The Hidden Potential in Your Shadow
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” — ― C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul
For years I have been fascinated with human behavior change…or should I say the slowness of it. Human behavior and UNLOCKING POTENTIAL has been a theme in my personal and organizational life. I have coached many individuals, men and women, that are outwardly pursuing their stated goals, wanting to unlock their potential, but are really being driven by their blind spots – hurts, wounds, fears, and rules that prevent them from experiencing their outwardly facing goals.
But how can we bring into balance an inner condition that is invisible, even to the person who holds this condition? And how can we move forward in our outer lives if we can’t balance the inner condition with the outer world of living?
If we agree that our thoughts drive our behavior, that our emotions drive our thoughts, that our beliefs drive our emotions…then what drives our beliefs?
Shadow material is anything that has not been integrated into our personality. It sits outside our awareness. It is unknown to ourselves and to others.
Let me share a personal example of how the shadow works …
When I was growing up, I was influenced by two opposing perspectives on speaking up. My mom was constantly telling me to be quiet, be nice, go with the flow, don’t make waves. My paternal grandmother was quite different. She was a woman in tech in the 1960’s. She was independent, made her own money, and she was fierce. When someone violated her boundaries, they heard about it. She had her viewpoints and she knew how to stand her ground. I adored her. She was completely opposite of my mother and did her best to undo my mother’s influence so that I would be self-reliant rather than co-dependent.
But my grandmother went against the cultural norms and as I tried to be like her, I experienced frequent backlash when I broke with convention.
So, I moved my “inner grandmother” into the basement of my psyche, into my shadow. In my every day life, I would try to get along and not make waves. Then a moment would come when I’d “had enough” and my inner grandmother would take over.
I didn’t know how to make sense of this behavior and reaction until about ten years ago. I began learning about my own shadow and, with my teachers, learned creative ways to see how I had split myself in two: the outer life I tried so hard to maintain while trying to keep the inner forces under wraps.
What is in your shadow? Do you feel yourself holding back? Are you biting your tongue in meetings so you are accepted? Are you saying yes when you mean no? Or do you do just the opposite and wishing that you had help your tongue?
We can think of the Shadow as behavioral opposites that we are clearly black and white as in “I always do…” or “I never do…”
Are you ready to look at your own layers of thoughts – behavior – emotions – beliefs – shadow?
When I integrated my “inner grandmother” and began allowing her to be part of my open personality, I found myself speaking up and out (surprisingly!), my fierceness didn’t just blurt out when I couldn’t hold it in any longer, but it began showing up real time. And, while I still get hurt by the backlash of double-standards in which we live in our world, I am now so much better equipped to deal with the double bind of self-expression that many women experience.
Shadow work allows us to heal parts of ourselves that were hurt or cast aside. Shadow work allows us to integrate our opposites “the kind and the fierce”.
Carl Jung talks about our golden shadow too. He says that when we put away these undesirable parts of ourselves, we also put away some of our talents and potential. When we integrate our shadow parts, we begin to find our hidden potential. We see the silver linings in our difficulties. We open up to new possibilities for our lives. And we experience peace as we come to terms with the stories of our lives.
Accessing these buried aspects of ourselves requires a communication with our unconscious. Unlike the conscious mind that communicates through language, the unconscious mind speaks to us through symbols, metaphors, and dreams. To access these hidden and buried parts of ourselves, one of the approaches we teach at Women Connected is The Inner Journey of Art Journaling. The process of The Inner Journey speaks directly to the unconscious and provides a channel for us to know ourselves at a deeper level.