"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."
The shadow concept has its roots in the work of Sigmund Freud, later developed and enhanced by Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. In 1912, Jung used the term “shadow side of the psyche” to describe the hidden side of the human psyche—energy patterns or sub-personalities that emerged as a consequence of fragmented, incomplete or arrested development in critical and pivotal stages of early childhood and adolescence. It includes “not recognized desires” as well as “repressed portions of the personality.”
Representing the personal unconscious, the shadow aspect of an individual’s self-system is the psychological material that is repressed, denied, disassociated or disowned. The shadow is an aggregate of myths, messages, and beliefs that keep us separated from our sense of wholeness and innate worth. Robert Bly calls this a “long bag we drag behind us.” If it remains hidden it can become the source of painful neurotic symptoms, obsessions, phobias, and anxieties.
When we are triggered by something we see or hear, we can quickly find ourselves in judgment. What we think, say, and do as a means of coping with a challenging situation arises from a compelling need to protect ourselves, to be right, to save face, to not feel diminished. Yet, the problem is not in the situation (the trigger). The problem is that our shadow is running the show and creating a way of relating that projects the problem and the source of our discomfort onto someone or something “out there.” As we say in the Q Effect, the shadow is “who you are not.” It is our sense of unworthiness, inadequacy, powerlessness or the feeling that we are not good enough, etc., that eclipses our wholeness and well-being. Only after one has become aware of the shadow material that has been activated and negotiated through to the other side of it, can one clearly see what’s present and authentically interact with it.
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all accounts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
In early childhood at some precognitive level, we all experienced moments when we didn’t get the love and protection we needed to manage developmental stresses. Without the mental capability to view ourselves and our experience in a reflective context, we cannot help but personalize the pain of not having our needs met. It is at this time we are learning about our place in the world, how we fit in, whether we are safe and wanted, and feel “felt,” seen, or loved. Moments that came up short get internalized into beliefs about ourselves and the world such as: I am not loveable and I am not safe. Unfortunately almost no one escapes childhood without a long bag of some kind that may take years to become heavy enough to warrant unpacking.
Becoming aware of the dark places within can be quite painful. As part of our default operating system falls apart we can experience a sense of temporary depression or confusion. Jung likened the process of integrating the shadow to alchemy and discussed the importance of the time in the process when all seems black. But Jung was convinced one could not get stuck in the darkness because any “genuine insight into shadow” would also evoke “the Self, or the creative center.” This brings forth the changes necessary for more of the real Self or personality to come forward.
The Q Process™ gently and effectively exposes the default operating system and brings the shadow into the light. Bringing awareness to the myths, messages, and beliefs that comprise the shadow enables us to clearly see the relationship between our activated shadow and our experience of life.
Bringing the shadow into the light begins with bringing compassion and gratitude to those aspects of ourselves that were disowned and repressed. It begins with acknowledging that we have had difficult experiences, but the myths, messages, and beliefs that got created are not the truth of us. We may have the belief, "I am unworthy," but we are not the belief. Getting some distance from the shadow aspects of ourselves is an important step in healing. It allows us to place our focus on our Self while at the same time not shrinking from the shadow we have discovered.