What is the inner shadow?
“It contains all the parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide or deny, the parts we believe are not acceptable to our family, friends, and, most importantly, ourselves. It is made up of everything that annoys, horrifies, or disgusts us about other people or about ourselves. It holds all that we try to hide from those we love and all that we don’t want other people to think about us or find out about us. As the great Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung says, our shadow is the person we would rather not be.” Debbie Ford
What I think is important to mention is that our inner shadow is largely unknown to most of us, so unknown in fact that most of us have no idea at all that it exists. It represents those parts of us that lie outside our awareness, and our egos keep it that way. It takes efforts to make the unknown known, and once awareness is brought there, we can start working with our shadows to become a more whole, balanced, and integrated human being, and that means in simple terms; our authentic beauty and light as humans can shine.
– being a mum had been feeling like a chore
– being an unschooling mum had been feeling even more like a chore
I found myself struggling to find ideas for my kids when I really felt like lying in the sun with a good book. I felt resentment that even though children are to return back to their respective schools soon, that mine wouldn’t be!
I thought to myself “Who have I become? Who was I before I was a mum? Why does it feel like the roles of being a mum, partner, homeschooling facilitator, and blogger are not happily co-existing with also just being ME?”
Let me introduce you to Caroline age 30.
I am Caroline. I am 30 years old. I work in a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. I have my own apartment looking out at the beautiful vistas of Lake Geneva.
I have met a really cool guy called Joël. He is mysterious yet down to earth, shy yet quietly content in his own skin. And a French accent to die for!
I meet friends when I feel like it, stay home when I feel like it, and go for coffees with a good book often.
I love my life.
I am beautiful.
I am confident.
I am sexy.
I am free.
I am worthy.
I am independent.
I am fearless.
Fast forward 10 years to the present day….. sometimes I am not sure if I know that lady anymore, but she sure sounds like fun!
I certainly struggle to own those parts of me that felt so abundantly mine all those years ago. Since becoming a mum I have, at times, been feeling:
What has changed in the 7 years I have been a mum? It has been said that having children teaches us a lot about ourselves. No shit Sherlock!!!
Dr. Shefali (an Indian psychologist) puts it beautifully when she says
“Sometimes our children awaken us to our tardiness, other times to our obsessions, yet others to our anxieties, our need for perfection, our desire for control, our inability to say “yes” or our inability to say “no,” our power issues, our dependency issues, our marital troubles, our addictions. Most often they teach us how unable we are to be still. How to engage with full-on presence. How to be open. Spontaneous. Playful. Intuitive. Authentic. The list is endless. It is in how they act and react to us and then, how we act and react to them, that we are able to see our unconscious at play.
Let us stop imagining that parenting is about the raising of our children. Let’s get real and begin acting like a true parent and begin raising ourselves.”
Could those negative traits have been hidden from my awareness, but were in fact always there, waiting for an incident, a situation, a person, or having children to bring them to the fore? Have my children awoken my feelings of inadequacy, fear, aging, unsexiness, and dependency? And then, what do I do with this new awareness? Do I get rid of my kids so I can go back to finding the formerly listed traits that I embraced and liked about myself? Or do I go through the muddy puddles of the so-called negative traits, deciphering where they may have come from, embracing them, accepting them, and creating some new interpretations of them?
I have been reading a book called The Dark Side of the Shadow Chasers, and in it, the author Debbie Ford details many exercises that can help with owning parts of ourselves we have hidden away. She states that:
“the greatest act of courage is to be and to own all of who you are – without apology, without excuses, without masks to cover the truth of who you are.”
I have been thinking about that statement a lot, and wondered…
- What if being MORE you meant you became LESS likable or popular to others?
- What if embracing all those aspects of yourself that you don’t like, meant your social behaviour would change, and your friends may feel like they don’t know who you are anymore?
- What if you spoke with ultimate honesty, all the time, owning each word you say, with integrity, even if it makes you unpopular?
- My confidence, sexiness, worthiness must still be there, but what if it has felt unacceptable to embrace those aspects of myself in whatever mothering community I was part of?
- What if being more me meant I was less likable to my family members, my partner, or my children?
- What about ditching the f **king mask?!
She discusses one helpful way to reveal what are our hidden aspects in the following exercise.
Follow along, its fun in a vexatious kind of way!
Take a page. Write down the name of someone you know.
Draw a line down the middle of the page and on one side write all the things you like about this person on the left, and that you don’t like on the right.
Now write before each item on the left column…I love myself when…..
And before each item on the right column: I don’t like myself when….
This is a simple way to identify that what you see in another person is really about you.
People in our lives can be catalysts for us to find our own beauty and light. Do we give away our power by projecting onto others all the positive aspects that we are not connected to? Likewise, do we emotionally plug into others the negative aspects of ourselves that we have disowned at some point in our lives because we felt like we needed to in order to be accepted?
So here’s my exercise completed, I changed the person’s name for obvious reasons.
So I guess it goes like this…..
I love myself when…. I am kind
I love myself when …. I am caring
I love myself when…. I am confident
I love myself when…. I am intelligent
I love myself when…. I am open-minded
I love myself when ….I see the big picture
I love myself when….. I don’t care what others think
I will admit, when I did this, I felt a little teary-eyed. Wow, am I begrudging my own innate power by projecting my own positive traits onto someone else? Am I ready to own my own kindness, my own confidence again as I once did pre-motherhood? Am I ready to care less about what others think?
And the negatives….
I don’t like myself when…. I am judgemental
I don’t like myself when…. I am self-righteous
I don’t like myself when…. I am obsessive
I don’t like myself when…. I am lazy
I don’t like myself when…. I am intense
I don’t like myself when…. I expect too much
Am I ready to accept that I am lazy and that this is okay, that I am judgemental and that this is also okay?
In doing this exercise, it has definitely become clear that I project my greatness, my power on other people that I am inspired by. It brings to my mind all the blogs I follow, the Instagram women of power, and the Ted talkers!
A second exercise looks at our core beliefs, where they come from, then devising new interpretations for them. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the core beliefs that are running my life?
- Is this really my own idea, or did I adopt it?
- Why do I have this belief?
- Does this belief empower me?
- What would I have to give up to alter this belief?
In my case……
- What are the core beliefs that are running my life? I am not good enough.
- Is this really my own idea, or did I adopt it? I adopted it from others.
- Why do I have this belief? Because I believed what teachers etc said was true.
- Does this belief empower me? Not at all!
- What would I have to give up to alter this belief? I would have to give up the idea that this is the absolute truth.
Then write a short letter to each belief, thanking it for serving me.
Now invent a new belief to replace the old ones. Make a verbal commitment to honor this new belief.
🦋 “I am good just as I am, by being my true authentic self.” 🦋
This serves as a new positive affirmation to be repeated as much as possible. Stick it everywhere; on your bathroom mirror, on your fridge, etc!
So the last exercise (and the most fun) has been to ask my friends and family for 3 of my positive traits and 3 of my negative traits. It proved difficult for many of them, and for those that did, there were lots of little sweet bracketed messages after the negative traits such as (oh but everyone is this) ! Many just sent the positives but not the negatives!
This is the definitive list.
Endearing, Kind, Caring, Someone of integrity, Compassionate, Honest, Brave, Friendly, Positive, Creative, Earthy, Kind, Gentle, Connected, Can laugh at /with myself, Open-minded, Good listener
Too hasty, Judgemental, Naive, Obsessive, Self-deprecating, Catastrophiser, Worrier, Self-righteous, Entitled, Over-thinker, Highly-sensitive
According to Debbie Ford
“we need to learn how to live in the full range of human capacity, and not feel bad about doing it. We must embrace the dark in order to embrace the light”.
For sure some of these negative traits bug me about myself…. (like they did in exercise 1!) I don’t like that I worry too much, that I can be self-righteous and obsessive. However, it is the positive traits that I find harder to accept about myself and is an interesting discovery.
Am I brave? I feel so fearful most of the time.
Am I creative? I feel like I struggle with my own creative side, or when I am creative I downplay how great my idea/creation has been.
It reminds me of the following quote by Sarah Taylor.
“The racism that slips from the mouth of the quietest man. The rage that spills into the fists of a woman who never knew how to say, no, The standing back at the work of art you just created—words, pictures, sounds, and unconsciously scrawled YAWP!—and saying to yourself, “Did I just do that? Where the f*ck did that come from?”…The Shadow could feel ugly and abhorrent, or it could feel beautiful.”
I was born with a healthy emotional system. I loved and accepted myself at birth, and didn’t judge which sides of myself were good or bad. But then I started to learn from the world, like the rest of us. I learned how to act, what behaviours brought me acceptance and love, and what ones brought me rejection and disapproval.
But it takes all parts to make a whole person, the whole spectrum of emotions and traits? Deepak Chopra says
“Each of us possesses every existing human quality. There is nothing we can see or conceive that we are not, and the purpose of our journey is to restore ourselves to this wholeness.”
This is Caroline, 10 years later, aged 40.
Would I like to be MORE me? Hell, yes. I guess this means I have got to learn how to give all of ME permission to exist. And who knows, maybe it could make me more likable and popular in the end!
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