Shadows are a slippery aspect of human make-up. At times, we hear their whisper from the background. Other times, they bellow in the foreground. When the shadow side gets triggered we’ll know it through heavy emotions, bodily felt sensations and self-talk we experience. The trick is to recognize what’s occurring and the source. When we attribute the cause to another person and respond in a negative way, be assured: The cause resides within us, not them. Understand this isn’t about condoning true detrimental behavior on the part of someone else. It’s about separating out what’s ours and what’s theirs in order to heal.
Shadows are the parts of us that we’ve disowned and repressed because we don’t like to experience them and what they bring up. Some examples would be: a part that has the need to control, or is critical, or feels like a victim. The source has to do with unconscious limiting beliefs, most often developed early in life. It’s possible to turn these around.
There are also shadow parts that may be underdeveloped in other ways. For instance, there may be a part that aspires to something like creative expression or leaving the “day job” to move into “lifework that matters.” But to date, the aspiration remains fallow, and we focus instead on all manner of rationale not to take even the first step.
Shadow sides usually manifest through relationships, whether with an individual or group. There is a mutual attraction that fulfills a need somehow. Like attracts like in an often, strange convoluted reciprocity. Here’s what I tell folks I work with…
If there’s no investment, there’s no effect.
This is what I mean by that statement: If we’ve transformed those parts of us that need healing, then someone else’s behavior is no longer a negative mirror. We don’t project onto them what we need to attend within ourselves. We know we’ve moved on when we can be in their presence without responding as we previously did. We notice the behavior, but it has no effect on us, other than awareness. We can go on about our business without getting triggered and responding in the old way.
In healthy relationships, people support each other in positive ways. Support does not mean taking over a role for the other one. It means encouraging and teaching each other through role modeling or, if asked, directly rather than just assuming control when there are no agreements. It means allowing each other to stumble, to see the positive intention behind the behavior, and have empathy. It means being unconditional with each other, even when it’s difficult and where to go from there is yet unknown. If we hold a space toward opening, all benefit.
We’re all in this together. The outcome begins with each one of us. Look at your own life. Explore the dynamics of your relationships. If your shadow side gets triggered in some way then ask these questions of yourself.
- What do I want from that other person that I need to develop in myself?
- What do I dislike in the other person that I’ve disowned in myself?
- What messages from that other person trigger a negative response within me?
Truthful answers to these questions are markers of progress on your own spiritual development, fodder for the deeper journey and healthy relationships that come as a result.
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