Shadow Work: Weekly Summary

Shadow Work

Summary: Sunday, September 8—Friday, September 13, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. (Sunday)

Carl Jung had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others. (Monday)

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. —Robert A. Johnson (Tuesday)

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. —Robert A. Johnson (Wednesday)

God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit. (Thursday)

Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona (mask) we have been presenting to others. We must become intentional about recognizing and embracing our shadows. Religion’s word for this is quite simply forgiveness. (Friday)

 

Practice: Pay Attention

The term shadow refers to everything within us that we don’t know about ourselves. It’s often called our disowned self. Jesus called it “the log in your own eye,” which you instead notice as the “splinter in your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). His advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (7:5).

Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside the contradictions are prophets.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933–1984), who was significantly influenced by the Holocaust, saw the essence of the problem clearly:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. [1]

Working to become aware of our shadow so that we can live in greater alignment with our True Self—which is Love—is rewarding yet challenging work. There are many perspectives on how to best accomplish it. One step that is practiced in virtually all approaches involves increasing awareness by introspective, contemplative practice. Here is one very important shadow work practice as taught by leadership coach Scott Jeffrey:

Shining the light of consciousness on the shadow takes effort and continual practice. The more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act. We tend to project our disowned parts onto other people.

One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people. Sure, your colleagues might be aggressive, arrogant, inconsiderate, or impatient, but if you don’t have those same qualities within you, you won’t have a strong reaction to their behavior.

If you’re paying close attention, you can train yourself to notice your shadow when you witness strong negative emotional responses to others. But we rarely have time to work with those emotions on the spot. At the end of the day, it’s helpful to take five or ten minutes to reflect on your interactions with others and your related reactions.

Whatever bothers you in another is likely a disowned part within yourself. Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you, and next time, it may not evoke a strong emotional charge when you observe it in another. [2]

References:
[1] Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (Harper Torchbooks: 1975, ©1974), 6.

[2] Scott Jeffrey, “A Complete Guide to Working With Your Shadow,” https://scottjeffrey.com/wp-content/uploads/Shadow-Work-Guide.pdf.

For Further Study:
Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1995)

Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991)

C. G. Jung,Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Vintage Books: 1989)

C. G. Jung, On Christianity, ed. Murray Stein (Princeton University Press: 1999)

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003)

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019)

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr
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