Me and My Shadow
By Mary Reddy
I once was wildly attracted to a man who was my teacher. But I resisted acting on the longing this man stirred in me. Because he reminded me so much of everything I had loved about my brothers—mind you, I had spent years running from men who carried the same qualities as my brothers, the intellectual drive and curiosity, a dominating male confidence covering a deep vulnerability— I loved him wildly from the first moment. And that terrified me.
This discomfort, this powerful swing between desire and fear, warned me that my shadow was at play. To describe Carl Jung’s shadow concept in my own words, I’d say my awareness shines like the sun on all the parts of my personality that I knowingly present to the world. But this light of awareness casts a shadow on the parts I learned to reject in growing from wild child to responsible member of society. Jung envisioned a descent into the darkness of the shadow as a journey toward wholeness, becoming aware of and then integrating the outcast elements.
I was already on that descent when I fell in love with my teacher. I had recently emerged from a broken marriage and was painfully re-breaking myself in order to reset the bones of my heart to heal properly. I was questioning everything about myself at the time and I sensed this man was not what I thought him to be. He was a wonderful person, no doubt, but the real man was hidden beneath the shimmer of what I projected upon him. I saw in him those qualities that had lived in the heart of my family identity, all that I had known of love in my childhood. Awareness of my shadow saved me from pulling him into an inauthentic relationship.
When we project onto another, we unconsciously surface a shadow element by assigning it to another. Such projection can be positive as well as negative. Perhaps we buried a vital talent of ours because we were scolded for appearing to be better than others. Then we lend that positive trait to another, elevating them to a pedestal that must inevitably topple. Whether positive or negative, projection generates discomfort all around.
An early memory comes to mind where I struggled with projection, though I was too young to give it that name. My parents’ friends had brought their toddler to a gathering—an adorable curly haired girl just a few years younger than I was. She became the center of attention and the adults exclaimed over her. I started following her around the room, mimicking her every move. This made her uncomfortable. She turned to look at me with fear in her eyes and then began to cry. The adults yelled at me to stop. I was astounded. Who was I to make a little girl afraid of me? Why had I behaved like that? Wasn’t I a good little girl? I always tried to be good! I could not understand at that age that I endowed the other little girl with the lovableness I could not own in myself. My shadow had sneaked out and taken over.
Once I met the shadow while reading the Bible. I became obsessed with Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver. I was in grade school then and I loved the rituals of the Catholic liturgical year. Holy Week was particularly intense. Praying at the stations of the cross, contemplating Christ’s every encounter, each painful wound, was both oppressive and mesmerizing. That Good Friday ritual followed the previous evening’s retelling of the Last Supper, when Jesus says that one of his disciples will betray him. He turns to Judas and says, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
I worried a great deal about Judas. Hadn’t God placed on him the burden of being the betrayer? Surely, someone had to create the circumstances leading to Jesus’s capture and ultimate sacrifice on the cross. God must have asked this of him and then forgiven him, I reasoned, otherwise it would be unfair. Maybe I worried that some part of Judas was in me. Unwittingly, I carried my family’s shame. That shame in me recognized the shame in Judas. I knew what it felt like to be the outsider, to be judged harshly, to be left on your own to figure out what little of value you could grab. I was hungry for love and convinced on a deep level that it was my fault that I went wanting. Now I wonder, was Judas the shadow side of Jesus? He was an indispensable part of the drama, yet he was the part that everyone wanted to disappear. To feel safe, I tried to disappear in my family but then I worried that I would be forever invisible.
In spite of my difficult childhood, I still grew up believing in and continue to live out my own hero’s tale. As is true for anyone, I am at the center of events. I am the core actor, the Rosetta Stone, the sifter of meaning for everything that happens in and around me. In this central position, I project an image that fulfills what I believe about myself. I may shift emphasis, for example, pushing forward logical thinking and suppressing whimsy or intuition if the situation calls for it. But generally, this is the sphere of what I know and consciously acknowledge about who I am. I used to just barely tolerate this face I presented to the world. It was not the best of me. I believed that my better self lived in mystery, in my art, and in my dreams. But by just tolerating who I was in the world, was I not depriving myself of my own love, even as I’d felt deprived in childhood? What is the shadow of disliking who you are? I had always assumed it was an overweening egotism. Perhaps it’s actually true compassion and love.
Something magical happens when I consciously acknowledge my own worth in all its complexity. I begin to soften into myself. Accepting both the rough and the polished sides of my personality leads to a great curiosity and openness around who I am—beyond, behind, and within my public-facing self. I begin to love myself, resting more firmly in my incarnate self, in this life of mine. The more openness and compassion I offer to myself the more I am able to offer the same to others.
Now I watch for my shadow out of the corner of my eye. I open up to my possible selves. I posit the opposite of what I know I am feeling, to test the flavor, to see if I actually carry it as well. I imagine holding a brilliant prism up to the light. The facet facing me is my personality. Teasing out what’s hidden in my shadow is like turning the prism this way and that. The quality of the light shifts. Each band of rainbow colors takes on more or less emphasis. Both white and multicolored, both whole and differentiated.
Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you would like to subscribe, please visit our website and click on Follow Our Blog Via Email. Or email the editor:firstname.lastname@example.org