What exactly are our ‘shadows’ and why should we be interested in them?
They’re part of the juice in relationship.
Our shadows are the dark parts of our psyche, they hold a lot of energy and bringing them to light brings real juice to your relationship. For the same reason eating chocolate, taking unexpected time off, flirting or playing at ‘naughty’ sex feels so ‘good’. Feeling wrong has power.
Our shadows are parts of us that we prefer to keep hidden from the world, the parts that we don’t believe are socially acceptable, or that we fear would disadvantage us in some way if we exposed them. At a deeper level shadows are parts of ourselves that we can’t even see…
Shadows – we all have them, it’s part of being human
They’re the parts of us that many so called ‘spiritual’ people deny even having, but we all do, for where there is light there is shadow. It’s a little like acknowledging that as humans we can all snore, fart, pick our noses, scratch our butts, masturbate and do other generally unacceptable things that we’d never admit to in public, but we do all the same. Even Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.
How does this relate to our relationships? True intimacy is dependent on us being comfortable, or at least willing, to reveal some of what lies behind our masks of social acceptability we wear in daily life. It’s letting go of the relationship fairytale and being real. It’s the joy of being loved for who we are rather than who we ‘should’ be. This revealing is what creates intimacy, or in-to-me-see. We don’t have to reveal everything; we can still have boundaries for ourselves. However the more we can delve into the trust and vulnerability of such revealing the more we create a strong and lasting bond.
There is also a shadow side to our shadows
Iif you’ll pardon the pun. The problem with shadows is that the more we try to hide them, the more they leak out in unconscious ways eg. Most famously in the priest preaching abstinence who is caught as a paedophile, or the politician elected for his financial values found with his hands in the party till. In a relationship it can be the ‘nice’ guy who takes his anger out on his spouse covertly by being constantly late or ‘tuning her out’ in conversation. Or the woman who disappears into being ‘the perfect wife’ and cannot believe her partner when he has an affair with someone he can ‘feel’.
Even if we can’t see them our shadows create havoc in our lives. Their negative effects are most strongly felt by those around us, especially those we’re closest to. Eventually their consequences impact on us.
Look for and own your shadow, don’t try to ‘fix’ the relationship
Our shadows are what underlie most of the problem areas in our relationship. You know, the ones that cause significant suffering and end in those ‘oh so familiar’ arguments, or feel like an immovable brick wall between you. These downward spirals and walls are not usually about our relationships, they’re about us as individuals. When we’re in a stuck place in our relationship it is time to look within ourselves at where our shadows might be lurking rather than try to fix the relationship itself. Own the shadow and the relationship will fix itself.
It is time to say ‘I’ rather than ‘You’….
What we hold in shadow can be feelings of inadequacy, problems dealing with anger, addictions, an inability to speak up or let someone in close. They can also be deeper parts of us that hold unexpressed fear, terror or even rage. Our deepest shadows can track back to our childhood as a result of unresolved issues lurking in our psyche, such as a child who was never allowed to express their own opinion who cannot stand up for herself as an adult in her relationship. Shadows can also be cultural, religious, societal and even gender associated eg. Men can’t show their emotions.
Shadows aren’t as hidden as we like to think
These shadows from the past are important if they’re triggered in our current relationships. We can be responding to our partners not as an adult, but as the child we once were.
– A husband with a low self esteem has a wife who takes up a new job working with a lot of men. Even though he loves and trusts his wife her new job triggers anxiety due to his insecure relationship with his Mother, resulting in him becoming irrationally angry and needy around his wife.
– A woman might unknowingly push her partner away with her constant shaming and criticism, not realizing how painful this is for him, as for her growing up with a critical Dad it was ‘normal’.
– A woman might withhold her sexuality after menopause because this is what older women ‘do’.
– A man from a Greek background might feel hurt that his partner cannot display the open affection he grew up with.
Our shadows are unique to us and are a brilliant roadmap to relationship growth and healing.
Shadows can also be positive or what are called ‘golden shadows’. For example a person with a talent for painting who grew up in a business oriented family that didn’t value the arts may put away this part of themselves to avoid disapproval. Shadows suppressed don’t go away; they merely lurk underneath the surface, longing to be expressed. Perhaps your parents valued education over everything else so you pushed yourself through years of study, to find in your 40’s there is no room for the fun loving, spontaneous part of yourself, so you struggle to find your zest for life. When we make other peoples’ expectations more important than the truths of our golden shadows we lose something of ourselves that we would otherwise have to offer. It’s never too late to uncover them.
We’re built to heal
The important thing is to realize that our shadows don’t make us any less lovable, they’re normal, we all have them, they’re part of what makes us unique and the pain only comes from denying them. Our shadows are what attract us to each other, for we attract partners with shadows that mirror or compliment our own. This is because our psyches, just like our bodies, are built to heal and we unconsciously seek the ideal partner to trigger our shadows in order for them to be healed. This makes them the gift rather than the destruction of the relationship.
All we need to do with our shadows is to see and own them from a place of understanding and love.
Annette & Graeme
feel grateful to their own shadows for the self learning and intimacy they’ve created in their relationship. As a result they don’t seek to be perfect, just perfectly human, and know that having little to fear or hide in themselves is a powerful and loving place to live from. This is what Annette & Graeme’s clients repeatedly say they appreciate about them the most- their humanity.
We don’t need or expect you to reveal what you don’t desire to, that is none of our business. What we can do is help you see where there might be consequences to your unresolved shadows, allowing you the choice whether to look at them or not.