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“It is through the door of the Shadow that you enter into the highest mystery of your incarnation.” ~ Andrew Harvey
All over self-help websites and magazines are tips to help us poor, innocent souls navigate a world filled with narcissists, gaslighters, codependents, and other “toxic” people.
Articles with titles such as “How to Spot a Narcissist,” “Toxic People You Should Avoid at All Costs,” and “Gaslighting: How to Recognize it and What to Say When it Happens” are ubiquitous.
Elephant Journal is no exception to this, offering many takes on how to identify and sidestep the people who are on this planet for no other apparent reason than to cause havoc in our own lives.
In all of this avoidance, and for the sake of fairness, I thought I would share five reasons you should avoid me:
1. I’m moody as hell.
I might talk your ear off for a while, only to shut you down and lodge my nose squarely in a book. I’ll do this with no advance notice whatsoever.
2. I can manipulate with the best of them.
I’ve had lots of practice manipulating my husband and my daughters to get what I want, so I know I can do it to you, too.
3. I’ve got a mean streak.
Whether you’re on the other end of a customer service call, cutting me off in traffic, or in any other way disrupting my perfectly planned out day, you will get a look that could kill. I’ve been told that I can send goosebumps across the skin with just a shift in my tone of voice. If you don’t think I know that I’m doing that, well, see #2.
4. I can be intolerant of new ideas and opinions.
I mean, I write all the time about the importance of staying curious and open, but ask me to open my mind to some new conspiracy theory, and I shut that down without a care for your feelings. That’s not very spiritual, I know, but I’m not always the spiritual person I pretend to be.
5. I have a mile-wide sarcastic side and a “take no prisoners” approach that can catch others by surprise.
It might not seem like it came out of the same person who writes about wisdom, compassion, and fairy tales, but I guarantee that this sarcasm belongs to me.
And let me tell you, that’s just the beginning. Sometimes I’m selfish, arrogant, stubborn, critical, quick to anger, impulsive, unforgiving, withdrawn, disrespectful, rude, and dismissive. This list could go on, but perhaps I’ve made my point. We spend a lot of time shining a light on other people’s behavior, but maybe not enough time shining a light on our own shadow sides.
Don’t get me wrong—it is good to work to identify dangerous behavior in other people so we can set good boundaries and protect ourselves. But when we are so busy looking and labeling outward, we can’t turn the flashlight around on ourselves. Our growth gets stuck like boots in the mud.
Shadow work is about making conscious all that is unconscious within us. It requires taking a microscopic look at ourselves. Not just a cursory glance, but a look of such intensity that even the parts of ourselves we’ve kept best hidden will be revealed.
We are not innocents in this game of life. Right now, there are human beings walking this Earth that if they heard your name, they would curse, cry, spit, or in some other way be retraumatized. We’ve all gaslit and ghosted. We’ve all been the clingy one, the manipulative one, the toxic friend/partner/lover. And denying this is not moving our journey forward.
At some point, we have to root out the narcissist within us. We have to look at how we gaslight and manipulate ourselves. We have to bear our own toxicity. Only by facing our own shadows can we eventually become more light.
Yes, you are kind. But you’re also cruel.
You are thoughtful. But you’re also selfish.
You are both light and shadow.
“Whether the shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon ourselves…The shadow becomes hostile only when [it] is ignored or misunderstood.” ~ Marie-Louise Von Franz
Shadows are nothing more than the flip side of our light. Often, the shadow simply points to a part of ourselves we have yet to inhabit. And because we have not yet inhabited it completely or properly, it is coming out instead as a negative trait or shadow.
For instance, perfectionism might be the shadow side of much-needed attention to detail.
Or, stubbornness might be a shadow side to our ability to be grounded but remain flexible. In other words, shadows can be just as instrumental in aiding our growth as can light. For every part of ourselves that we coax out of the shadows, we strengthen our light.
By understanding and working with our shadows, we mature out of our knee-jerk actions and begin to respond, rather than react, to life. We learn about our vulnerabilities and strengths and pair them up in such a way that they keep us humble, curious, and forward-moving. Our shadows, understood and integrated, have far less power over us than those that work in the background.
“That wasn’t me,” we like to say. “I wasn’t myself.”
Yes, we were. That was ourselves—a shadow, perhaps, but a part of us nonetheless.
The greatest disservice we can do as seekers of truth is to claim all that we label positive about ourselves and push away all that is negative, excusing it as a moment of weakness, exhaustion, or some other kind of circumstantial reaction.
If we do this, our lives will dissolve into a facade—unreal and inauthentic. It will be a running list of excuses and cover-ups for our shadow behaviors. It would be a constant effort to deflect and blame others for our behavior. It would be…exhausting.
We cannot become whole human beings if we don’t first face our shadows.
Like Dorothy, we’ve always been wearing the power to do so in the form of shadow work.
Because at the end of the day, I’ve got a lot of light to share, too. And if I let my shadows play unsupervised in my mind, they will obscure my light.
I want authenticity. I want real. I claim both my light and my shadow.
Once we no longer allow our shadows to work in darkness, once we no longer deny and dismiss them, then we can stop trying to explain our behavior away and just f*cking own it.
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