What’s the light
Within my sight
Is it me
Is it you?
If I’m able to see
It must be true
Or is it just a shadow
By being me I allow
Results of the light
Hitting my structure
Creating this distorted but bright
Reality in which everything is a lure
How can the light and the shade
Emaculates from the same?
Because one is hiding
Behind that thing
Conditioned by the surroundings..
Be the light, No need to cling
This poem is how I remind myself:
- That nobody can make me angry unless I allow it
- To own my powers [more on this later on]
- That I’m responsible for the perceptions and judgements I’m witnessing
- That what I’m taking as real around me is actually not (it is but a representation of “The Reality”).
If you, like me, think: “there is too much unnecessary psychological suffering in the world“, well this process of projecting our shadow, which is the main topic of this article, may be a big contributor. From my perspective, it is a really efficient place to start working on yourself. If you agree with that former statement and are a “self-development junkie” as I am.
And as we’ll see in more details later on, the best way to see changes around you is to apply to self first. If you find truth for yourself as you try on what I’m about to share, then taking response-ability for it may be the greatest gift you’ve done to yourself (and your surroundings).
What does the term “shadow” refer to in psychology?
The shadow refers to everything that has been repressed and rejected by a person, a polarity of expression and denial.
“The shadow,’’ wrote Jung (1963), is ‘‘that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious’’.
This pervasive Freudian defense mechanism (projection) is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself.
It could be seen as a paradox that by repressing one’s emotions/behaviours/thoughts, one gives them power.
The term “Paradoxical Embrace” sums it pretty well: “What you resist persist”… C. G. Jung. I would add to this: “what you embrace dissolve.”
Here is a really good example of shadow projection from Ken Wilber:
“Oddly, [The homophobic] doesn’t hate the homosexual because he is homosexual; he hates him because he sees in the homosexual what he secretly fears he himself might become. He is most uncomfortable with his own natural unavoidable, but minor homosexual tendencies, and so projects them. He thus comes to hate the homosexual inclinations in other people–but only because he first hates them in himself”.
How to gain back control of yourself?
Setting boundaries (more on this later on) around one’s own powers could be a good start. There’s a general agreement in contemporary psychology that every human being has 4 powers:
When talking of responsibility, that’s what I’m referring to. Being Responsible for our own powers. If you ever let an external event/person change or influence your thoughts, emotions, speaking and/or behaving, you are being under-responsible.
At this point, you might ask: “What does responsibility have to do with powers?”.
The answer is the key to not let any external event affect you in any way:
“Being healthily responsible for your own power”. By understanding and embodying this responsibility, you give yourself (and your surroundings) an immense gift.
Let’s go with another example:
“When I was 14 years old, I told my father about another student (Bob) in my class that was bullying me almost on a daily basis. My dad than took action and got to talk with Bob’s parents. I was relieved, someone was taking care of me in this “hard to deal with situation”.
What my dad and I didn’t know at this time was that he allowed me to be under-responsible for my own powers (giving away primarily my behaving and speaking) by being over-responsible for me.
This is one of the distortions with which we filter the world: cause and effect.
“He (Bob) made me feel sad and angry because he insulted me”.
This statement implies that I’m not response-able for my own powers. I didn’t know I was able to choose to respond, so I reacted.
You see the difference between response and re-act? It is subtle but crucial if you want to take back ownership of powers. The former is dealing with a situation in a healthy response-ability of your powers, the later is called re-acting because you may be acting in reference of a less mature/past version of you. Discounting, by this fact, the resources you have now that you didn’t have then.
So, next time you hear someone telling you that you are this or that, remember that this person is dealing with his/her own shadow (i.e.: rejected part of themselves).
A quick point here that can help in this process of becoming a freer version of yourself is this: don’t confuse ownership and identity. Thats’ right, the four powers are yours, but you are not them, you are more than your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, etc.
As Eckart Tole brings this in a lovely way in his book “The Power Of Now”:
“People tend to aggressively defend their points of views, because they identify themselves with their mind. Once people come to dis-identify themselves from the mind, they then can express their feelings and views without a need to defend them.”
Where to set boundaries for ourselves?
From my perspective of things, projection of shadow and response-ability are closely link together. When the former is in action, we tend to be under-responsible for our own powers.
When you let someone else (or an external event) influence one of your powers (ie: thoughts, emotions, speaks and/or behaviours) by either projecting your own shadow or by being projected on by another’s shadow. If you re-act to this situation, you are being under-responsible by giving some of your response-able powers.
Talking of boundaries, I think the biggest issue in “relationships” is that we, humans, have a tendency of wanting to be responsible for other people. The only person we should have to be responsible for is ourselves (really young children may be an exception here). For those loved ones of yours, the healthy boundary setting would be to be responsible for your answer to the other person. The words for and to are heavy in meanings here. By being responsible for your own powers, you can now be responsible to those you chose to be. And by doing so, you encourage those people to be healthily responsible for themselves too.
To this I want to share this lovely quote by Gandhi:
“Be the change you want to see in the world”.
and an NLP presupposition: “Apply to self first”.
What about when people praise you?
This is where golden shadow comes into play. As it is true for the “regular shadow”, every time some qualities in other people move you, you’re seeing yourself. In order to see a quality in someone else, you have to hold it somewhere for yourself. May it be as a repressed behaviour, a disbelief, a discounted part of your persona, something you don’t give yourself permission for, etc.
My advice here would be to be careful if you let your self-esteem/self-value influenced by other people’s praised. Letting the “good” things in let the door open for the “lesser good/bad” things.
What I mean by that is if you wait for people to praise you when you do a “good” job and you let that praise/good compliment increase your sense of worth, the moment you don’t get it (but was probably expecting it), your self-value will decrease accordingly.
Here goes the roller-coaster of conditional self-esteem. Unconditional self-esteem is highly valued here if those roller-coasters are something you want to avoid (or are tired of). It’ll be another great subject that I will be developing on a further article.
So, you may ask:
“What’s the point in praising people now that I know it is a part of me I’m projecting onto that person in which I’m seeing this good quality?”
My answer would be: Know what it is and ask yourself this powerful question: “Is it serving me in what I’m holding as intent?”.
What to do with this if we’re all walking-talking projectors?
Know that every time you notice or judge something about another person that moves you emotionally, you are actually looking at a rejected/repressed part of yourself. Bringing awareness will be massively curative in itself and also be a big step towards a “freer you”.
So now that you’ve brought awareness to your projecting shadow, what to do next? Ask yourself this question: “How is it possible it is me I’m seeing?”
In that specific context, it is probably the most powerful question you can ask yourself, in regard of your personal development.
When you catch yourself becoming “emotionally involved” in the face of someone else (or another external event for example), what element is present in that person (or stimulus) that I’ve been rejected/repressed for myself?
Since what’s in our shadow is usually what we refuse to own in our first person consciousness, it is then pushed into second or even third person perspective. This process of pushing those rejected or repressed qualities of ours into second and third person perspective is the origin of the shadow. Reversing that process and re-owning these disowned qualities seems logical if your development is a priority.
More openness and tolerance in the face of others seem to be other side effects of shadow integration:
“Self-acknowledged assholes are easier and more fun to hang out with than assholes in denial”.
Once you’ve done the previous two steps, the next one would be to “integrate” that part of your shadow.
How? One of the practices to efficiently re-integrate one’s shadow is outlined in the 3-2-1 process and is summarized as:
- Face it;
- Talk to it;
- Be it.
You can have a look at a summary of the article at: https://www.integrallife.com/integral-life-practice/3-2-1-shadow-process
What if I tell you that you now have the tools to avoid almost all of your future arguments? Well, it may be the case! Just remember to be aware of your shadow when you may be projecting it, asking yourself the powerful question: “How is it possible it’s me I’m seeing?” and then integrate that part of your shadow.
This process can really be transformational.
My offer is: don’t take this article as THE truth, as it is only partial, but go try it on for yourself and see what happens. For me, it has been (and still is) extremely liberating.