Owning our Shadow Self: Unlocking Innovation, Creativity & Intuition
For the last couple of years I have found a fascination with psychology, neuroscience and spirituality and have always wanted to understand how to marry these concepts. I find myself immersed in exploring each topic with a deep need to find clarity in self, human behaviour and human existence. Through exploration, I discovered the concept “Shadow Self” which was originally coined by Carl Jung a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.
In conjunction with my first article where I discussed the cognitive biases that warp our perception of reality and led with deep fascination, I touch on the importance of self-awareness and internal clarity. “Know Thyself” attributes to a complete understanding of oneself, such as the “shadow self”; the darker side of our nature.
The importance of this writing is to further help myself and others embrace parts of themselves that we may fear, looking rather at the spiritual context rather than the psychological context as written about in my last article. I also hope to help others understand the positive and negative effects your shadow self may inflict on you in differing environments and situations. Place your shadow in a social environment or a professional environment and watch yourself wear multiple masks. The key is to find one, holistic mask, which reflects your true identity and does not mislead others and yourself.
“Beneath the social mask we wear everyday, we have a hidden shadow side, an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. — C. Zweig & S. Wolf
Renowned psychologist Carl Jung devoted a lot of time to this problem of the “shadow self”, being deeply invested in the research of ancient esoteric knowledge and spiritual scriptures. Jung went on to create the archetypes model, a concept where he believed our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different “selves.”
“Shadow Self”, also known as “The Persona” defines who we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world. “Persona”, a word derived from Latin origins that literally means “mask” when translated and places emphasis on the metaphorical meaning which represents all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups of people and situations. The “persona” is the lovable face we present to the world while the “shadow” is the face we hide from the world.
We all carry an idea of ourselves in our minds of who we are, what we are like and what qualities we possess. This is created through the repetition of experiences we face on a day-to-day basis and through self-reflection. “We are inextricably linked to the world around us — interconnected.” This false representation of self is a lie we feed ourselves of what we believe we are and how we believe we are perceived from the outside world.
Most of the time what we perceive to be real is a false representation of our “idea”, and yet we place enough emphasis on it to give it substance in our lives. Enough to let our “shadow self” determine our thoughts, feelings and actions. Facing your shadow can be an overwhelming task and one which may seem daunting, but by focusing on understanding your “shadow self”, it will give you a sense of understanding of self, holistically.
Within everyone is a darkness within the light. A masterpiece of light and dark. The choice of light or darkness must be made my oneself and will usually drive someone through their conscious life choices. As Margarita Tartakovsky explains “this dark side includes qualities we don’t dare reveal to others. It’s traits we are ashamed of and embarrassed about. It’s traits others have rejected. It’s the traits we believe deem us undeserving or unworthy of love. You may be judgemental, weak, angry, lazy, selfish or controlling. You may hate this about yourself. Or you might’ve buried these traits so deep you don’t even realise they exist.”
Over the last couple of years of understanding self-awareness and with the understanding of “shadow self” I have noticed a pattern where most people deny their inner self and do not truly identify with their identity. As Carl Jung once said “everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodies in the individuals conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
Although we are all different and pursue different beliefs, we all possess lightness and darkness. In a spiritual or religious context, both can correlate similarly in understanding and can be visually, physically and mentally translated. It goes without saying that we all possess the beauty of both light and dark, but not all of us embrace it. I have also realised that in most cases, people are neither right or wrong if they choose the to embrace it or not. It is a choice which neither makes you a good or a bad person.
Based on the creation of “shadow self”, which develops internally as a young child and carries on developing through teenage years, is a process where we merely create our own inner darkness through these childhood thoughts and experiences. These thoughts and experiences usually embed within our subconscious mind, resurfacing as an adult. Although many infer the shadow as ‘negative’, this is not always the case. The shadow is rather what you perceive as dark and weak about yourself, therefore needing to be hidden and denied.
Another incredible realisation I had this year is the mere fact that we usually project our darkness onto others. In simple terms, we usually find darkness in ourselves through the darkness of others and is merely a reflection of self. “We love calling out unsightly qualities in others — in fact, the entire celebrity gossip industry is built on this fundamental human tendency.”
As Jung put its, “Although our conscious minds are avoiding our own flaws, they still want to deal with them on a deeper level, so we magnify those flaws in others.” First we reject, then we project. “Our dark sides are part of who we truly are. By uncovering and embracing our shadow side, we become whole.”
Now, the question you are probably asking is how do you embrace your shadow self?
Just to clarify, the importance of embracing your shadow self is embracing the darkness within you and how you project that darkness in different environments in your life. For example, in a professional environment, it is imperative to understand how you behave consciously and subconsciously and how this may be perceived by your colleagues.
Through my experience, it is much easier said than done. However, being conscious of your shadow self and consciously wanting to embrace your shadow self is the first step in the process.
Firstly, you need to identify with the many types of shadow selves.
1. The Egotistical Monster
Root Cause: Primal fear of “not being good enough”; not existing, being nobody
Characteristics: arrogance, egocentricity, pompousness, inconsiderateness, self-indulgence, narcissism, excessive pride
2. The Neurotic Monster
Root Cause: Fear of life, others and self; desire to regain control
Characteristics: Paranoia, obsessiveness, suspiciousness finicky, demanding, masochistic, compulsive behaviour
3. The Untrustworthy Monster
Root Cause: Fear of life in general
Characteristics: Secretive, impulsive, frivolous, irresponsible, deceitful, unreliable
4. The Emotionally Unstable Monster
Root Cause: Basic feeling of being “unlovable” and powerless; reaction to unresolved emotional pain
Characteristics: moody, melodramatic, manipulative, weepy, overemotional, impulsive, changeable
5. The Controlling Monster
Root Cause: Basic mistrust of life, feelings of abandonment and “not being good enough”
Characteristics: suspicious, jealous, possessive, bossy, obsessive
6. The Cynical Monster
Root Cause: Protection against feeling too vulnerable
Characteristics: negative, overcritical, patronising, resentful, cantankerous
7. The Wrathful Monster
Root Cause: Fear of others, mistrust of life, closed heart
Characteristics: ruthless, vengeful, bitchy, quick-tempered, quarrelsome
8. The Rigid Monster
Root Cause: Fear and rejection of the unknown, chaos, and ego death
Characteristics: uptight, intolerant, obstinate, uncompromising, inflexible, narrow-minded
9. The Glib Monster
Root Cause: Distrust of life, others, and self
Characteristics: superficial, cunning, inconsistent, sly, crafty
10. The Nonchalant Monster
Root Cause: Buried grief, fear, and shame (numbness is a defence)
Characteristics: emotionally detached, distant, indifferent, uncaring, unexcited
11. The Perverted Monster
Root Cause: Repressed sexual energy, possible unresolved childhood wounds
Characteristics: sadistic, lustful, depraved, corrupt
12. The Cowardly Monster
Root Cause: Fear, disbelief in self
Characteristics: weak-willed, timid, fearful
13. The Naive Monster
Root Cause: Refusal to grow up, lack of individuated ego
Characteristics: puerile, petty, immature, illogical, simpleminded, vacuous
Once you know which one or more shadow selves you may possess, you can then determine what you need to do to embrace them. “The secret is out: all of us, no expectations, have qualities we won’t let anyone see, including ourselves — our shadow. If we face up to the dark side, our life can be energised. If not, there is the devil to pay. This is one of life’s most urgent projects. — Larry Dossey
The next part of the journey is “self-realisation” where you come to terms with who you really are and finding the beauty in yourself, rather than the flaws.
There are empowering qualities hidden in the shadow and “any creative, unique, innovative, and different qualities within us get confined within the Shadow because they’re not socially acceptable.”
As Jung once said “I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole.”
For me, I have found tranquility in the following methods of embracing my shadow self and believe that each and every one of us possess unique ways of embracing the creativity and innovation within us. We are all powerful beings, with amazing potential who seem to lack the understanding of self and the path to self-awareness. Once unlocked, however, we have the infinite ability to create and be anything we choose.
As meditation seems to be becoming a global trend and with the years I have spent learning and developing ways in which I reach within, I thought it was the most appropriate and most successful factor for me, in identifying with “shadow self.” Meditation requires a calmness that allows you to have deep introspection giving us the ability to slowly embrace parts of our identity that we have previously buried or hidden.
Writing a story where you project your shadow elements onto the characters is a great way to learn more about your inner darkness. This can be through story writing, journaling or writing an article such as this one. When diarising, it is important to write daily and for a few weeks and to write down both the good and bad emotions, thoughts and habits you have experienced. This will allow you to shine light on the already bright and darker elements of your nature.
Use the World as a Mirror (Projection Technique)
“The shadow describes the part of the psyche that an individual would rather not acknowledge.” — John Elder
“Simply put, we project the qualities of ourselves that we dislike onto others so that we don’t have to deal with them within ourselves. Projection also helps us to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves and instead helps us to make others the culprits and scapegoats for our unresolved issues. Projection is a powerful tool which will help you explore your “shadow self” when done with intent. Approach other people and the world with mindfulness and you will be able to discover who and what you project your shadow onto (and why). Not only do we project our negative traits and elements onto others but also our good traits too. Often our noblest shadow traits are projected onto the people we like, admire or fall in love with.” (Lonerwolf.com, 2019)