Everything we do not want to be, becomes our shadow - that which, in the analogy of the American poet Robert Bly, we drag after us like a black, shameful sack.
When situations arise where we feel insecure and afraid to show who we really are, we quickly stuff the qualities we do not want to be with - for example, our selfishness and lust - into the black sack.
The process of stuffing the bag begins with our parents. We subconsciously adopt their norm set and then our playmates, boyfriends, girlfriends, teachers, colleagues, bosses, media and politicians telling us what is good and bad, cool and uncool, delicious and disgusting.
We are disgusted when we see others live out the sides/traits that we ourselves have rejected.
Instead, we create a facade that matches what we think our family, friends, boyfriends, or social group will love, respect, and admire.
We hope they never discover our 'ugly' side - because on a deeper level, we never fear being able to remain loved if others knew who we are.
Fall in love with the darkness. With the piss and the shit of life. The shadows, the hidden parts. The bits we hide out of shame.
Fall in love with the innocence. Our childhood fears of the dark. Of being exposed. Of showing ourselves, being seen, coming into the light.
The doubts, the secret pains, our strange fantasies, feelings we just don't know what to do with. Terrors of the night-time. The rage that bubbles just under the surface. The fear that we are not loveable.
The feelings and thoughts we conceal to maintain the image of 'me'. To be good, to be nice, to be spiritual. To be 'the one who can hold it all together'.
Fall in love with this secret humanity. Know that darkness is NOT darkness, only scared fragments longing to come into the light, beings who want love, and attention, and breath, and inclusion in the larger picture of Self.
Do not seek the light, friend. Simply be the light. Be what you are. The light of life. And have the courage to shine fully on the sore places, the tender places.
Illuminate. Radiate. Make it safe for the little monsters to come out of hiding. Let them know they are beautiful. And worthy. And not monsters at all.
In psychology, and especially in the Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli's form of therapy, psychosynthesis, we talk about partial personalities. Sub-personalities are the term for all the independent psychological structures and voices that make up what you call your "I". You don't think about it in everyday life. You probably think that you "are" your self.
But when we look deeper, it is natural to ask: "Who am "I" ... really?" Are you the seductress or the wife ... the mother or the career woman ... the ascetic or the enjoyer ... the good daughter or the rebel?
The truth is probably that you are all of them, and that your self contains all of these characters, each with its own unique expression, style, motivation and drive.
Some of these characters are known and accepted and belong in our conscious persona, while others are hidden, perhaps repressed. But they are not GONE.
They lie dormant, ready to be brought to life whenever we need them. And it becomes easier, more fun and more interesting and nuanced to be human when we dare to give all these different characters space in our lives. When we stop seeing ourselves as one static character - a fixed persona - but as a self that contains a myriad of different characters, we release the stubborn, cramped identification with a one-dimensional self-image and feel how we can move more fluid, free and playful throughout life.
We can bring out parts of ourselves that have been completely hidden in the shadows and give them space. It gives us more flexibility in life, greater emotional range, more creativity.
You are no longer powerless, afraid and talentless, but a part of you may feel powerless, afraid and talentless. A part of you. Not all of you.
When the shadow takes over
Part of me is the Amazon. My Amazon is a female warrior with a direct gaze, a strong body and a huge spear. She is merciless, belligerent and implacable.
As soon as I discover that it is she who is at stake and I can name her - I can actively and consciously choose to let another sub-personality enter the scene.
I am not merciless, belligerent and unforgiving, but a part of me is. And if I want to, I can now make room for a part of me. For example, the part of me that is sweet and open. Or conciliatory and indulgent. Or listening and empathetic.
My Amazone certainly has its merits. My experience is simply that she typically does more good in, for example, my work life than in my love life
Subpersonalities are only harmful when they control us without our knowing it.
Debbie Ford said: "If you don't deal with your shadow, it will deal with you."
For example, our over-perfektionistisk self or our inner self-saboteur.
Shadow work is about balance. About giving all parts – AND their opposites – space, love and a voice. We can, among other things, do through guided visualizations where we meet these parts of ourselves.
Who is speaking? The next time you feel an irritation or stuck situation, but don't quite know where it comes from and what to do about it, try - instead of removing yourself from the feeling (the most instinctive choice) - go with the feeling . Feel the energy and see if you can conjure up an image of the part of you that is running the show right now?
Who is speaking? Who reacts? Unforgiving Ulla? Offended Oliver? The victim? The perfectionist? Florence Nightingale?
The singer Beyoncé is privately quite a shy lady. But not on stage. Here she finds her alter ego, Sasha Fierce. She is aggressive and straight forward. The strategy is smart, And it can also be used by you.
“When I'm onstage I'm aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I'm fearless. I'm just a different person.” This is what the American singer Beyonce has said [in an interview in the Daily Mail, UK] about her alter-ego Sasha Fierce. Beyonce has named her herself, created her - to set herself free on stage.
I turn into Sasha. I wouldn't like Sasha if I met her off stage. She's too aggressive, too strong, too sassy, too sexy! I'm not like her in real life at all. I'm not flirtatious and super-confident and fearless like her.
I created Sasha Fierce as my stage persona ... so that when I go home, I don't have to think about what it is I do.
Sasha isn't me. The people around me know who I really am. It's a way for me to differentiate what I do onstage from who I really am.
Beyonce's strategy is smart—and you can use it, too. Beyonce has therefore consciously created her stage persona. A persona that is different from who she is in private. A persona she can pull out of the closet when she needs her. See, that's smart.
In shadow work, this 'technique' is used a lot, that is to - consciously - play with and explore a so-called 'sub-personality'. (Part personality is a concept that originates from Roberto Assagioli's Psychosynthesis and Jungian psychology).
We all contain a myriad of sub-personalities - different voices, characters, inner psychological forces, which are often at odds with each other. The gentle and the harsh, the shy and the flamboyant, the underplayed and the overplayed, etc.
Who lives inside you? You probably know it well - that you don't just have one self, but many. Many little men and women living inside you, each speaking with their own voice, having their own needs, desires and ways of expression.
One of them (Fitness Fie) says for example that you should go for a run, while another (Hedonist Hanna) begs for one more piece of chocolate cake.
Every sub-personality contains its opposite (shadow) - and we can use the conscious play and experimentation with our sub-personalities to set ourselves free, to unfold, to break boundaries, to grow and develop.
If we remain strongly identified with our persona (the face we show to the outside world), we can quickly (or slowly) feel stuck and limited.
The difference between Beyoncé and BritneyBeyonce is a sweet, happy, smiling, polite and slightly shy girl from Texas. But she is also everything else. And if she hadn't created Sasha Fierce as her stage persona, she might have either lost her passion for performing or 'made a Britney Spears'. Britney Spears tried - possibly under pressure from both management and record company - to maintain the innocent, sweet, little-girl image she became known for as a teenager
The problem was just that she was also (of course!) much more and something else than that. She was getting older. She was no longer a one-dimensional, sugary, pristine pop princess. Oops I did it... And when she could no longer bear the massive projection ('perfect and innocent') she had no choice but to shave off all her hair and go wild in sinful ferocity for a period of time.
The shadow took over, so to speak. And that's what the shadow does. When we hold it down. For too long. Sasha can be unpacked and packed down again.
That's why Beyonce's strategy is smart. Because here it is Beyonce herself who chooses - consciously, awake, adult - to give room to other sides of her personality. In a healthy way. As she herself says; when the concert is over, Sasha Fierce is packed down again. And it's Beyonce who packs her down and out - as needed.
Sasha Fierce is not a dangerous, erratic ghost who can pop up at inopportune times and wreak havoc in Beyonce's life. She is an accepted and recognized sub-personality who is under controly
What can YOU learn from Beyonce? You can learn to use your own sub-personalities constructively. And consciously. Perhaps it would be appropriate for you to create a persona that you can highlight when you go to a job interview. Someone who is confident, fearless and ambitious. Or how about a dating persona? The kind of person who isn't afraid to flirt, take the initiative and be a little cheeky. Or maybe someone who is quiet, reserved and loving?
Brad Pitt tells for the first time since his divorce from Angelina Jolie about a year-long, massive alcohol abuse - and about being "retarded" when it comes to emotions - in the American men's magazine GQ.
"Now - six months later - Brad Pitt is completely high on matcha tea, cranberry juice and therapy".
A shadow worker loves his honesty but sees a general trend: "Women (generally) look inward, a long time before men do. This creates an asymmetry in many relationships. She wants to go to therapy. He will not. She attends courses and reads books on personal development. He doesn't.”. “I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka. I was a professional. I was good.”
Nice, nice Brad. Wholesome Brad. He is not talking about a distant and wild teenage years here, but about his life just some years ago. Before he admitted he was an alcoholic and before he went into rehab and got sober. The American men's magazine GQ has scored the first interview with Brad Pitt after the divorce from Angelina Jolie. A breakup that probably came as a surprise to most of those who have followed the Brangelina love story and the steadily growing group of children: Six children.
Alcohol was the villain There are so many great quotes from that interview that I have a hard time choosing, but two things in particular strike me as I read it. First, I think about how Angelina Jolie has so many times been called the villain in their relationship. She has bewitched him. She is insane. She wants to control him etc. Poor Brad. After all, he's under this spell, in shock, and can't see clearly at all.
Now it turns out that she has been with an alcoholic. Alcohol was the villain in that relationship. She has been married to a man who has probably been both a wonderful husband and father, but who has also – now in his own words in GQ – been a massive drinker, has been in massive denial of his abuse and has been decidedly retarded when it comes to his emotional life.
It must not be easy to be married to that. And certainly not when you have children together.
"I come from a place where, you know, it's strength if we get a bruise or cut or ailment we don't discuss it, we just deal with it. We just go on. The downside of that is it's the same with our emotions. I'm personally very retarded when it comes to taking inventory of my emotions. I'm much better at covering up. I grew up with a Father-knows-best/war mentality—the father is all-powerful, super strong—instead of really knowing the man and his own self-doubt and struggles. And it's hit me smack in the face with our divorce: I gotta be more. I gotta be more for them. You have to show them. And I haven’t been great at it.”
It must not be easy to be married to that. And certainly not when you have children together.
High on matcha tea, cranberry juice and therapy
Second, I think about how bittersweet it must be for a partner who has lived with an addict - and probably begged him many, many times for help, both to get out of his addiction and therapeutic help - to see him get up after the divorce and become a different (and better) person.
Six months later – Brad Pitt is high on matcha tea, cranberry juice and therapy. “I just started therapy. I love it, I love it.”
I think she's thinking, “Duh! That's what I said x years ago!” But the family is broken up, the damage is done, and it could perhaps have been avoided. That must be really sad. It must be frustrating for a partner – who may have been saying for years, “you're going to have to deal with this shit. You'll have to look at it” – to witness him now suddenly acting. When it's too late.
Men versus women "I think I spent a lot of time avoiding feelings and building structures, you know, around feelings. And now I have no time left for that. That's it! Sitting with those horrible feelings, and needing to understand them, and putting them into place. In the end, you find: I am those things I don't like. That is a part of me. I can't deny that. You have to accept that. And in fact, you have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself. I am those mistakes. For me every misstep has been a step towards epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It's the real missing out on life. It's those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That makes us better.”
I love his insights. It's pure shadow therapy. Beautiful. And how cool it would have been if he hadn't waited until he was 53 to look inward.
Women (generally) look inward long before men do. This creates an asymmetry in many relationships. She wants to go to therapy. He will not. It mirrors a pattern I see over and over again.
Women (generally) look inward long before men do. This creates an asymmetry in many relationships. She wants to go to therapy. He will not. She attends courses and reads books on personal development. He doesn't. I have women of all ages on shadowing courses; some of them are very young, in their early 20s. They are so young that I am surprised they are even aware that they have denied parts of themselves already. But they are.
Sometimes I have men with me on shadow courses. They are typically in their 40s and are in the middle of a crisis – or have just come out the other side – and now want to understand who they are, why they are the way they are and why they do what they do . Few men embark on personal development, introspection, courses and therapy just for the sake of the preventive effect. Or "to get to know yourself better", which is often the argument of women.
The shadow knocks at our door I usually say that the shadow knocks when we are around 40. Understood in the way that everything we have hidden away and refused to deal with shows up here. This is where the facade cracks, the mask drop happens, and the skeletons tumble out of the closet (if there are any).
What has been in the corner of shame (in the shadow) in our consciousness is now showing itself. And we can either close our eyes to it and numb ourselves – with work, alcohol, sex, food, exercise, Netflix, a new young girlfriend or whatever our drug of choice is. Or we can look at it. Stare it straight in the eyes and deal with it.
If we are wise, we do this important inner work while still in relationship with our loved one. Instead of after she's gone (often with the kids).
I salute Brad Pitt for facing his demons. To open his eyes to what he has closed them to for so many years. And cheers for all the men who do – and dare to say – like Brad: "I am those things I don't like. That is a part of me. I can't deny that. You have to accept that. And in fact, you have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself.”
Because it's true. For both men and women. Denial of what is shameful in ourselves becomes a life lie, no one gets anything out of holding on to it. We will have to look at what we do not want to look at in ourselves. If we don't, it will control our lives on an unconscious level and lead to massive self-sabotage.
The denied and repressed must find a way out. It will be nicest and most civilized if we open the door ourselves.
Don't shame kids And we can prevent much of this denial and repression by not shaming our children for their feelings.
We can show our sons that you can be scared and sad without being called a sissy. We can show our daughters that you can be angry and furious without being called hysterical.
What we get points for being in the family and culture we grow up in is the compass we navigate by as adults. Cool. Tough. Raw.. Or smart. Caring. Sweet. Quiet,. Gentle.
If we do not become aware of the opposite of these characteristics - and also begin to get to know them - we will live a one-dimensional life, where we - locked in a persona and slaves to our own self-image - have very little freedom and a very amputated emotion register. And then we can be 100 percent sure that the shadow knocks on our door when we are in the middle of life.