Robert Masters, author of Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You illuminates one's understanding of the shadow and offers ways to work with it.
There's a dimension of us—all of us—that contains what we don't know or don't like or deny about ourselves. This place is our shadow.
Our shadow holds our unattended and not-yet-illuminated conditioning.
The degree to which we don't know our shadow is the degree to which it influences, controls, runs us—both personally and collectively. This is a major concern in our increasingly perilous times.
Knowing our shadow and working in-depth with it are necessary practices if we are really to get on track, unchaining ourselves from our conditioning and embodying a life in which our differences only deepen our shared humanity.
Once we begin bringing our shadow elements out of the dark, we're on our way toward cultivating intimacy with all that we are—meaning relating skillfully and deeply to everything that constitutes us. Nothing gets stranded in the dark. Nothing gets left out.
Here are a few signs that your shadow may be showing up:
You're being reactive, having a disproportionate, automatic take on something. Reactivity is the dramatization of activated shadow material.
You're caught up in aggression—you're not just angry, but also are on the attack. What's in our shadow here is our vulnerability and our investment in dehumanizing our target, be that another person or ourselves.
You're over-tolerating others' aggressive or harmful behavior. What's in our shadow here is our anger and self-respect, along with the roots of our fear of taking a firm, out-front stand.
You're being overly critical of yourself.
You are knowingly doing something that you know is not good for you.
You're getting defensive when the situation does not at all call for it.
And here are five steps for working with your reactivity:
Get to know it. Start developing intimacy with your patterns of reactivity and their origins, asking, for example, how old you actually feel in the midst of your reactivity.
Say "I'm being reactive" as soon as you recognize it. Say this out loud if possible. Don't justify it. There's no need for any more words. Let the reality of what you've just said sink in. If another is present, give them enough time to register what you've just said
State what you are actually feeling. This can be either an emotion or the here-and-now sensations in your body. For example, "I'm feeling sad" or "I'm feeling a tightness in my guts and throat." Make sure not to confuse feelings with perceptions. Saying "I don't feel heard" is not a feeling per se, but a perception, which is open to debate. Stick to the facts.
Shift your attention from your mind to your body. Pull your attention away from what you're thinking, and focus on the sensations in your body, especially your belly. Take five or so conscious breaths. If you're feeling especially reactive, repeat this once or twice.
Start working with what shows up. Reflect on what is present beneath your original reactivity. What do you notice? Is there a sense of a younger self that needs attention and care? Is there some old wounding that you've overlooked or not yet fully faced? Stay as transparent as possible.
In thus working with your reactivity, you will inevitably start to face what has been stored, to whatever degree, in your shadow.
Our times call for us to face and know our shadow very well, working with it in enough depth so that it no longer can run us. Staying oblivious to our shadow simply reinforces our dysfunction, regardless of our achievements.
Seeds grow in the dark. So do we.