I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
Children run from them, chase them, play hide and go seek with them, and project images onto walls to make art with them. A shadow has shape, color, texture, and mass; it is tangible. To a child, a shadow is a cherished friend.
By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have been conditioned to fear the shadow side of life. Because the shadow represents our unacknowledged traits and unknown characteristics, we refer to it as our dark side. Fearing what we may encounter if we step into our darkness…our unknown, unclaimed self, many of us prefer to avoid it. It scares us because we think of it as something separate and apart from us.
Instead of playing hide and go seek like we did as children, we hide from our shadow and it hides from us. But when you find the courage to look for it, to stare it in the face, and step deep into its darkness, you can discover buried treasure. Your shadow holds within it your untapped potential.
Jaime was one of the most gifted students in art school. When she asked her instructor what he thought of her chances to successfully patent a design she created he laughed, told her he thought she had no chance what so ever to have it patented, and then criticized her work. She was crushed, became discouraged, and began to doubt her abilities. She buried her dream, relegating her artistic aspirations to her shadow.
Carlos grew up with parents who were perfectionists. Every time he made a mistake or failed to accomplish something the first time he tried it, he was made to feel inadequate and stupid. He remembers his father ridiculing him for being unable to read in pre-school, and punishing him when he was 5 years old for not being able to ride his bike without training wheels. As an adult, he couldn’t admit to making mistakes or to not knowing everything. What he couldn’t do well and what he didn’t know were relegated to his shadow, becoming roadblocks to forming and sustaining good relationships and to advancing his career.
The traits that you learn to regard as bad, shameful, or wrong move into your shadow space where you lose touch with those parts of your self. Embracing your shadow helps you see yourself more clearly. Instead of feeling ashamed you feel compassionate, instead of feeling embarrassed you feel courageous, instead of feeling limited you experience freedom. Embracing your shadow allows you to be whole, to be real, to be powerful, to express your passion, and to make your dreams reality.
Facing her shadow helped Jaime realize that hiding the best in her self to keep from being attacked was self-defeating; she was then able to resume her art with greater confidence. Facing his shadow helped Carlos see that hiding behind a mask of perfection was a handicap not an asset; he was then better able to accept his limitations and take suggestions from others that would help him improve and grow.
Your authentic self is acceptable because you are complete, not because you are good. Don’t hide from your shadow. Shine the light of awareness on your darkness. When you label yourself as bad, wrong, inferior or unworthy, you are looking through a cloudy lens. Open your eyes and you will become aware that you are complete and whole at the deepest level. The more you are aware, the more you will accept yourself. All parts of you deserve to be seen, heard, and embraced. Every part of you holds a gift that deserves healthy expression. Bringing light to your darkness will support you in creating loving relationships, good emotional health, and achieving your potential.
The journey to wholeness requires that we take a look at the best in us and the worst in us. It invites us to stop hiding from ourselves. It allows us to know the freedom of living not a perfect life, but a transparent life.