Me and My Shadow

Me and my shadow
The shadow in one of it guises

A recent experience reminded me of the power and potency of my shadow. I don’t mean that dark outline on the ground when a light is shining. The shadow I am referring to is the collection of behaviours, beliefs, attitudes and traits that have been hidden within.

As we grew up we learned that some behaviours, no matter how natural they were, were not socially acceptable. Children playing with their genitals quickly learn they shouldn’t. Or that they need to keep their clothes on. Temper tantrums are generally ruled out, as are many other behaviours. We learn that our life is easier when we comply with social norms. Those parts we bury as we socially comply are collectively referred to as our “dark shadow”. We also have a “light shadow”, which is where socially acceptable behaviours that we did not feel safe to display are hidden. Examples might include playfulness, innocence and creativity.

As I have become acquainted with my shadow over the years I have been shocked by some aspects and surprised, even disbelieving, of others. My shadow’s repertoire includes common themes of anger, sexuality, and power, common themes throughout society, though the specifics vary person to person. The environment we grew up in shaped our shadow. One shadow character I have become acquainted with is the Seducing Assassin. She beguiles the man in power and kills him before he gets his sexual desires met. That character embodies all the elements of power, sexuality and anger. At the other end of the scale my shadow includes the Potent Virgin, a young, vital woman committed to protecting her chastity for marriage, and is totally equal to resisting all pressures and recognising all subtleties from others wanting her to relinquish it. What? I have feminine shadow characters? Yes, or as the psychologist Jung named them, anima. And women have animus, the masculine portion of their psyche. We all have mixtures of masculine and feminine energies that comprise our shadows.

Recently I found myself in a situation that awoke me emotional to:

  • Fear and powerlessness in the face of overwhelming aggression directed at me from someone of superior physical strength;
  • Rage felt for someone who betrayed my trust and abandoned me; and
  • Helplessness when confronted with suicide attempts of a loved one.

I was very aware of my emotional responses as they arose, but it was the emergence of part of my shadow that caught me by surprise. I found myself in a political debate, something I normally avoid like the plague, and was in a thoroughly “take no prisoners” mode of debate. I was unflinching in ripping apart what I heard, and had no tolerance for anything I judged as illogical or unfounded emotional fluff. I found myself suddenly manifesting a part of myself I had long ago, 30 years ago in fact, buried and decided was not how I wanted to present myself.

Now, I recognise that part of my shadow has emerged and as an energy it has legitimacy, providing me with a greater repertoire of possible responses and approaches over the artificially restricted ones I have used. There is power in the energy; there is nothing that dictates how that energy is applied. That is choice.

This experience has reminded me that nothing of my past is lost. Everything I have ever been is still part of who I am. That is only a problem if I have a lack of acceptance for who I have been or who I am. Generally, I am okay with who I am. I am okay as me with my shadow(s).

How are you with your secret, hidden parts? Are you able to integrate the energies that emerge, as and when they do, productively into the rest of your visible psyche?

Walking the Talk

It is all well and good espousing a way of being, and suggesting there is power available as we engage with others in a love-based responsive way and not from a fear-based reactive mode but putting the philosophy into action can sometimes be really challenging. Recently I hit one of those “character building” episodes.

Hair-pulling turmoil
Hair-pulling turmoil

Having spent significant energy redesigning and redeveloping my business web site I met a series of roadblocks to going live that related to supplier misrepresentation or incompetence. One example was a hosting provider, before sign up, stating I would be able to load my site and test it prior to going live. This proved false. After signing up I loaded my site and was then told, on asking how, that I could not view the site without changing my domain pointer to the new site, effectively putting my untested site live and taking the live site on-line. Misrepresentation!

Having found a suitable hosting provider and being ready to go live I then approached my original, then current, provider and indicated the steps I wished to follow for an ordered transition. On their recommendation I decided to leave my Domain Name Server (DNS) record with them. When I cancelled my hosting account, in line with their recommended change to my approach, they destroyed my DNS record. I had no email or web site. All gone.

Within hours of losing my email and web site I flew out-of-town with my wife on a holiday to attend a wedding and had significantly reduced capacity to follow-up and pursue a solution. I found myself anxious, furious and frustrated, with bouts of powerlessness and helplessness. I work in the IT and Telecommunications industries. If I were to cause a client severe (or any) inconvenience or was negligent in any way then I would be held liable, and would be expected to resolve any issues with all expediency. Not so for a large supplier with a small client. They showed no interest in resolving the situation, and had plenty of excuses. I found my emotional turmoil magnified. It turned out that I was without a web site and email for five days. The provider updated my file to include “sorry” but there was no personal acknowledgement.

At the height of this crisis I was totally without my power, consumed and crippled with emotional turmoil, leaving me in a highly reactive, fear-based state. What to do? This was a thoroughly unhelpful and unproductive way of being. I could not positively resolve my hosting issues, and was not enjoying my holiday.
In my book “Appreciate the Fog” I write about power-based, thrive responses (Assert, Attend, Act and Authenticate) that are positive alternatives to the fear-based, survival reactions (Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fabricate). I was well and truly reactive, not really even surviving. The key question for me was “How do I reclaim my power?”

For me, in that moment, awareness that I needed to shift was key. My second aid was to share my struggle and that I wanted to reclaim my power with my wife. She listened, allowed me to vent as a way of clearing myself emotionally, and then asked, “So what can you do now?” Great coach! Within minutes I was in a place of clarity, had taken a couple of small actions that positively moved things a little and I was largely free of my turmoil. I had reclaimed my power, and I had a great weekend. Yes, I still had to wait for the Telco monster to take their steps and resolve their incompetence, but I did so in a better place than if I had remained worked up. It can be difficult walking the talk, but it is worthwhile.

Anger Management

I wouldn’t call it a great movie but the movie Anger Management‘ released in 2003, starring Adam Sander and Jack Nicholson, did highlight an aspect of anger that is often overlooked and ignored, that of inappropriately not feeling or expressing anger. I can totally relate to this.

I spent many years believing I was patient and tolerant as a person, and that I was naturally even tempered, and well in charge of my emotions. I did not get angry. I did not feel angry. I felt composed most of the time. If I did not feel composed I squashed the feeling response until I did. I grew up with little emotional response to things that occurred around me, and my judgement of myself was that this was good. As an approach it kept me safe, and I now know that is what it was all about, feeling safe. By stifling my experience and expression of emotion I was able to control my external response to people and situations. I looked calm and did not take any sudden action, or cause any ripples with those around me. In fact I had layers of protection that ensured I kept myself to myself.

I had a four-year-old part or role that ran away and hid, feeling unwanted and inadequate. I had a seven-year-old part that looked after the 4-year-old part, keeping him safe and hidden, and could be quite comforting. He was very vigilant to danger and emotionally shutdown. I could cope better as a 7-year-old if I did not show my emotions. The 11-year-old part of me was even more protective, even more emotionally shutdown, keeping both the 4 and 7 year old parts safe, with less of the caring component. At 17 I developed another role within myself that was a response to anger and physical danger. It would use anger and urgency to silence any part of me that wanted to speak out or be noticed. Anger was buried very deep within me under all these layers.

For more than 15 years I have been developing awareness of each of these roles within me, understanding the events at the time that encouraged these roles to develop, addressing the threats and fears that these various roles were created in response to, and learning to express myself more immediately and authentically, sometimes with anger. I now know that anger was a strong part of my life, but feeling unable to express it, I directed it at myself. That was damaging on many levels. Unexpressed anger is problematic and needs to be worked through so full, authentic expression is possible.