One of the least understood – yet most powerful – concepts in personal and spiritual development is the Shadow Self, unfortunately, viewed as our “dark side”.
Carl Jung identified the Shadow Self as a side of our personality that we choose to hide…and often fear. As coaches, therapists, and counselors, it’s our job to guide our clients through the process of acknowledging their shadow…and unlocking the creative potential it holds.
But how do you convince someone that this part of their self is not a weakness? How do you teach your clients to understand, even embrace, their shadow?
You start by teaching them: it’s not Jekyll and Hyde (Hide).
This is one of the first hurdles counselors have to clear when helping their clients overcome internal challenges: the iconic portrayal of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s exploration of our ‘good’ and ‘evil’ side.
It painted the picture of a dual personality that was innately good on the surface, but capable of inexplicable evil. Jekyll was the hero, Hyde was the villain. We’ve been conditioned to think of dark thoughts, fears, anxieties as ‘evil’…and therefore weakness to be hidden.
Often, clients come to us for ways to help eliminate that dark side…
But what if we looked at it in a different way? What if we stopped looking at it as a process of elimination…but as a process of illumination?
Taking off the mask and illuminating the whole person.
Joseph Campbell identified the concept of masks in his exploration of the “monomyth” in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. His theory – a culmination of research he conducted into the concepts of Jung, Freud, Greek mythology, and religion – has been played out in countless popular novels and movies. Because art imitates life, to a point.
They’re illustrated in fictional characters like Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Dorothy…all characters who are thrown into extreme circumstances and conquer their adversaries with magic wands, elixirs, lightsabers. They complete their quest and return to their former lives changed, somehow galvanized.
The most pervasive monomyth comes from our beloved icons in Disney, Marvel, and DC comics. These characters are ordinary people who can only succeed when they’re in disguise. Mr. Incredible and Elastagirl are powerless to help anyone until they put on their masks.
So, it’s natural for people to think they have to put a mask on to deal with their inner enemies…
Our challenge as counselors is to help people understand that those narratives are fictional…but valid. Because sometimes we all act as if the drama is real, forgetting that we are making up our story. We are directing the narrative about the challenges in our lives. And we fall into the trap of thinking we’re the lone hero…the only one who can vanquish our foes.
Giving our clients permission to take off the mask and show us their whole self…their shadow self, is the key to finding the whole person.
One of the questions I commonly ask my clients is, “What dream or goal for yourself have you abandoned?” It illuminates a weakness they perceive in themselves…and you can explore the reasons they gave up on that dream. Chances are, they were chained to a fear that came from their dark side.
The best superheroes have a sidekick.
Here’s where the narrative can be shifted. Nearly every superhero finds success when they admit to someone else that they’re in over their head. If we don’t learn to authentically share our shadow self with even one trusting individual, we’re destined to live our lives with a drawer full of masks. And we’ll be incomplete.
Managing adversity can add weight to our shadow self, but it also brings out the creativity in people…it pushes us out of our comfort zone and builds resilience if we stare it down rather than hiding from it. My friend, the late Debbie Ford, used to say that the unexpressed emotional baggage we keep is like trying to keep a beach ball under water….eventually it pops up!
Your shadow self is part of you, even when the sun isn’t shining. Accepting that the ‘dark’ thoughts you carry aren’t a weakness can help you embrace your whole self. Every part of you carries hope, dreams, aspirations…and the memory of failures and fear. And they make you a wonderfully unique creation.
If you are interested in Transformational Living, head over to my contact page to schedule a call today.
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This article was originally published in 2018, and has been updated just for you on the 14th of May, 2020.