Understanding the Shadow Within Each of Us 

The “Shadow” is the unowned and usually unrecognized and often destructive behavior that lies just beneath our “conscience awareness”.

The shadow is the stuff of literature, plays, poetry, the bible, and of everyday life.  Think about the plays of Shakespeare and the trouble his characters got into.  Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, were the ultimate power driven couple, who lied and murdered to get what they wanted.

Hopefully none of us will be driven to that extent! But each of us has the powerful urges to do things that are not in our self-interest, motivated by feelings that can get out of control.  The Ancient Greeks called this behavior “akrasia,” which can be loosely defined as “sabotaging your future self”…..which is a really interesting way of looking at it! 


This is the unseen conflict deep within our psyche, often hidden and disowned from our awareness, but the results can end up being very visible in our day to day behaviors and in our lives. What are some of these “disowned urges and desires” that we might hide from ourselves?


Well, here are a few:


  1. Resentment of others: A sibling got special treatment that you did not, and you feel you were treated unfairly or were jealous of a sibling or another child.


  1. Greed and wanting more:   You feel that you didn’t get the attention and the things you needed and that others got more.


  1. Need for power and control:  You weren’t given enough age appropriate decision-making power over your life.  You might have had a parent that was too controlling and not negotiable, or was unreasonable or even a bully.


  1. Excessive anger, hate or rage:  You had a sense of injustice, either perceived or real, that was done to you in childhood and it has left you distrustful and suspicious of others.


  1. Inflated self-importance:  A feeling of self-importance because you were alternatively shamed or overinflated in childhood, so you don’t know which you are and can’t modulate between the two.


  1. Shame:  You were neglected, laughed at, not taken seriously, too much was expected of you, or there were inappropriate expectations that you couldn’t meet and therefore you felt you didn’t measure up.


  1. Need for acceptance and approval:  An excessive need to be accepted,  loved and approved of  because you didn’t get enough love and attention as a child.


  1. Sense of superiority and self-righteousness: Either you were too praised or too denigrated in childhood, so you have trouble realistically understanding who you are and what you can or cannot do.


  1. Rigidity and stubbornness:  Someone was too rigid and controlling with you in childhood, so now you are doing the same to others, even if it may be to your detriment.


  1. Excessive fear or shame:   You were asked to do things that weren’t age-appropriate and were beyond your capability as a child or you weren’t protected enough in childhood or were teased or shamed.


  1. Lust for power:  You are in rebellion against childhood authority figures.


We all have some of these…so the questions therefore become:

  1. To what degree and to what extent do we have them?
  2. What level of conscious awareness do we have of them? and
  3. What can we do to deal with our shadow self?


While these issues and conflicts are easier to see in our neighbors, the true test of maturity is to recognize them in ourselves.  If you think that you are above having a shadow self, you are in deception and denial.


“We have met the enemy and it is us,” said the comic strip  character Pogo.  Human nature is human nature in all cultures and in all people. 


Much more about recognizing and controlling your shadow can be found in my new book “Finding the Port that has Your Name” which has recently been published as an e-book on Amazon. You can find it at getbook.at/FindingThePortThatHasYourName .


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