Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Shadow

Recently I’ve had some interesting conversations about the nature of evil and its relationship to shadow. Out of them came the idea that evil is perhaps nothing more than the experience of fear around the manifestation of, shall we say, our darker side—the side of which we tend to ignore and, at times, even deny.
The shadow, however, doesn’t have to be something universally abhorred. Although I believe that every one of us is capable of deeds from the most profound good to the most dastardly bad, the shadow is not necessarily “evil”—it can simply be a behaviour or belief of which we are ashamed.
The thing about shadows is that the more we deny them the more they creep into our lives. Lisa Unger, a suspense novelist, goes so far as to state that the universe has a personal dislike of denial and goes out of its way to set up situations that make us face the things we would rather not acknowledge or see in ourselves.
Although I’ve exposed several of my shadows through years of reflection I doubt my personal closet of skeletons is far from empty. I have no issue with this but find it funny how I always end up surprised when the unconscious finally comes apparent. It is not so much that I cannot believe this newly revealed fact about myself, it is more of a feeling that I’ve known this part of who I am all my life. It is like having a déjà vu experience: you’ve been there, done that… you know about it already. And this is shadow’s truth: we do know about it, it is just that it is all … unconscious.  
Lately I have been faced with one of my more devious shadows through the behaviour of an aged relative. At first I didn’t realize what was happening, I just found myself getting angrier and more frustrated in my relationship with this family member. It is the nature of these beasts to be subtle. If these darker parts, for example, were to broad side us with blatant actions there would probably be an immediate turning away, a quick denial of how it holds no relationship to who we are. Sliding in with its understated persona allows it to insinuate itself into our thoughts, actions and emotions before we even know what has happened.
This current shadow, manifested by my relative, expresses itself as a certain passivity towards life.  It threw me a bit. I thought I had dealt with this side of myself—held dealt with my fears.  Living with depression for many years, I’ve experienced the extremes of passivity’s darker side. I know the urge to end it all: the seductive tease of finding peace, of not caring; not having hope or having the energy to reach out. However, I have also partook in its illuminated side and found there was plenty to celebrate. A passive life is one of reflection and of being receptive. It allows for stillness and the ability to sit and watch one’s path unfold. Passivity is also about surrender and letting go. I have worked hard on nourishing these positive aspects. I thought I was making conscious choices each day of acknowledging the darkness but still living with full participation in the evolution that is life. I guess I was wrong. The shadow, like I said, has a way of showing its face and exposing our fears, especially when we are most smug.
My aged relative has, over the past year, been sliding into the more negative form of passivity: he slowed down on his activities; ignored or downgraded the inherent joys of the day and started living under the idea that life was only going to get worse. I tried everything to get him out of it. I used well versed therapeutic techniques and, when that didn’t work, laid out the facts like a coach: I was blunt then was gentle; was angry then sad. I tried anything and everything to make him understand that he was throwing away the opportunity of life. The more I pleaded, however, the more it felt that his decision making processes had this vice grip on me that was making it more about my survival than his. I knew I had to step back.
It wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to let go. But after a few weeks of wading through familial issues that fed some of my more intense feelings of grief, anger and responsibility, what finally emerged was that he was manifesting my shadow… the shadow I thought was no longer an issue. Turns out, I still had fears that my shadow would waft in and take control. And, even though I am quite effective when my clients manifest this particular darkness, seeing my relative act it out in real life got me scared; very scared
The good news about shadows, however, is that once we bring them into the light they are no longer as frightening as they once were. In coming into awareness of the main cause of my angst I was eventually able to let it go. Insight gave me knowledge and, from that, power. I found that I was in charge of my passivity and not it in charge of me. In re-exploring this darker side of myself I discovered I had no need to be afraid when it manifested in a family member. I began to see with utter clarity that my relative’s life was his own; that we have unique paths and that his choices are solely about himself. I know now, with surety, that I would have only hindered our relationship had I continued along the path I was walking.  In letting go I not only freed myself but empowered him to do his own exploration. Funny enough, since I’ve come to this conclusion he has, indeed, turned a corner.
The shadow works in mysterious ways. We can fool ourselves and think we know about life and all its ins and outs when in fact, the only thing we end up discovering is, well, what can I say … only the shadow (really) knows.


  1. Really liked this. So true that the more we bring our shadows to light the more clear and easier to deal with they become. Love the way your releasing your relaitve to deal with his own shadow helped both of you. Thanks!

  2. And just one more way that proves that life is, indeed, interdependent. Thanks, Bonnie.