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Working on Our Shadow Selves


"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~Socrates

What Are Our Shadow Selves?

Our shadow selves are the parts of ourselves that we do not like or even despise. These are aspects that we are embarrassed or ashamed of that we have hidden and suppressed. Whether we are aware or not, these ugly parts of ourselves, if not addressed, will continue to surface in our lives. If we wish to have a vibrant life and healthier relationships, we can’t ignore them. We will eventually have to acknowledge their presence.

In society, we are often taught to brush the uncomfortable things under the rug—nobody wants to hear about our problems and issues. When someone asks how things are going, they are expecting the “everything is okay” response. They aren’t interested in hearing about our inner battles. We have learned to stay in the shallow end of the pool. Do not talk about anything deep. Do not acknowledge the elephant in the room. Pretend everything is okay and go on with our business. We have become masters of pill popping and escapism. However, we are never going to improve our lives if we run away from our issues. Numbing the pain doesn’t make it go away. The shadows will continue to remain a part of us until we see what they are trying to tell us.

Being Aware of the Mirror

Our shadow selves are often shown to us through others. As we go about our day and encounter people, we may see behaviors that we do not like or are even repulsed by. If we are being honest with ourselves, we are being given an opportunity to look at the part of ourselves that we are judging. Personally, I hate it when people are being impatient. I want to tell them to slow down; stop being in such a rush; you don’t need to hoot and holler or tap your fingernails on the counter. We need to exercise patience, not impatience. However, I decided to look at this differently and began to reflect on my own life. What I saw were several instances of when I was being impatient. Why is this computer taking so long to load? Why hasn’t that person called me by now? That task shouldn’t take that long. Why are they being so slow? I wanted to believe that I was a patient person. That I didn’t demonstrate impatient qualities. But that wasn’t the truth. I have been impatient.

The Importance of Doing the Work

If we wish to improve our lives and live the highest version of ourselves, we have to do the work. Things will never change unless we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves. As Socrates and others have said, it is important to “know thyself”. To really take a look in the mirror and examine who we really are. Who am I? What do I need to work on myself to be the best person possible? If we choose to remain in the shallow end of the pool and not reflect on things deeply, nothing will change. We will continue to get the same results. What is required is to be raise our level of awareness and start asking questions. Ignorance is not bliss. Being ignorant will keep us stuck. It will not make the problem go away. However, when we start to do the necessary work on ourselves, our relationships with ourselves and others will begin to improve. We will see others with more compassion.


Shining Light on the Shadows

In order to heal the shadow aspects of ourselves, we have to first acknowledge their presence. Ignoring them or pretending that they don’t exist will not make them go away. If we pay attention to them, we can see that they have a story to share with us. Every aspect of ourselves is performing a job and function. Instead of allowing our shadow selves to run the show on their terms, we can utilize them in a constructive manner. They can help us live our full potential. How do we find these shadow aspects of ourselves?

On a blank sheet of paper, begin to make a list of all the qualities that you do not like to see in others. Once you are done, then I want you to circle all the ones that pertain to your life. These include behaviors that you currently engage in and those from your distant past that you no longer exhibit. Then pick five shadow aspects that you feel the need to work on. I recommend approaching this exercise with compassion and forgiveness. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed of these past behaviors. Send love and light to those areas. For me, I had to forgive myself for all those times when I demonstrated ungrateful behavior. I failed to show gratitude and appreciation to others for their gifts. However, instead of beating myself up for failing to be grateful, I was being reminded by my shadow to exercise more gratitude in my life. It is vital to know that we only get what we give. If we wish to receive more, we have to be willing to give more.

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Concluding Thoughts

There’s no need to stay stuck in our story or allow ourselves to be controlled by unconscious behavior patterns. There’s a better way. Instead of ignoring or suppressing our shadow aspects, why not see them as teaching tools to improve our lives and relationships?

Your shadow selves are inviting you to write a different story.


© 2021 Terry Fatland


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 26, 2021:

Terry27, This is so true! We often think what is uncomfortable we don't want that. Interesting and well-written.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on May 25, 2021:

Very nice. Thanks.

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