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Facing Your Shadow

One of the more difficult things to do during any self-improvement journey is to take an honest look at the shadow self, or ways in which you create your own difficulties. Most of us carry around wounds and fragile egos and the last thing we want is to feel worse about ourselves. And yet, we can get nowhere without honest awareness. It would be like trying to fix a car without having any idea where the repair needs to be done.

I believe that this unwillingness to face our shadow is one of the primary reasons many people don't seek help, whether that be from a coach like myself or some other type of professional. If there were a mirror that would show your flaws, would you look into it? Not likely. Yet this is not really what shadow work is like, at least not with the approach that I use. For one thing, I believe in integrating shadow parts not blaming or ostracising them. Banishing parts of ourselves is often what gets us into trouble in the first place.

That's the beauty of archetype work and why I'm so fond of it. You don't look in a mirror and see your flaws, you look and see your archetypes or characters and what they're trying to accomplish on your behalf. You see both the ways in which they help you and the ways in which they hinder you. This hindrance is what I refer to as the shadow side of that archetype. But even the shadow side is trying to help, which we realize when we unveil its motivation. Often it is working in shadow simply because it has gone unrecognized and unacknowledged. Or it has been actively blamed and shamed somewhere along the way. Awareness simply shines the light that puts the shadow parts into perspective.

"Your Shadow is all of the things, 'positive' and 'negative', that you've denied about yourself and hidden beneath the surface of the mask you forgot that you're wearing." - Oli Anderson

While I wouldn't recommend most people start their self-improvement journey with shadow work, it is an essential component of growth. Archetypes, in my experience, greatly dull the pain of self-examination. In fact, one great way to do a bit of shadow work on your own is to consider one of your archetypes, something you know you have as part of your personality. First, think about the positive qualities of that archetype. Perhaps it is wise, or knowledgeable, or builds things or makes great art. Then simply ask yourself this question: If this part started to work against me, how would it do so?

Someone's Intellectual may become a bit of a Know-it-All, or may disconnect from emotions. Another person's Giver might have strings attached to what they give, expecting gratitude or reciprocity and punishing others when they don't provide this. A Martyr who doesn't have a cause may martyr themselves. An Artist might hoard their gifts or not use them at all out of a fear of being criticized or 'unsuccessful'.

This is a simple and relatively painless way of doing some shadow work. The harder work requires digging deeper and discovering the root motivation of these parts. What are they afraid of? What is their goal? Do they have a seat at the table with the rest of your parts, or are they hidden in a basement cupboard? Have they been blamed or criticized? Often this rooting out is best done with a guide, but this exercise can give you a start.

Yes, facing the shadow can be intimidating and uncomfortable, but the freedom that results is worth it in the end. A bit of bravery for a lifetime of reward. Are you willing?

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