Do you find that, in spite of your best intentions to stay healthy, you often repeat a behavior that you know isn’t serving you, and even doing outright harm?
Do you find that you’re locked in a series of the boom-and-bust cycles and that any changes you make are only temporary? Have you ever wondered why you may avoid doing the very things that you know make you feel healthy and alive?
The reasons for our perceived failings may not be what you think. People come to me all the time with self-judgmental conclusions about why they are failing to stick to the diets, exercise regimes, and other behaviors that they know can be life-giving for them.
“I’m just not disciplined enough.”
“I don’t have what it takes.”
“It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, nothing changes.”
“I can never seem to find the time.”
But what I’ve found is that these are rarely the actual reasons. The real culprits are the unconscious parts of ourselves that feed our resistance and avoidance. These “shadows” encourage self-sabotage and create competing commitments that we’re totally unaware of. Essentially, they are the parts of ourselves that we have unconsciously disowned, repressed, or rejected. And more often than not, they are responsible for our inability to establish and sustain a healthy lifestyle.
Take my client Evelyn, for example. She grew up in a household where anger was never allowed to be expressed. She was always the smiley, content “good girl.” It wasn’t until she began working with me in her mid-thirties that she was able to recognize, feel, and embrace anger for herself and to see clearly how she had been repressing it all of these years.
The truth was, like all human beings, Evelyn did experience anger as part of her emotional response in life, yet because anger was something that “wasn’t allowed,” she stuffed it down, didn’t consciously acknowledge it, and channeled that energy into working long hours. She climbed high up the professional ladder, and yet became completely exhausted. It wasn’t until she began to release and express the anger that her energy began to return. The more we can make our shadow conscious, the less it can dominate us and trip us up.
I, too, have had a pattern of channeling the shadowy emotional territory into “productivity,” a classic overachiever dynamic both in my youth and as an adult. Anger was certainly an emotion that I did not consciously own, as was anxiety, and I hid my romantic and sexual insecurities and yearnings underneath the “doing” pattern, too. In retrospect it is no surprise that I spun down into chronic fatigue in my mid-twenties. It took a tremendous amount of energy to deny my truth in these ways, to keep all of those emotions and feelings, and authentic yearnings bottled up. Working harder and achieving more did nothing to resolve what was really wanting attention, and only exhausted me further.
Each time I’ve engaged with shadow work, I’ve come away feeling freer, lighter, and more at home in myself. My life-energy is less and less bound up in protecting and hiding from my truth. As I embrace the disowned parts of myself, consciously integrating them, it is like I am no longer leaking energy. As a result, my chronic fatigue has gradually dissipated.
It takes a lot of your life-energy to protect, hide, and pretend to be something you’re not, whether you are conscious of that or not. The disowned parts of yourself are like holes in your life vessel, draining your life-energy away. Although the part of the boat that is above the water looks intact, the hull is punctured and the keel is broken, so you’re being blown around, unable to steer a course that’s in alignment with truth. Other people may not be able to see it, but you’re taking in more water than you can bail out, and you’re being helplessly carried by the deeper currents.
Imagine that you are swimming in an ocean with strong currents. You head out from the beach on a leisurely swim, intending just to move down the coastline a bit, and before you know it you look up and you have been pulled in the opposite direction and can no longer even see the beach that had been right there in front of you just a minute before. It can feel really scary and disorienting. The truth is that you can do all you want on the surface level—take swimming lessons to learn different strokes or build up your muscles to swim harder, but the reality is that you will still be swept away by the deeper currents underneath you. They will take you where they are going, regardless.
And so it is with your health journey. You can try all the protocols you want, yet you will never be free to truly guide yourself toward your own thriving because your shadows are like those ocean currents. But when you come into a direct relationship with these deeper currents—seeing them, understanding them, and learning the source of their power—they will no longer be able to control you. You’ll be awake to their influence and you’ll have the capacity to start to develop more vital currents to consciously steer your journey in a completely new and nourishing direction.
Author: Dr. Deborah Zucker
Editor: Travis May