Shadowboxer, baby

So, what would an angel say? The devil wants to know…

-Fiona Apple

In psychology, a shadow self is everything about you that you don’t want to, or can’t, acknowledge. The human ability to compartmentalize for the sake of self-preservation is astonishing–it hurts really badly to own up to your mistakes and/or shortcomings, so to make it through the day, it’s better to just take everything bad and put it in the dark recesses of your brain.

This makes navigating the shadow self a dangerous endeavor. Picture a warehouse full of catalogued boxes and filing cabinets, all holding the darkest parts of you. Or maybe consider it a dark cave you’re slowly lowering yourself into, or a submarine diving into a deep trench. Why in the world would someone willingly go into such a place? Because that’s where the good stuff is.

Our self-inflicted trauma isn’t the only thing that gets relegated to the shadows. Anything involving shame ends up there, as well. Children are hardwired to please adults, so any time an adult admonishes something a child has done, it begins building the shadow self. We aren’t born shadows; they’re created. Unfortunately, that means good aspects of ourselves end up in our shadow selves, too. A child picks flowers for a parent, to have the parent sneer that she has massacred her prized begonias. Picking flowers isn’t inherently evil, but it gets lost to the shadows, anyway.

The shadow self is an important resource for those who are lost, who are hurting, and who need hope. Sadly, so many good parts of who we could have been end up in the shadow self, often because someone else doesn’t realize they’re reacting to their own shadow selves. It’s cyclical like that: Hurt people hurt people.

And this, my friends, is where I am–hurt, lost, and seeking hope that there is something great for me around the corner. As such, I realize the best thing I can do for myself right now is go straight into the hurricane that is my shadow. I believe there’s something there I need to find.

This is, of course, dangerous. To willingly immerse yourself in such a dark place is perilous, if not stupid. Exploring your shadow self is like walking into a room full of everyone who ever hated or hurt you, and they all have bullhorns. Often, it’s something that should only be done with the help of an experienced therapist because some of those wounds have been festering a long, long time, and probably need more care than we can provide on our own.

So, naturally, when I explained to Kyle that I needed to do shadow work, he was concerned. He asked me to take a therapist with me, but understood when I pointed out I’d move more efficiently on my own. We agreed that, if he gives the word that I’m in over my head, I am to get help. In exchange, I offered to put some safety nets in place.

I have spiritually tethered myself to our home. I know that, at any point, I can tug on that rope and be back in the safety of my own kitchen, or bed, or porch. I am skilled at meditation, so I know how something as seemingly mundane as washing dishes by hand, or drinking a cup of coffee can be an immediate transport back to the moment.

As a woman, I understand how strongly I am tied to the moon. I started the shadow work on the last full moon, knowing that the way was illuminated, but would slowly get darker and darker as I went further into my shadow. There will come a point when I reach absolute darkness, but the moon will always come back to light the way.

My subconscious is pitching in quite nicely, and by “quite nicely” I mean that I have had the most horrendous dreams since this process started, dreaming every night about at least one person who has somehow scarred me. I wake up each morning feeling like I fought a war while I slept, and then spend the day thinking about these people and the scenarios in which I was wounded.

I don’t know that I’d say I’m gaining any clarity, yet, by encouraging all this stuff to be dredged back up, but I’m having faith in the process. There are parts of me long lost to the shadows that, frankly, I want back.

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