The shadow self in Jungian psychology is a part of us in the unconscious mind that our conscious ego does not recognise or want to acknowledge exists. Just as when the sun shines we all cast a shadow we all have a shadow self within us. Especially people who spend a huge amount of energy trying to convince themselves and others they have not. I know this because I was one of those people.
Happiness is not something to achieve
In our materialistic society obsessed with celebrity culture and the shiny surface appearance of a ‘perfect’ life there isn’t much room for shadow. As we strive for success on a never-ending conveyer belt of gaining more and more stuff we have no time to listen to the parts of us crying for our attention in the shadows. I spent many years on the corporate treadmill trying to find fulfilment. Working hard to achieve happiness because I had been taught that ‘productivity’ and ‘deliverables’ were the way to do that.
But what I learnt was you can’t ‘achieve’ happiness, it is not another thing to gain through hard work. Happiness is a state of mind, a still place within your heart you can choose to connect with at any time. It can be found in the scent of a flower, listening to beautiful bird song, the smile of a friend and many other small but significant moments of life. You may be surprised to hear it was my shadow that eventually taught me this truth. But this was after everything had happened and I realised I wouldn’t have learnt this without going through the experiences I did.
When the perfectionist takes control
I did not recognise the voice I would hear all the time was that of the perfectionist part in me. If you can just deliver this project on time, gain that promotion or get that bonus you will be happy and you will be successful.
This part likes to get things ‘right’ whilst being very concerned about what others think of her. She was in the drivers seat and not about to let anyone else try and give directions because her ego was to big for that and she could do it all herself! She didn’t have time for the shadow.
Of course my heart had been trying to talk to me for years through feelings but the perfectionist part wasn’t interested in feelings. She was on a mission and nothing was going to get in her way. She was going to achieve goals and attain success at any cost. (She had been very well conditioned you see).
So on and on I went pushing myself harder and harder ignoring what my heart was telling me and sinking deeper into depression. I would like to say one day I woke up and finally decided to listen to the kind guidance and wisdom of my heart but that’s not the way it happened.
The shadow as saviour
In the end my shadow stepped in and I had a breakdown. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time it was saving me from myself. I want to make the important point here that I’m not saying the corporation caused my breakdown. It was ignoring my heart that did it. I do have a lot to say about the way many corporations are currently operating, how they treat people and the need for them to evolve to support a life sustaining society but that’s for another time.
Some people enjoy the left brained corporate culture and the ‘safety’ of the structured life it provides but as a creative person and a deep thinker I had to finally accept I was not one of them. In the end the true values in my heart where stronger than my mental conditioning and I could not continue putting my energy into something I didn’t believe in. I finally met my shadow when I had fallen into it and there was nowhere to hide any more. In that shadow place I discovered parts of me that were holding onto a lot of unprocessed emotions from the various challenging life experiences I’d had. It was their feelings of unhappiness, anxiety and fear I had been running away from for so long. There was also that core creative part of me that was desperate to escape what she saw as a prison in that structured left brained environment.
Shadow as a source of wisdom and healing
As my heart opened to the truth of my feelings there was lots of pain and many tears but when those had been shed the grey fog of depression lifted and the world began to look brighter than it had for a long time. I had a new understanding and respect for my shadow that had protected me from all these difficult emotions for such a long time. I learnt that rather than turning away from it and denying its existence I needed to embrace my shadow with love and compassion and in doing so I opened a door to greater self-knowledge, wisdom and healing.
© Amy Branton
Amy Branton runs Free Heart EFT a heart centred therapy practice covering Brighton & Hove, Worthing, Lewes, Shoreham-By-Sea and Lancing dedicated to helping people bring positive change to their lives by improving their emotional, physical and spiritual health and wellbeing using EFT and Matrix Reimprinting.