Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung was the first to coin the term “Shadow Self” (to an extent, synonymous with Freud’s “id”): the ugly part of our being that we don’t wish to publicly own, leading us to suppress it and therefore project its qualities onto other people instead. There’s no denying that the people you hate the most are people who, ironically, share similar qualities to the ones that you dislike in yourself.
Perhaps you’re someone who interrupts people often yet despises being interrupted yourself. Or you’re an introvert who dislikes extroverted people because of their ease with expressing parts of themselves you find uncomfortable to express. Or maybe you’re a critical mother who treats her children with a lack of respect, yet finds herself shocked when her children talk back to and criticize her on a consistent basis.
Love Your Shadow: How to Use Your Darker Qualities to Help You Shine Bright
Every person has a dark side. What defines a person with good character is not a spotless life of constant kindness, smiles and even temperament — but a willingness to see in themselves their deepest and wildest selves, lust, greed, jealousy and envy. Their complete and authentic self.
– Shannon Alder
What do we usually do when people bring this side of ourselves to light? Defend. Deny. Forever try to hold back whatever bad quality was brought up about us out of a fear someone might bring it back up again.
But what if we just submitted to and accepted these warts, blemishing our otherwise miraculous make-up? What if we switched perspective, seeing these flawed aspects not as diminishing but enhancing? What if they existed for the sole intention of making us… complete?
When we submerge these parts of ourselves, they only show up in other areas of our lives. They show up in stubbed toes and poisonous relationships. In rejection letters and arguments with your partner.
Only when you are willing to accept and forgive your darkness will it be able to heal and transform into deep light.
There’s a story in your scars
The logic of this is backed by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi: when an object breaks (be it a bowl, mug, or vase), rather than super-glue it back together or throw it away, the Japanese instead mend the object by filling its cracks with lacquered gold. As opposed to hiding the flaws with an invisible glue, the practice instead chooses to highlight them – emphasising that the damage done to the object only makes it richer in experience and therefore more valuable and beautiful.
What if we could look at our shadow selves this way?
What if we could see that the parts we want to deny and cover up are actually our strengths, because they highlight the richness of our own experience?
Loving your full self
Your cynicism highlights that you have had it tough in life. Your jealousy highlights that you have been hurt before. Your anxiety highlights that you have been belittled by someone you cared about. These are not traits to be hated or hidden; they are traits to be nursed and forgiven.
Acknowledging these (as society would perceive) uglier aspects is not about operating from them either, but rather about honoring where they come from while consciously choosing to act from a place of light anyway.
Cue the Harry Potter quote…
We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.
— Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Or perhaps a lesser known one from Haemin Sunim’s The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down:
No one is inherently good or bad. Only the circumstance in which we encounter each other is good or bad. A criminal who happens to stop a car from running over me is an angel sent by God. A Nobel Peace prize winner who happens to bump into me on the subway is a jerk.
— Haemin Sunim
I would greatly suggest further research into Shadow Work, because I believe it can heal your life. We would all be lying if we said we were entirely positive people from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes. We all have bitterness, envy and rage inside of us, and the goal is not to ignore them but instead to notice and forgive them so vividly that their stigma disappears on its own.
Channel your darkness into light
Years ago I was almost excluded from secondary school, with the main reason being that I was too “opinionated” towards teachers. Yet when I started to use my opinion in class debates and as inquisitiveness to ace essays and exams, the school suddenly started to value this trait in me. The shadow is never the problem; the problem or lack thereof is the outlet you give the shadow.
This planet has homed the darkest of despairs, tragedies, losses, isolations, heartaches and griefs – and from these damp, cold, pitch-black caves have emerged some of the most triumphantly beautiful pieces of art the planet has seen. These artists chose to give their pain a positive outlet, which made us all the more enlightened for years to come.
Next time you watch a super-hero movie, try this: empathize with the villain. Notice that the villain has every capability of using his or her powers for the betterment of the world if they choose to. Notice that they have been misled; that they became corrupted because once upon a time, someone made them feel powerless, and they never wanted to feel that way again. That regardless of the way they choose to use their power, there is no denying that their power is great.
The shadow itself is never the problem, but rather the outlet you choose to give it.