Last night I watched The Shadow Effect, which was produced by best selling author and conscious entrepreneur Debbie Ford.
She died at 57 on February 17, 2013, leaving a legacy of love and a healing modality that is in alignment with the body of work by Carl Jung, who introduced the concept of the shadow to the field of psychology. Jungian shadow often refers to all that lies outside the light of consciousness—and may be positive or negative.
“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. It may be (in part) one’s link to more primitive animal instincts,which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.”
This docudrama features the wisdom of teachers, healers, activists and musicians including Deepak Chopra, David Simon, James van Praagh, Marianne Williamson, Verdine White, Brent Becvar and Mark Victor Hansen. I was moved as well, by the personal revelations of Holocaust survivor turned thriver Dr. Edie Eger and a woman named Marita Wahl-Shedd, who transformed her legacy of her family’s Nazi past into one of healing as she became a coach trained by Ford whose own drug addiction led her to this path of reconciliation with all aspects of herself.
As I watched the film with a friend, I found myself coming face to face with my shadow in a tricky disguise. She is the ‘One who knows’—the sometimes sanctimonious, holier than thou, attention seeking, charming, everybody’s sweetheart, go-to person, who delights in having the answers, being the calm center of the storm and who sometimes feels unworthy, so she tap dances faster and attempts to dazzle more.
She wants to make her life look pretty and colorful, sparkly and bright, keeping under diaphanous billowy wraps, the sometimes seething anger and resentment she feels, the black leather clad, whip bearing inner dominatrix who would never wield it over anyone else.
That aspect of myself pushes me to the point of exhaustion, filling my days with activity and adding more to the pile so that I can never possibly do it all and then seduces me with the idea that I can have it all, be it all, do it all and since I haven’t yet arrived at that point, then there must be something wrong with me or the grand plan.
Then she burns out, loses her own center, becomes judgmental of herself and critical of others who aren’t (in her mind) ‘doing their part’ or can’t be counted on, like she can.
She wonders why people just can’t ‘pull it together, stop wimping out, grow up, take charge, move on, act responsibly, clean up their messes, so she doesn’t have to.’ She glances over her shoulder at her own past of co-dependent care giving, savior behavior, with the grandiose idea that she could ‘fix, save, heal and cure, kiss the boo boos and make them better’ for family, friends and clients. She cringes that she could be so needy that she created a persona that could not possibly be discredited, because after all, she reasoned, “who could possibly reject someone who they needed to take care of them?”
She feels like she has been slimed when she remembers ‘what she did for love.’ She has become the bully-energy turned inward she shuns when she sees it in others. In truth, are there are really ‘others’ or is it all us?
And then she witnesses those who seem more successful than she is, by the world’s standards who don’t seem to have ‘earned it’.
After all, my shadow self reasons, “I’ve followed the rules, been a ‘good girl’ who has done what was expected of me, worked hard and I’m still not where I would like to be.”
Oops, I just told on myself—my cover is blown, the cat is out of the bag. I’m standing here buck naked but then, those who know me best already know this about me. Here I am, doing what I most fear and what the shadow is a cover for…feeling weak and needy and vulnerable, fillled with contradiction and conflict.
Friends (including Ondreah, the one with whom I watched The Shadow Effect), remind me that I need to offer myself love and compassion and not look at those less appealing aspects of myself with disdain as I am inclined to do.
Debbie shared a metaphor in the movie that I have used for years—that of attempting to hold beach balls under the water. It gets exhausting after awhile and then we have to let go and they pop back up.
I am realizing how many of them I have been holding down and for how long—and, I choose not to do that anymore. Mine come bearing labels such as ‘imposter’, ‘actress’, ‘not enough’, ‘wimp’, ‘armored’, ‘manipulative’, ‘irresponsible’. You know the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
As I hurl them at myself, they sting. Paradoxically, they are a shield against others perceiving me that way. If I am on guard and keep them undercover, no one will know, I reason.
I have another friend named Janet who wouldn’t read my book, until I showed her that I could get angry and be real. An expert herself in doing shadow work, she has, for years, encouraged me to take a training called The Woman Within. I did so a few weeks ago and experienced what Joseph Campbell called The Hero’s Journey.
A call to adventure, a descent into darkness and facing my fears and doubts, and a return to the surface, gasping for air and craving light as I am now integrating what I learned. No surprise that most of those issues resemble the ones I revealed earlier on in this article.
Physical pain (in the form of a throbbing headache) was a companion that entire weekend as I declared before the workshop that I was going to take off my therapist hat and experience this just for me.
I almost never do anything just for me, without wanting to use it to help others. I held witness for the other women, some whose traumas and losses were far more intense than mine and knew that I couldn’t do anything about it, but sit in their presence, sometimes in stunned silence, sometimes with anger flaring inside, with a ‘How dare you hurt this innocent person?’ righteousness hurled at invisible perpetrators from their past. It’s the same feeling that arises when I do my work as a psychotherapist.
Once I acknowledged my own woundings, howling and sobbing them out of my spent body, wonder of wonders, the headache dissipated.
What comes to mind is the Billy Joel song The Stranger.
Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
When everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on
In the velvet dark and quiet of the night, I engage in that shape shifting behavior and then quickly put the mask back on to face the day. It is a beautiful facade that attracts people into my life and they have no clue what lies beneath; born of regret and shoulda, woulda, coulda wistfulness and more than a touch of shame about choices I made.
Today, as I was running errands, I was noticing people in cars, in stores, at the gym and wondered if I could read their thoughts, what I would hear. I know that some of mine are not in the sweetness and light realm, as much as I pretend that they are. When I see people flick cigarette butts out their car windows, I feel a sense of disgust and judge that person as being of the proverbial Dark Side. Who knows whether they are otherwise one of the most loving beings on the planet?
What we don’t like in others, is unresolved in us. When I judge someone as being so different from me, then I am danger of creating an enemy in my mind; it’s then that I wage war within myself and we all become casualties.
In conversation this afternoon with my son, I came smack dab up against my own hypocrisy, as he reminded me that my word is not always my deed (as I imagine it is) and that I don’t always follow the advice that I offer him.
The example I would like to think I set is that of being in integrity. I limit myself, sell myself short, am impatient with myself, as I am with him at times. I hold resentments about what I believe he ‘should and shouldn’t’ do. I wallow in silent self pity. The only difference is that he expresses his.
I feel anger and am not always clean with expressing it. It simmers and then subsides, only to rise again, unresolved. It’s no wonder that I haven’t slept well, with that bubbling cauldron in my psyche. I have been afraid of letting the pacing wildcat out of the cage, lest she be unwilling to be tamed and wreak havoc.
Maybe the secret is to befriend, rather than shun her—what we can’t feel, we can’t heal.
As is portrayed in the film, it isn’t the shadow itself that presents the greatest danger, but rather the one that is relegated to the dark. Once it sees the light of day, it is no longer as much of a threat.
In voicing these emotions, I am giving myself permission to be fully human; messy, chaotic, with broken places that I reluctantly allow others to help put back together, which is a new experience for me.
As I feel that freeing sense of exhiliration, the play of shadow and light are in greater harmony, no longer combatants in the battle for my heart and soul.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise