Is it possible to make friends with your shadow?
When I was asked this question, I thought, “Huh? Uh, no, I actually don’t even notice it unless I’m walking next to my nephew who’s tall and thin and well, I’m short and less thin.” I got a serious look in response. Little did I know that wasn’t the shadow the person was referring.
I first learned about the “shadow” from reading Debbie Ford’s work, “The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Power of Your True Self”. It was introduced as part of a Wellness program I enrolled in. I was seeking balance in my life during my stress-filled corporate career. As part of the program we also watched the movie based on the book.
Here is just a snippet about the movie.
“The Shadow Effect is an emotionally-gripping, visually-compelling docudrama that reveals why suppressed emotions and unresolved internal conflicts leads to behavior that continually unseats politicians, destroys celebrity careers, destabilizes the economy and affects the lives of millions each year”. VIEW CLIP
I wanted to know more and doing some research found a 3 day workshop sponsored by The Ford Institute aimed at helping you uncover the shadow aspects of yourself. This is exactly what I was looking for…a chance to transform my life, have courage to do something different, and discover my true self. I said bring it on and signed up!
I had no idea what was in store for me over the course of those 3 days.
The first night something within me shifted. I began the process of seeing; “seeing” myself more clearly and authentically; in relationships with parents, siblings, former husband, bosses, and friends. A light was cast on negative beliefs I held about myself. You know them…you hear them as the voice of the inner critic, judge, or gremlin. They whisper to you… “you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, good enough, _______”. Fill in the blank.
But at this point, the more work we did, the more fearful I became. It was unnerving, raw and scary. I kept thinking, “it’s only the first night!” I started to get second thoughts but I was quite a ways from the safety of home. After the session on the first night, I had a decision to make. I could stay and work through the fear for a greater understanding of myself or leave and forever silence my true self who was desperately trying to break free.
Something within urged me to remain (hello true self!).
I listened and I stayed. I’m introspective; questioning to understand myself, my choices, and decisions. I’ve asked “Why is this happening?” But asking “why” never got me very far as inevitably I found a way to blame myself for any unhappiness. I never saw life experiences as lessons, never asked the question, “What is this meant to teach me?” All that was changing.
I wholeheartedly participated in the exercises which were intense and stripped away many protective layers. I began to see how the beliefs I created about myself clearly limited my life. These limiting beliefs influence the amount of pain and joy, hurt and happiness we allow into our lives. I began to make friends with the shadow aspects of myself and challenged my beliefs. Is it REALLY true that I’m not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough? Was it true that I could only have good things through difficulty and struggle? Was it impossible to be happy without being perfect? The answer is No!
A pattern emerged.
When I had thoughts that were not aligned with what brought me happiness, peace and joy then unhappiness and settling followed. I held myself back out of fear to keep myself safe. “Safe from what?” I started asking myself out loud, really loud and then even louder. Why was it so hard to make choices and do things that felt right for ME? As you can imagine a rush of feelings came forward; being vulnerable, embarrassed, getting hurt, making a mistake, being ignored, guilt and not doing what was expected. Translation: I didn’t take risks, didn’t speak up, and didn’t do the things I dreamt of doing.
What are we left with?
Regrets. I knew right then and there I didn’t want a life filled with regrets; getting to the end of my life, looking back and seeing all that I missed because of fear. If you identify the parts of yourself that you criticize and dislike with compassion, courage and honesty, you will find answers. You can experience healing and wholeness to create the life you long for. The first step is recognizing the inner critic and understanding you are not that voice. You can move forward in the direction you are called and experience happiness.
The change was transformative.
I began to have a voice and put healthy boundaries in place leaving the guilt behind. I started to put myself first and stopped valuing others more than myself. Actually, I started to learn what love isn’t. Love isn’t doing everything for everybody so they need you. I learned that need doesn’t equal love. I learned that love starts with loving oneself first. Now that was freeing!
I’m curious… what are those shadow aspects of YOU that you run from and distract yourself from facing? How are these beliefs holding you back? What do you tell yourself you can’t do but would bring you joy? What if you picked one thing and created the time for it? You deserve joy. Name your shadow and let me know what it holds you back from.
“The shadow is one of the greatest gifts available to us. It is the teacher, the trainer, and the guide that supports us in uncovering our true magnificence. The shadow is not a problem to be solved or an enemy to be conquered but a fertile field to be cultivated. When we dig our hands into its rich soil, we will discover the potent seeds of the people we most desire to be."
– Debbie Ford