Each of us is unique. We are individuals. And yet there are similarities we all share. As we move through life, experiencing love, pain, rejection, affirmation, indifference, injustice and shadows, we change. This is true for everyone in all religions, as well as for all who are not necessarily oriented toward religious belief. We are re-fashioned by the path we are on, the life we are given, or later choose for ourselves, those who travel with us, how we respond to whatever confronts us and the beliefs we invite to shape us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself!
I. Who Are We?
Every one of us begins with a need to establish who we are. These impressions about ourselves come from a host of sources – basically everything we experience and everyone we encounter. If our early life has had a good balance of affirmation and demand, love and boundaries, opportunities and challenges, we have a good foundation. Early on we paint a picture, hoping a strong identity will be the backdrop, security in our community / family will add splashes of dynamic color, tools to be effective in our chosen field will enhance with texture and depth. Added to that, we long for a spiritual depth that is life-giving and meaningful.
Because we want to make sense of life, we set goals, strive to achieve, reach out for relationships, hope to accumulate at least a reasonable amount of wealth and to garner acclaim. We tend to think that if we do everything “by the books” (whichever set of guidelines that may be), the end result should look a certain way.
Not long ago one of my granddaughters and I made a bracelet, using the step-by-step instructions, yarn and weaving tool provided in a kit. We saw a picture of the end result and were excited! But, you guessed it! It didn’t turn out as promised. The bracelet was far too short, though the weaving created a beautiful design. (We decided to make modifications and try again!)
That’s what happens to us personally, too. Even though we try to follow the blueprint, it’s still a trial and error as we stride bravely down this path we’re on. Things don’t always turn out the way we wish. And when they don’t, then what?
Send me an email here, and we’ll talk through the path and how to navigate it without being overcome by it.
II. The Discomfort
When things don’t turn out as we’d expected, we become uneasy. First the discomfort is so subtle that we can talk ourselves out of the dis-ease. Then it begins to nag, and still we try to persuade ourselves that all we need to do is to try harder, do better, add more to our lives (or subtract things, if that seems more helpful).
Eventually we ask why? Why am I experiencing this? Let’s look at the players that contribute to this uncomfortable scene:
- believing we don’t live up to expectations
- the sense of being alone or the only one experiencing something negative
- we feel invisible; unimportant; not mattering to anyone
- we think we don’t belong
- we consider ourselves unlovable
- we feel a sense of failure and that we are not adequate.
All of this leads to anger, bitterness and fear.
Fear of being discovered as a fraud.
Bitterness because we feel that we deserve better, given the level of our investment.
Anger that our efforts aren’t paying off, or even worse, that our belief system is somehow letting us down.
And we inevitably come to the point of discovering things about ourselves that are uncomfortable – even negative. We notice our knee-jerk behavior – things we say just aren’t us, leaving us feeling out of control.
This can be a time that produces a great deal of anxiety. Reach out here so we can talk about the discomfort and find constructive ways to move forward.
III. The Cover-Up
We hate the feeling that we are losing control, so we try to cover up the shadow side of who we are. We feel so embarrassed for not being able to “get it together”; we feel weak, dark, undesirable, ineffective. We are so ashamed of these feelings that we hide them even from ourselves. And when we do that, “they tend to have a lot of power over us”, writes Sharon Grussendorff.
So, we create cover-ups. Masks. Costumes. Some of our cover-ups may even appear just, virtuous and “holy”. In fact, our distaste for shadows often leads us to create pretenses, convincing ourselves that our shadows are somehow wholesome and even necessary. In this way we are able to hide our own fears as we admonish others to rid themselves of their fear and anxiety; we can lecture our fellow traveler to work harder, be more focused, while we struggle with the immense load of under-productivity and lack of purpose. It’s the biblical metaphor of addressing another’s speck of dust that’s blocking their vision, while overlooking the plank of wood in our own eye.
IV. The Discovery
The day we realize that our shadows are not evil, but simply realities on our journey is one of the most liberating days of our lives! Without shadows we would be half the people we are meant to be.
Within the past year, I have had unexpected set-backs and changes in my life that were not on my radar even a few months ago. I reeled for a while, and I had a choice: become angry, bitter, even envious of others’ apparent smooth pathway, or choose to love what is (thank you, Byron Katie*). This is a process and I don’t hide the fact that I have anxiety over it, and find that sleep eludes me at times.
We have the choice to embrace our shadows, giving them permission to move us toward becoming people, or to see them as the enemy and fight for all we’re worth! But here’s the thing: we never win that fight!
A sure way for a shadow to turn dark is to resist acknowledging and dealing with it. Wrestling with our shadows is what some call “The Dark Night of the Soul” or “Shadowboxing”. This is a process that lends itself to calling on a mentor or coach to come alongside.
Let’s deal with that shadow side before it overwhelms us. Reach out now; so we can talk or email.
Let’s talk soon,
* Email coaching is also available. Contact me here.
* Loving What Is, Byron Katie, 2002