In the last post we discovered how the ego creates the shadow by rejecting anything we find unacceptable. Now we’ll look at what we can do to heal the wounds that cause us problems along the path to wholeness and awakening.
All sorts of things can end up in the shadow – it’s not all bad. Even some of the bad stuff isn’t really that bad, it’s just got twisted out of shape. When you suppress or repress something, it doesn’t go away. It roams around in the darkness of your unconscious feeling aggrieved and waiting for the opportunity to come back into the light. In the meantime, it might grow a few heads, develop a limp, or perhaps begin breathing fire.
It takes a lot of energy to keep these rejected parts of yourself locked in the basement. You have to be vigilant and watch for any infraction or daring escape attempts. And the fact that you’re repressing stuff will have to be repressed too. It’s exhausting!
Buttons, Triggers, and Hooks
Healing the shadow can be a painful process. You’re forced out of your comfort zone to face feelings and thoughts you’ve been avoiding most of your life. The fact that these hidden elements were banished before you were aware of what you were doing, makes the process even harder.
It’s difficult to catch the shadow in action because it functions from the unconscious, but you can find clues. Shadow contents often manifest through the body, either in your attitude to it, or in psychosomatic illnesses. The body is often the first casualty of the ego’s quest for security. When the mind begins to transcend the body, it can lead to a split if the process goes wrong. The ego fears the body because it can’t control it completely. The body is unreliable, it ages and dies, and the ego wants to live forever. So your shadow may contain judgements against bodily functions or parts of the body that make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.
You can also see the shadow in your interactions with others or the environment because it works through projection. Certain people or situations may trigger reactions in you that you can’t control or understand. Particular subjects may be ‘hot topics’ that hit your buttons and set you off.
If you’re struggling to imagine this, spend five minutes on any social network, or read the comments on YouTube, and you’ll be eyeball deep in projection before you know it.
When you project, the feelings and qualities that have been denied are still part of you and continue to function, but you don’t recognise them as belonging to you. These disowned qualities can’t be used because you think they’re not yours. By projecting onto others you’re handing part of yourself, part of your life, over to them. You give them your power and so become a victim of your own shadow. You’re then trapped by denial into living less of a life. You’re no longer in control over that part of your life and it will come back to bite you.
For example, you may think you never get angry. Anger is bad and you never allow yourself to feel it. But everyone else will seem to get angry with you, arguments explode in your face while you, an innocent bystander, are perplexed by the whole thing. You may have relationships with people who have ‘anger management issues’, or become the victim of verbal or physical assaults. You may suffer from health complaints characterised by stress, heat and inflammation, such as headaches, stomach ulcers or high blood pressure.
Or you may think you’re not creative. You could never paint or write a book, and you’re tone deaf. You’re sensible and rational. Artistic types baffle you. They seem lost in their own world. Secretly you suspect they’re not to be trusted, probably up to no good. You’re happy to plod down your narrow but well-worn path, and it never occurs to you that there may be more to life than what you can see and touch.
How can you tell if you’re projecting something?
If you over-react to a person or situation, either negatively or positively, you are projecting. You wouldn’t react so strongly if the feeling or quality causing the reaction wasn’t also part of yourself.
“Projection on the Ego Level is very easily identified: if a person or thing in the environment informs us, we probably aren’t projecting; on the other hand, if it affects us, chances are that we are a victim or our own projections.” – Ken Wilber
This applies the other way too. If someone reacts strongly to you, then they’re projecting. But don’t feel too smug. If you react in turn, it means their projection has triggered one of yours. The projection wouldn’t stick if you didn’t have a hook on which to hang it. Again, visit Twitter to get your fill of these self-hating spirals in action.
To heal the split in your psyche and become whole you need to take back your projections. First you need to recognise that you’re projecting something and take responsibility for it. This means getting back in touch with the feelings or qualities involved and really feeling them instead of running away. For example, by allowing yourself to feel anger without judgement, you can learn to accept that you’re doing this to yourself, that the feeling belongs to you.
When you get back in touch with the repressed feelings and qualities, you don’t necessarily have to act them out. It depends what they are. Just because you feel like killing someone doesn’t mean you should! But you don’t deal with that murderous rage by denying it. You don’t deny that you feel it. The more you fight a feeling the worse it gets. This process is about being aware of what you feel and who you are, without judgement or denial. It’s only when you deny the reality of who you are that you’re prone to acting it out or end up becoming its victim.
The shadow controls you from the unconscious. Once it’s brought into the light of conscious awareness it loses its power. It no longer has a hold over you and you have a more inclusive sense of self. You’ve made a little bit more of the unconscious conscious.
This process of self-acceptance and inclusion can take years. There may be many layers to uncover, lots of pockets of darkness to illuminate. It’s a gradual process of increasing self-awareness which allows you to become whole. And as each part of the shadow is restored to consciousness, you’ll have more energy, which you can plough back in to release yet more hidden gifts.
Back to the examples. If you’re sick of being used as a punch bag and tired of being shouted at, you might begin to admit that sometimes you feel quite cross. In fact, you’re livid! Finally, you take your anger and use it to stand up for yourself and discover a self-respect and strength you never knew you had.
Or your predictable world implodes into meaninglessness when you come up against a problem you can’t solve using the tried and tested tools you already possess. You’re backed into a corner and forced to start thinking creatively to imagine alternative solutions. Finally, you risk stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new and realise you’ve never felt more alive.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” – Gospel of Thomas
One final thought for those on the spiritual path: If you think you can outrun your shadow or obliterate it completely, think again.
The more light you have, the darker the shadow you cast.
Sometimes you see too far and too deep, and what you find is too horrifying to contemplate. We’ll look at this later when we confront the reality of the Predator. But first we explore what happens when we begin to transcend the ego in: Spiritual Crisis
Read the whole series here: Evolution of Consciousness