June 7, 2021

Why it’s Important to do Shadow Work & own our Garbage.

Last week I read an article written by another contributor whose work I respect highly.

In it, she made copious profound statements regarding the importance of shadow work.

Candidly, she asserted that it is important to shine a lantern on the cracks and holes in our foundations in order for the light of our awareness to enter.

(Anyone who has ever done any intense shadow work will know that this dawn of realization is only the beginning and that in order to mature in our growth, we must stride onward into a dark night after we watch the sun go down on our ego).

When we fail to do this, we spill black ink onto others and rewrite a sinister plot twist in which the other character takes on a Machiavellian shade and, subsequently, becomes the antagonist in a victim story of our own making.

Terms such as “narcissist” and “sociopath,” for example, have become ubiquitous as we all too often turn a blind eye to those hideous stains in the fabric of our own psychology.

I couldn’t agree more with her position on this topic and, in fact, have more points to add.

First and perhaps foremost, like the other author, I will place the spotlight on myself and make glaringly visible my own shadows:

1. I have a tendency to make automatic judgments and assumptions about others which are often quite negative.

Sometimes I overestimate the accuracy of my own perceptions. While I am quite skilled at reading most people, I can also be prone to jumping the gun and either sizing them up too quickly one way or the other or erroneously assuming the worst about them and the situation itself.

I become suspicious about their intentions. I stiffen my posture and easily slide into the defensive, believing that the other person will not support or in some way disapprove of me.

2. I can take criticism harshly.

I am on the lookout for it quite frequently, as well (see #1). Whenever I receive a work email or some kind of evaluation, my stomach churns in a knot and my heart rate quickens. I scan the words with my eyes in a silent panic and clench my jaw as my shoulders go up. Relax, I have to tell myself. No one is against you. You are okay. Breathe. Even if they do give you a less-than-stunning evaluation, they’re only telling you for your own highest good. Take it, and run with it.

Although I’d never show it when someone does provide constructive feedback, however gently they phrase their words, I can sometimes dwell on the shame and disappointment I feel as a result for a long time after the fact. I obsess over it as I shrivel into a deep pit of self-loathing.

I’ve called myself a failure and have effectively ruined an otherwise okay day sitting in the house and hiding from the world outside of it. (I call it my walk of shame, but instead of moving my body, which would no doubt be healthier and perhaps even cathartic, I curl myself into a fetal position behind a closed door).

3. I am, at times, horribly self-conscious.

For example, if I did receive a negative evaluation, all it takes is for me to imagine that someone I admire—or let’s face it, anyone really—heard or read it as well, and I can barely get up from my seat and walk out the door without wanting to crawl, or better yet, become completely invisible to those around me. I embarrass easily. I’ve even felt self-conscious singing or dancing in front of my cat, for goodness’ sake.

4. I can be enormously self-absorbed.

Yes, I’ve fallen into the trap of the classic “me toosyndrome on more than one occasion, even with the purest of intentions, and made it—yep, you guessed it—all about me. Also, I can be so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I forget to actively listen to others’ thoughts.

(I try to catch myself doing this more often now and consciously ask the other person how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and how their day is going so that it doesn’t become all about Sarah).

5. I’ve mastered the art of appearing as though I’m actually paying attention to what you’re saying.

This was hard for me to admit it, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of damage control to do after admitting to this one. Let me explain: I have inattentive-type ADHD, so my executive function can be rather questionable, but sometimes even that is no excuse.

I can nod my head while I look you directly in the eye, yet miss nearly everything you’ve just said, while I am off in another galaxy, thinking about my next article topic, my next creative project, when I’m ever going to get around to cleaning out the closet or do the laundry, why time is all relative, where I’m going to go on my next vacation, what my last vacation was like, and why I’ve never really processed that one specific traumatic event that happened 10 or so years ago and what it all meant…(By the way, do aliens exist, and if so, why and how? And, gosh, how the heck did I even get here?)

As a child, I was allotted a seat at the front of the classroom so that my teachers could catch me daydreaming while staring out the windows and knock me back into the present by tapping on my desk to startle me out of my fog or simply call me out. (That, by the way, was embarrassing as sin to me and is probably one of the reasons I don’t deal so well with shame to date).

The truth is no one is off of the hook. We all have things we must be held accountable for. There are cracks in all of us—even when we’ve done our healing work.

Growth, I am beginning to realize, is a revolving door.

Often, we have to circle the process twice or even thrice in order to inch a little further along the path toward self-mastery.

Furthermore, as much as I love the spiritual community and consider myself a spiritual person, being spiritual does not mean equal being 100 percent light, love, and—dare I say toxicpositivity. I tend to steer away from people in these tribes who claim to have conquered all their demons.

As much as I believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience rather than the other way around, we are still in this fleshly form that carries with it an ego. We all have an ego, and just because we’re aware of it and even understand its perils does not mean we’ve relinquished it entirely. (That is not to suggest we shouldn’t at least try to, but for as long as we’re here and in this form, we are going to struggle with our thoughts every now and again. It is inevitable.).

Spiritual bypassing seems to be a coping mechanism for many. This often includes the belief that you’re on a higher plane than others and conveniently disguises difficult emotions (that stem from the mind) under various masks of avoidance, which look different on everyone.

Truth be told, when we fail to do shadow work and disown our baggage, we also disempower other people. No one particularly enjoys looking at, much less exposing themselves, but there is a sense of satisfaction and, of course, integrity, in standing up and saying: yes, this is me. I am whole in both my light as well as in my brokenness.

It also makes it possible, perhaps, for those we love and who love us to boldly declare the same. Once we begin to embody integrity, the masks come off and we start living much closer to the surface of our skin.

When this happens, it has the potential to create a ripple effect and touch other important areas of our lives. We quit jobs that pay our bills but suck our souls dry and unapologetically pursue our passion. We call that friend or family member we haven’t spoken with in 10 years and wholeheartedly make amends. Our soul ceases to suffer because we nourish it by living in alignment with who we truly are, which of course, includes all of those jagged edges.

So, what are you waiting for?

Dive in deep and explore the ocean that is you. Cleanse and purify yourself!


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