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How your Shadow works
A real life example of how you create it, reinforce it or dispel it
“For the child, there is no greater cause for grief than to have opened itself to the experience of unconditional love and instead have received hurt (or rejection and humiliation). This grief is increased when the child enters adulthood and constantly has this unpleasant experience repeat over and over.” Michael Brown (The Presence Process)
In this article I describe the specific way in which the Shadow plays out in daily life. As you will see, every day we create, reinforce or dispel our Shadow. Each day it acts out, we notice it and we either bury it again or investigate it. As we mature we become better at noticing it and integrating it, so that we are not held back or harmed by it as much. As we clear our Shadow we become free of our fears and limiting beliefs.
How the Shadow works
In a nut shell, your Shadow (or pain-body), which consists of unconscious memories, emotions, fears and beliefs, impacts your life every single day. It steers your behaviour from behind the scenes, it causes you to avoid things that it deems dangerous and it is on constant alert for danger.
For example, if you unconsciously fear dogs, you not only worry about dogs and avoid dogs, but also act protectively and defensively around dogs. And each time you do this, you are inadvertently reinforcing your belief that dogs are scary. This cycle continues over and over, hidden from you, until you break it.
I call this process, that the mind typically follows, the loop of insanity because it follows a cycle that keeps us in a self-made mental prison that looks like this:
You create a false belief and fear in your mind,
You bury it in your Shadow, in your psyche,
You then live according to this false belief and fear,
You then inadvertently reinforce that false belief and fear – until you surface and integrate it.
Here is a quick example of how the loop of insanity works:
Let’s say that when you were a child, a teacher told you that you were stupid. As a result, you adopted a belief that you are not very smart. You hid this memory and the shameful emotions in your psyche (your Shadow). Unbeknownst t to you, your new (yet false) belief caused you to feel insecure. Thus, you over-studied and often stressed about exams. When you failed a test, it affirmed your belief. When you excelled, you assumed you were just lucky. You starting hanging out in the school yard with kids who also struggled. Then about ten years later a teacher recognizes your brilliance and tells you that you are actually a genius! Although at first you don’t believe, slowly, over many years you re-build your confidence and self-esteem. However, even to this day, although you know you are smart, you still over-compensate and work harder than needed. Also, on rare occasions, you get triggered when someone challenges your ideas or questions your logic.
This is your Shadow in action. And this type of thing happens day-in and day-out. You experience an event; you draw conclusions about yourself and you bury the memory and beliefs. Then over many years the beliefs get reinforced. They now they sit in your Shadow influencing your life and your decisions and attracting things that reinforce your belief and repelling things that don’t.
As mentioned, this loop of insanity will continue to impact you until you break the cycle. That is why surfacing and integrating the Shadow is so important. Poet Robert Bly says that we spend the first twenty years of our lives putting ninety percent of our wholeness into “the long bag we drag behind us” (our Shadow) and the rest of our lives trying to retrieve these things.
How to break the loop of insanity
The first step to freedom is to simply realize that you have a Shadow (pain-body) and it is active all the time. It is also useful to know how the Shadow is formed, how it is reinforced and how irritations can help you to see it. Here is an example of this.
Many years ago, my daughter came home from school crying because she had not been invited to a birthday party. Although she was young, I decided to try to help her surface her hidden beliefs (the Shadow) that were driving the upset, so she could better navigate it.
She told me that Susan, her best friend had not invited her to her birthday party. My first impulse was to brush it aside since things like this often work themselves out within a few days. I could have said, “Honey, give it a few days because Susan might change her mind.” Instead, I let her express her full feelings. I knew that there was a risk that she might suppress them and they could end up in her Shadow.
So, I did not downplay the seriousness of the situation. I wanted to let her know that her feelings were legitimate and that holding them in is not healthy. My aim was to allow her to sit with her feelings and the discomfort so that several things could happen.
First, she would develop more capacity and resilience at holding upsets and not push them away too quickly. Second, she could directly experience what it feels like to face and touch feelings (without judging them as bad) and notice how they slowly lessen and dissolve. She might learn to feel the “hot” energy of her upset slowly shift into a cooler energy as she calmed down. I also wanted her to know that her crying and being sad was acceptable to me and that I was happy to provide the time and space for her so she could feel seen, heard and loved.
Please note that this is not allowing her to wallow in pity, nor is it “spoiling” her. Nor is it questioning or denying her feelings by diverting her, distracting her or soothing her.
I remember hugging her and telling her to cry for as long as she needed. I held her and said nothing at all for several minutes. I did not offer my ideas or opinions. When she spoke, I just nodded and rubbed her back, without agreeing or disagreeing. I stayed as neutral as possible while accepting her feelings.
As for the creation of her Shadow, and specifically beliefs about herself, its useful to observe what happened in her mind within a few minutes:
She initially got triggered and emotionally upset at a very deep level (“I can’t stop crying!’)
She had an immediate reaction to reject those who hurt her and avoid pain (“I hate them all!”)
She made up a story to protect her feelings (“I did not want to go anyway.”)
She made up beliefs about herself that were not true (“I am worthless.”)
She sensed that this would impact her permanently or keep happening (“No one likes me.”)
She thought that she had done something wrong (“I always mess up.”)
It is important to note that if my daughter had not been able to process the situation and her feelings, she could have potentially carried her anger and several false beliefs around with her for a very long time. The following describes what often happens in these situations:
“Unresolved anger, hidden in the Shadow of our psyche – as children and in adulthood- may cause us to lash out at others, creating harm and upset, or may be turned inward and experienced as self judgment, self loathing, and self hatred throughout our life. It closes the window on our capacity to feel fully alive and deeply affects our capacity for intimacy and authenticity.“ Julie Brown Yau
The bottom line is that we all have Shadows that formed over our lifetimes. These memories, beliefs and fears are impacting our lives daily below our awareness. Each day we have two options: create and reinforce our beliefs and fears or dispel them. In the next few articles I explain how to surface and integrate the Shadow so it loses its impact and in doing so, we free our minds.
In my next entries I talk about:
The five main harms caused by the Shadow
The five universal false beliefs of all humans
How to integrate your Shadow
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book: “Wake the F Up.” Thanks for joining me on the journey! This substack is completely supported by you the readers. The best way to support me is to buy my books, invite me to speak or become a subscriber here.