It has been said that you need to love yourself before you can truly love another or accept their love of you. That’s easier said than done. Well in part. After all we all can find something we like about ourselves, however big or small. However we are all exceptionally brilliant at finding things we dislike about ourselves. A lot of things we dislike. The thing C.C Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist) called the part of you, “the thing that no-one would want to be”. Your shadow self. The dark side.
However if you want to be able to truly love yourself, then you need to be able to accept and love your dark side too. Our Shadow offer us insights into our very being. Into why we are who we are and what makes us tick. Our Shadow is our deepest, darkest, secrets, and our deepest fears. And although it might not feel like it, there is strength to be found in these dark places. To understand our Shadow is to understand ourselves. To understand your shadow disintegrates the boundaries between the negative and positive parts of you that you like and dislike, creating a simple whole, balanced and integrated you. A stronger you.
Many people believe that by working with themselves their shadow self will disappear. It won’t. The shadow self and our lighter self (what Jung called the “persona”) have to be integrated to be whole. Imagine it as though you are creating a yin yang with the two sides of your personality. So how to begin this part of your self love journey. How to work with your shadow self?
Personally I believe there are four steps.
- Find the shadow self
- Understand the shadow self
- Accept the shadow self
- Integrate the shadow self
Finding the shadow self
There are two simple ways you can find your shadow self. The mindfulness solution and the reflection method.
“The Mindfulness Solution,” is a simple exercise to begin to identify your shadow self:
- Make a list of 5 positive qualities that you see yourself as having (e.g., compassionate, kind, witty, etc.)
- Look at each positive quality that you wrote down – describe its opposite (e.g., unfeeling, stingy, dull, etc.)
- Picture a person who embodies these negative qualities vividly in your mind. Roughly, this is your shadow self.
We all know the people that irritate us or have experienced that when we meet someone we take an instant dislike to them. In theses situatitions we are actually projecting our dislike of something in us onto the other person. Both of these experiences are good guides to finding parts of your shadow self. Try to mindfully pay attention to each time someone around you does something, says something, or “is” a certain way that irritates you or upsets you. Ask yourself why certain qualities are so bothersome to you? What is it about yourself that you dislike that you can see reflected in the other person.
- Make a list of the qualities that you vehemently dislike in others.
- Take each trait and see if that is a quality that you have demonstrated in the past, are exhibiting currently, or are capable of manifesting in the future.
There is another way to try this exercise. It’s more challenging and it takes a fair bit of nerve.
You find the person you dislike and tell them you dislike them. I know it sounds crazy but I promise you it works. I once did this process at a workshop with a woman who was actually giving me a lift home. Awkward, but it really worked. The lift home went really well. The idea behind the process it that you explain that the point is for you both to learn something about each other and to create a better relationship between you both. (As you will often find if you dislike someone they also dislike you). You are basically projecting your dislike of you onto someone else and this exercise is about discovering what it is that you dislike. Done in an open and honest way this is really powerful. (Although you may experience that they do not wish to participate, their loss. Do the exercise alone)
Understanding the shadow self
Understanding comes from knowledge and by investigating your shadow self you begin to know your shadow self. When you understand something it makes that thing less powerful. In a way you demystify it. Understanding takes thought and analysis. It maybe that you have identified a fear of relationships as part of your shadow self. Well where does that come from? Find the root of the things you have identified. Often behind our shadow self you will find a lot of fears.
For example I have always had a serious problem with jealousy. It turns me into the proverbial green eyed monster and has in the past led me to do some things of which I am not proud. When I investigated my jealousy, it became painfully obvious that is sprang from my low self esteem and through that created a disbelief that I was unloveable, therefore my partners would always find people more attractive than me. The insane power of our negative thought patterns. These days when its pops up, (and unfortunately is does from time to time) I now know I need to look at myself esteem and talk to both myself and Mr T about the feelings it provokes.
Letters to yourself
A great way to understand your shadow self is to write a letter to yourself. This is a powerful writing exercise :
On a sheet of paper write “Please reveal to me what I am not seeing about myself… about my relationship…, my work, my ability to earn more money, (any issue you want answers or information about). Also write; “please answer me through my pen.”
On the next line, write “Dear _______________” (your name)
Take a few more breaths and start writing anything that comes through your pen. Don’t look for anything to make sense. Just let streams of thought come through your pen. When the streams of thought ends, read what you have written. You might be surprised.
Accepting the shadow self.
This is a long process and is one that does not happen overnight It is an ongoing life process. To accept you have to forgive yourself. Having a shadow self is not a bad thing. Every human has one. All of us. And to make mistakes, to do things we are ashamed of is also perfectly normal. “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” You need to take responsibility to forgive yourself, to own your shadow and accept this part of you, without judging.
It takes time. However once you begin to accept it, you will find that in your shadow self you have a strength, strength that you probably didn’t know was there. By facing fears you own them. By acknowledging that your personally judged negative qualities are part and parcel of you, you begin to integrate and accept yourself more.
There are many ways to accept your shadow self. Creativity is one of the most therapeutic methods for example writing, painting and dancing with your shadow self. Practice the automatic writing exercise often. The more you do it, the clearer the messages become. You can also use meditation, Breathwork, walks in nature or any other way that makes you connect with you inner self/higher self. Some people prefer talk therapy or journaling.
Integrating the shadow self
Integration of the shadow self is key to the process of loving your self. The most important part of accepting your shadow is not to ignore it. Become friends with it. Dance with it. Learning about your shadow in your personal development is about pushing away your preconceptions. Remember in nature nothing is bad nothing is good it just is. We are part of nature so there is nothing bad or good within us, we just are.
You are you, not bad not good, just you.
By integrating your shadow self you are acknowledging its existence in a healthy way. To integrate your shadow self you can try many techniques such as:
Changing the story
At the beginning of this process you probably viewed your shadow as the villain and you as its victim. With this perspective, you closed the possibility of learning anything the shadow self could offer as new possibilities for knowing yourself more deeply. Try recasting your shadow from villain to teacher and be open to what it might have to teach you.
Be aware of your shadow self.
Use what you have learnt about your shadow self to increase your awareness of it and when your shadow self is negatively effecting your life. As I do with my jealousy. Instead of reacting through your shadow allow yourself to open a dialogue with it, try to see what insights it’s appearance brings.
The healthy quality
When the shadow self appears and you have found the teaching ask yourself
“what is the healthy expression of this?”
Find the answer and bring it into your life. I do this in regards to jealousy by both having a dialogue about my feelings with myself and Mr T. However it may be for you that you want to go on workshops, work with a coach, meditate, take shamanic journeys or visualisations to bring this healthy quality into your life.
Shadow work is a huge process. It takes time and energy. And when you give it that time and energy you gain an abundance of both strength and knowledge. There is so much power to be found in facing your shadows, your fears. Working with your shadow is personal and individual to each of us. Therefore you need to apporach it in a way that works for you. There are many other ways than I have suggested, to work with this process and you may find that google, workshop or a therapist brings you something else that works for you. There are also processes for working with your light self your persona and they will be explored in a future article.
However you make your balance with your shadow and your light. Know that by taking this journey you will begin to appreciate yourself on a new and deeper level. Appreciation is the first step on the path to love. So if you can appreciate yourself completely, you can and will love yourself.
So bring your shadow into your light and dance with it. It is shadow that makes light beautiful. Your shadow makes you beautiful. It is your perfect imperfection. It is your vunerability which makes you so attractive to all of us, just sitting there waiting for you to discover and love it.