What does it mean when we talk about our shadow self or our shadow side? First of all, we ALL have one. Everyone has a dark side, a side of us where the hurt lives. A part of us that was wounded and still carries those wounds. Sometimes the amount of pain we feel inside can be overwhelming. So overwhelming that we actually don’t feel it – we numb out, we avoid, we distract. Because it’s too much. We aren’t meant to feel all of our pain at once, it is meant to be uncovered and healed with time. With safe spaces and supportive environments. Have you ever noticed that once you enter into a committed and safe relationship, your pain starts showing up in ways you hadn’t experienced or been aware of before? Our bodies know when we are supported in some way and send us signals that it is time to unload some of what we have been carrying. Most of us have a hard time feeling the deeper parts of our pain until we feel some sense of safety. Sometimes, however, things can bubble over or we are triggered and the core wounds reveal themselves. They offer us a little glimpse of what is really there inside us…if we get curious enough to pay attention.
Giving our inner selves this kind of attention isn’t easy, because it is not promoted in the dominant male narrative aka Patriarchy. We were taught to shut it down, to avoid our feelings and to keep driving ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Being in a state of perpetual exhaustion works simultaneously with avoiding our inner selves. We can’t do the work when we are too tired. Being over-burdened and under-appreciated is the state in which Patriarchy operates. Women suffer. Men suffer. People are depressed and anxious and desperately trying to find some sense of meaning through the newest, next “thing”. The better house, the more luxurious car, the expensive sporting equipment they won’t use, the new pair of jeans they don’t really need. Only to find it is never enough, it somehow never quite feels like enough.
That shadow part of you is still lonely. That loneliness still feels too unbearable without that next thing or next project. When I feel down, or even when I feel happy, I like to shop for clothes. That’s my “vice” you could call it. It’s my way to avoid staying with that loneliness or that feeling of “not good enough”. Do I think I should cut shopping out of my life altogether? No…another piece of the truth is that I love fashion and I see it as a way of outwardly expressing Myself and my style says something about who I am. But what I wear doesn’t say everything about who I am, not even close. So – yes, shopping is my security blanket, my loneliness or “not-good-enoughness” antidote. I have to be aware of that. I also have to carry compassion for Myself and allow Myself something that does bring me joy. There is a balance somewhere, and I don’t have it all figured out yet.
What can I do to Love my Shadow Self a little more? That part of me that is a scared little girl? That part of me that does feel lonely, that craves feeling seen and validated, who is scared of being abandoned, who is worried She didn’t do enough or do it right. That little one inside who longs for true acceptance. That shadow Self who yearns to feel Loved, whole-heartedly for who She is. I can sit with Myself, BE WITH those parts of me. Not abandon Myself and my needs. Ask Myself what I truly need to strengthen my Life Force. My needs can change daily, even hourly. That is normal and totally okay. If I know what I need and can communicate it with respect and integrity, that IS Self Love. Wether or not someone else can meet those needs is for them to decide. It doesn’t actually have much to do with me (or say anything about my worthiness of having those needs met). When we Love someone, however, we do try and meet each others needs if and when we are able to.
How can I learn to start meeting some of my own needs? It’s a continual learning, and I won’t get it right every time. But getting it right isn’t exactly the point. The point is the time spent with my Shadow Self is never wasted time. The point is I try my best. And that’s enough. Totally and completely enough.