Catastrophizing. Silencing our voice. Withdrawing our talents. Blaming. Numbing out. Competing with other women for the approval of men in our romantic and professional relationships. Idealizing.
When we have integrated the Feminine Shadow we experience a softening and are able to incorporate loving qualities at the other end of these poles.
How is Shadow Work Done?
We come into this work through a felt sense. Because the shadow lives in the unconscious and is unknown to even ourselves, we need a different set of tools than we might use when building our cognitive understanding. The unconscious speaks to us imaginally and through images, metaphor, and symbols. We use this language to learn about our Feminine Shadow.
Shadow work is also intuitive. We are learning to listen to and trust our inner knowing that the answers are coming from within. That “the thing” that wants to be healed or celebrated or reclaimed will make itself known to us and that all we need to do is listen intuitively.
Art Journaling as a Medium for the Feminine Shadow Project
The transition from Dining Room to Studio begins February 2016
I wanted a way to memorialize my work in the Feminine Shadow Project and be able to come back to it as a resource, as healing, and as a record of my journey. I began experimenting with art journaling as a medium. I hadn’t touched a crayon since kindergarten but I found lots of books on art journaling which drew me in. As I began experimenting with different techniques, I discovered a latent ability to express myself visually.
At first I was calling my process visual journaling because that seemed to be a more concrete description of what I was doing. Instead of using just words, I began combining phrases with images in my journal. But as my process continued to unfold, and I learned more multi-media techniques, I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of the felt sense of the spread and so now I use the language of art journaling.
This is not to be confused with “creating art”. While I believe my Feminine Shadow Art Journal to be a personal creative work, and that it contains the deeper stories of my life’s journey, it is not something that would be hung in a gallery. My drawings are not perfectly triangular. I don’t always shade the faces I draw. I sometimes make messy chaotic pages and sometimes I want to express beauty. I use color and imagery to tell an invisible story that begins within me and then when I’m done, the spread talks back to me.
As I sometimes share my Feminine Shadow art journal, others will see meaning in the imagery that I didn’t recognize and it will deepen my understanding again. Once I’ve completed a spread, I may leave it open in my studio (formerly known as my dining room!) for days or weeks and walk by it during the day, asking what more is there for me to learn.
Facing the Blank Page
Each new spreads tells another story about what’s in the shadow
I begin this shadow work with a color feeling, a journal prompt, a creative visualization, or a meditation. It’s important to get grounded before beginning this work. Because we’re working in our journal, we can go at our own pace. Sometimes I’ll begin with a layer of paint and bring in color. I might cut pictures from magazines and lay in a layer of collage. I might find a picture that inspires me and then transfer it into my art journal. I pause between layers as I make meaning and write in my journal about that layer. It might even be several days before I know what I want to add whether it be an image, or color, or words, or doodles. Other times, the images are bubbling within me and I can work straight through for hours, even days.
When I’m ready to begin a new spread I may ask myself a question and find a vague visual impression sitting in my core. I may walk around with this question for days waiting for the image to become more clear. What is it’s color? It’s shape? It’s texture? How big or small is it? What is the feeling of it? And then I’ll get that intuitive ping. I’ll hear a phrase or see a picture, or name the energy. And then there’s the click and I have a starting point to face the blank page.
The Feminine Shadow is Tender
Terri’s Feminine Shadow Journal, “The Mother Wound”, April 18th, 2016
As a society, we can be so self-critical and our inner critic wants to boss us around, stomp on us, and cause us feel to bad about ourselves. When we go on this journey to our shadow, we need to respect these critical parts. They are there for a reason – perhaps to protect us, keep us safe, keep us on track. However, these critical voices are crying out for expression. Their pain wants to be heard even if they’re behaving in exactly the opposite behavior and trying to get you to shut down. Their story wants to be told so they can have closure or healing.
The Feminine Shadow art journal creates a safe place for these voices to be heard and expressed. When I tenderly allow them to enter the page, they are acknowledged and their angst is lowered because they are being given an expression.
But sometimes I also need outer support to help my inner critic. Not so long ago, I noticed that I was walking around my home office calling myself an idiot. I must have said this to myself 10 times before I even realized this is what is was doing. I shared this experienced with my dear friend and said “Dear One, please don’t talk about my friend Terri this way…”.
Feminine Shadow work is not always solitary. We need support too. We might need support to help us deepen the meaning of our work, or to support us when something unsettling arises, and even to help us pull ourselves out of our deeply ingrained patterns. And sometimes I need an old-fashioned kick in the pants wake-up call. It is times like these that we need to reach out to a trusted friend, therapist, or coach.
I recently did a Feminine Shadow workshop where we worked with all kinds of boxed cards to create the symbolic images and metaphor. As the end of the workshop, a woman approached me and commented about “how tenderly you spoke with the group”. While I wasn’t consciously softening my voice, this softening came from the tremendous respect I have for the suffering of others and not wanting to add to their psychic injuries, but to support them on their healing journey.
Finding the Gold in The Feminine Shadow – The Healing Process of this Work
Terri’s Feminine Shadow Journal “She”, October 2nd, 2016
My heart is full as I realize the pain and woundedness that is at heart of the feminine shadow. But more so, I celebrate all the hidden gold and gems that are reclaimed into the lives of women and shared back into the world when we do this work.
The power of this process lies with the individual doing the work. When I am committed to this process, I may take breaks to allow myself time to integrate or rebalance. But I come back to this on my own. No one can this work for me. Only you can do this work for you.
Robert Johnson said “Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in our culture. Ignoring the gold can be as damaging as ignoring the dark side of the psyche”. In the Feminine Shadow Art Journal I delve into the dark side and also go mining for gold!
On August 28 and 29, 2017, I will be offering our first Women Connected Retreat – the theme is “The Feminine Shadow”. We will use a variety of creative expressions in this work. If you’re an ICF coach, this program has been approved for 12 ICF ceu’s.
Click here to learn more.