Me and my shadow...
Like it or not, we all have a part of ourselves that we try and suppress because it is often in conflict with our public facing image.
It was Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychotherapy and a friend of Freud, who developed the idea of a ‘shadow’ self, using it alongside ‘persona’ – derived from Latin for theatrical mask. Our shadow self is more popularly thought of as our dark side, where our most primitive, negative, socially or religiously unacceptable emotions and impulses live, like lust, greed, envy and anger. Our persona is our ‘light’ side, the person we prefer others to see, and to see ourselves.
Our shadow self often comes out to play in times of fear and anger, usually when we're feeling insecure and not in control. For example, you may find yourself irrationally angry with someone you think has wronged you, making a mountain out of a molehill. Because that’s what we do. If we can’t acknowledge or accept our shadow, we project it onto others. If you find yourself irritated or disgusted by someone’s behaviour, it may well be because you’re afraid of seeing the same behaviour in yourself.
Very few people get to see our shadow. Most get to see our persona – the view we prefer to present to the world. Loving partner, devoted parent, perfect child, good friend, diligent employee. All true aspects of ourselves but not the full picture.
All the time we suppress and project our shadow, it gets stronger, it becomes destructive. You may become depressed, turn your anger on yourself or destroy relationships. And, it’s exhausting trying to push down part of yourself, and keep it hidden.
Through counselling we can get to know our shadow, learn to accept it as part of who we are and integrate it into a ‘whole you’. It’s only by accepting all aspects of ourselves that we can develop healthy self-esteem. It’s ok to be angry; it’s not ok to lash out verbally or physically. It’s ok to be jealous; it’s not ok to be eaten up with envy. It’s ok to be afraid; it’s not ok to let fear make you selfish or hold back from happiness.
When you find yourself reacting strongly to other people’s personalities or behaviour, ask yourself why. The answer won’t always be obvious; it may well be deep inside your unconscious, an aspect of your shadow self.
To quote Shakespeare, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine“.
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About Diane Hassall-Mead
Diane Hassall-Mead is an integrative counsellor, based in Surrey. Her approach is flexible and focuses on individuals as a whole. She works with a wide range of issues, including low self-esteem, bereavement, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, stress and trauma. As well as seeing clients privately, she is a volunteer counsellor for Mind.