When we keep our shadow hidden, it runs the risk of controlling us.
In this complicated life we lead, there are aspects of ourselves we don’t feel able to meet. Often it’s because society does not make space for them, or because we don’t have the tools to sit with the discomfort of difficult emotions. It could be shame, guilt, anger, or grief. According to Robert A. Masters, it could also be our inner child, our inner saboteur, or our resistance.
Masters, a therapist and psychospiritual guide, offers a path to working with your shadow in his new book Bringing your Shadow out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the HIdden Forces that Drive you. “Our shadow,” he writes, “is our internal storehouse for anything in us we’ve disowned or rejected, or are otherwise keeping in the dark.” When we keep our shadow hidden, it runs the risk of controlling us through a number of different ways.
You might recognize your shadow is showing up when you become hyper-reactive, aggressive, emotionally numb, or self-sabotaging. Masters suggests that you bring a healthy dose of compassion when you begin to become aware of your shadow, especially when you start to feel shame around it. Rather than pushing your anger, grief, or shame back down into the dark, give “it both a caring and curious eye,” writes Masters, “allow yourself to go into the bare feeling of this trigger and to stay with the feeling.” Notice the texture and intensity of any bodily sensations when you are triggered.
He then invites going back into your own history with this aspect of your shadow, both your own and that of people who were meaningful in your life. We learn so much growing up about what is and is not appropriate and safe to express. These three steps are the foundation of Masters’ shadow work. Having the courage to become aware of and recognize your shadow, be present and witness what it contains, and then explore your formative experiences with it will lay the groundwork for a deeper level of exploration:
- Giving your shadow a voice and action. Masters’ insists that since we are probably already unconsciously expressing from our shadow side - he offers the example of being repressed in your anger, and lashing out in an extreme way at someone- we can explore that aspect of ourselves by uncovering what it has to teach us. We can talk and act as if we were our shadow self. “We’re deliberately giving a face to the previously faceless and a voice and emotional expression to the previously muted.”
- Speak to our shadow. After fully experiencing and bringing understanding by inhabiting our shadow side, we can bring our awareness back, allowing for some perspective. “By doing so, we break our identification with it in order to stand apart from it.” Masters offers that “the practice can be given more depth and immediacy if we personify the element to which we’re speaking.” We may choose to speak to the angry part of us that was the age we were when we first started pushing it down.
Shadow work is messy business. Masters contends that it “isn’t some clean-cut, antiseptic, or merely intellectual undertaking, but rather an inherently messy undertaking. The dirt can’t be avoided, nor should it be. IN fact it needs to be appreciated and known without gloves, or else it won’t become fitting soil for our emergence.”