During my time studying abroad I met many people but one guy named John once said something to me that struck me like a lightning bolt which I have never forgotten:
“There is no growth without change, and no change without pain”.
As I have worked with hundreds of people over the years they can in some ways be put into two groups; those ready to change and those who for some reason cannot face their own Shadow.
How do I define the “Shadow”? Our Shadow is the unattractive/undeveloped/nasty/reactive/unregulated parts of ourselves that we like to keep in a closet, away from the light of day, and certainly a way from other people’s awareness. And why should we try and hide the shadow from the light of day? Often elements in this area are the most embarrassing and leave us the most vulnerable to criticism or control by others. It is what could give others juicy stuff to gossip about. And knowing humans, no doubt they would gossip about it. What sells newspapers is not just stories of hope, but stories of failure and weakness.
Credit the brilliant Swiss “depth” psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung, with the creation of this concept of the Shadow in the voluminous body of work that followed. What is a “depth” psychiatrist? Around the turn-of-the-century there were a group of brilliant thinkers including Jung and Freud who dove down into the human psyche and began exploring the relatively unchartered and dark territory of the human mind. This group went more in depth than anyone ever had previously, as people around that time – even in the intellectual centers of the word like Vienna – avoided openly talking about the darker parts of the psyche.
Jung – more than Freud – intensely focused on how humans needed meaning in their lives, especially in the latter half of their lives, given the inevitability of death that makes us aging adults look in the mirror in a much more penetrating manner than we ever did when we were in our 20s and 30s.
And this brings us back to where we began: the importance of facing the shadow.
Jung made several penetrating statements that highlight how critical it is to face your own shadow.
By shining light into your shadow, you can control your behavior and undergo unforeseen growth. But to do this, it takes hard work (often grueling) and willingness to experience the pain of change, and possibly the pain of guilt as you must face past mistakes and failures that were the result of your Shadow at work. Three seminal quotes eloquently discussing the shadow using the metaphor of darkness:
— “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
–“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
— “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
While one can try to dismiss these comments as Jung at times could sound somewhat mystical and hard to follow, a growing body of contemporary neuroscientific data is actually confirming that there is clearly a conscious mind and then a very influential yet subtle “unconscious” set of mechanisms that affect us in an ongoing manner.
Why did I focus on shadow for a parent blog?
Because I would agree with Jung as he said the following:
“The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents.”
As I’ve worked with many hundreds of families, often THE key healing or impairing variable was whether the parents were able to face their own shadows. How willing are you to face your shadow?
Your answer does not just affect your Fate, but the Fate of your children, who will silently suffer from the darkness you do not take time to clear away with a flashlight. Your children often fall under your Shadow, and replicate elements of your Shadow in their Shadows.
If you aren’t willing to face your shadow, you certainly can live a much more comfortable life, and spare yourself the pain of change.
Unfortunately, you will also be spared a much more meaningful and Enlightened life. The choice is yours.