Facing and Embracing the Dark

Are you familiar with the aspects of your personality referred to as your Persona and your Shadow?  Rather simplistically, let me state that people who study these things (you know, psychotherapy types like Freud and Jung) suggest that your whole self is comprised of two parts – the Good part (the Persona) and the Bad part (the Shadow). Good is not necessarily good as you might interpret the word at first. Rather it is only good because society has told you it is good.  Conversely, the bad part of you, the Shadow, is also only bad because society makes it so. Bad may not be bad at all except that society has taught you that part of your self is inappropriate or unsuitable for public display.

I could illustrate this by referencing relinquishing mothers and what we feel or do, but to give this explanation a wider appeal, I am going to refer to primary school lessons (since presumably all of my readers when to elementary school). When you were young, you learned from your teachers, in a structured environment, when and how to ask questions.  You asked questions only when you were prompted by the teacher saying something like “Does anyone have any questions?”  If you had one, you expressed that first by raising your hand, the teacher noting your hand and granting you permission to speak.  If you did these things as instructed, you were a good student, ideally asking good questions with the right amount of hand elevating. 

What if you were an overly excitable student and you asked questions loudly and rapidly in such a manner that it made the teacher wince? What if you forgot repeatedly that you were supposed to raise your hand before you spoke? What if you raised your hand and shook it around too vigorously, like your mother might shake a bug off an article of clothing from the clothes line?  If you were a student that did not exercise the proper question asking technique, you may have been chastised by the teacher. She may have told your question asking was wrong or maybe even “bad”.  If you are told this type of thing frequently enough, you might stop asking questions. You might stuff that inquisitive part of your personality in the bad part of yourself – your shadow. Asking questions is not inherently “bad” but you have been taught your way of asking them is bad. You stop asking questions.

It is through lessons like this that society at large pushes us in the “right” direction. We are told what we should and shouldn’t do.  As soon as we learn certain things are “bad” and certain things are “good”, we subconsciously remove elements of our personalities from public display. We take certain parts of our personality and put them into the Shadow. All the things which society says are “acceptable” become the Persona. The Shadow harbors the unacceptable pieces and parts.

The result of this social constructing? Most of us are civilized. We follow the rules, wait our turn, say please and thank you, don’t cut in lines, speak only when spoken to and never act on impulse. We are always subconsciously pondering the right thing, the polite thing, correct thing to do or say.  The subconscious is critical to this pondering. To stay sane, and more importantly, accepted by Society, we (our Persona’s) must act as if the Shadow doesn’t exist.

See what can happen here?  If we are very good people, at least “good” in the way society defines good, much of our energy can be trapped in our Shadow. We live half of our personality, half of our impulses, and desires. We are in an emotional prison – at least until the time of a crisis or an emotional breakdown, at which time the Shadow may attempt a prison break (as it did for me when I found my daughter). Shadow will ‘break out of Jail’ and let itself be known.

One way our Shadow (particularly an overly heavy one) may make a run for it (at least according to Jung) is for us to project those ‘bad’ traits onto other people. If am such an amazingly good boy, then the only source of bad, rude, mean behavior in the world, must be in other people, most often someone from another country, social or economic class.  Speaking in reverse, it is also possible to project our Persona onto someone and take on their Shadow.

Let me illustrate this in a more personal way and allow me to do that without getting too personal (LOL). I entered my first marriage with incredibly large load of emotional baggage related to my teenage pregnancy, maternity home confinement and eventual surrender of my only daughter to a baby broker for a closed stranger adoption. Drawing from my familial and religious teachings (my primary socialization) I was pretty much convinced I was lower than pond scum, white trash, evil incarnate.  This belief was reinforced daily by friends (who refused to talk about my daughter for it made them “uncomfortable”), family (who literally told me never to discuss “that” complete with a mother who told me I would be lucky to find a man who would marry me and a sister who told me I did not deserve children after what I had “done” to my first) and society (who took my name off  of my daughters’ birth certificate presumably in an effort to protect her from all my slutty evilness).  In my twenties, I believed that the only way to make myself socially acceptable was to marry a certain kind of guy, drive a certain kind of car and live in a certain kind of house (society was screaming out loud at about this time). After all, women who lead those kinds of lives got to KEEP their children AND they also got to BUY the babies born to women like me.  Therein we start to see (or at least I do) some disturbing aspects of my persona and shadow.

Conversely, the man I picked, my first husband, was pretty pleased with himself. He had a very strong ego, great smile, engaging, charming, and successful. I wont go so far as to say he was attracted to my brokenness’ but I will state I do believe my low opinion of myself contributed to his attraction to me. We worked in tandem. He was the light. I was the dark. He was the persona (the socially acceptable part of our coupledom) and I was the Shadow (the dark icky stuff you keep in the back of your closet). He, in a word, okay, maybe a phrase, thought he was the cat’s pajamas, my savior, better than me, above me, more educated than me – and I believed it. He had (and his mother told me this) “married down”.  It might be suggested he had no shadow. He basked in all his own glory, white light and goodness while I sat there in all my badness.

It worked for us — for a while. For about five years, he was the light. I was the dark. He never needed to admit to or look at his own dark because I was carrying it all for him. I also took his projections willingly as I knew how to carry them so well. I had plenty of room in my suitcase of shadowy horrors. Of course he had a shadow, but for him to admit it was difficult (even more so when I stood there taking heaping helpings of it from him). It was far easier for me to do it for him. I had been doing it for everyone for years. He had a shadow of course. We all do. I might even venture to say he had a larger shadow than I did. For the taller you are, the brighter and better you think you are, the longer or “heavier” your shadow is.

This relationship started to crack when I found my daughter. When I started to look at myself, really look at me and what I was doing both negatively and positively, to myself, there was naturally a corresponding effect on my relationship with my husband (with everyone, really). I stepped out of his heavy shadow and started giving him back some of his own baggage. I stepped out of my familial shadow (somewhat, there is still work to do) and I definitely stepped out of the shadow of that monstrosity known as the Roman Catholic Church.  I “met” my own shadow and I looked at what I was hiding there.  I discovered some really wonderful aspects of my personality that were not the least bit “bad” and I pulled them out into the light – my light. Loving my daughter’s father for more than half my life was not bad. Having sex with him was not bad.  Choosing to give birth to her rather than abort her was not bad.  Society saying such did not make it so. I was not bad.

I see the Shadow at work in many places in adoptoland.  Denise’ recent blog post actually prompted this one.  I have some thoughts on adoption reunion and our shadow selves.  This post is already a wee bit long so I will expand on those thoughts in a new post.

I will let you sit with your own Shadow for a spell. If this topic interests you, I offer links to two of my favorite books on the topic.

  1. Owning Your Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert Johnson; and
  2. Meeting the Shadow by Connie Zwieg and Jeremiah Adams

9 Thoughts.

  1. Great, well written, very ‘deep’ post on so many levels. INCREDIBLY thought provoking and worthy of much conversation. And not to sound too cheeky hopefully but you saved the best for last partner-wise. : )

  2. This is beautifully written…I’m facing my shadows this morning. Well, some of them that is. I’ll have to come back to this thought after I’ve finished this morning’s pages. I have a feeling there will be more to say in reference. Great post!

    • Artist Way morning pages, Rhonda? Or something else? I need to get back to my own Artist Way morning pages.

  3. This post puts me in mind of this song by written by Perry Como.

    “Me and my shadow,
    Walking down the avenue,
    Me and my shadow,
    Not a soul to tell our troubles to…”

    At this stage of my life, I am referring to my fifth decade, I have finally learned to embrace my shadow, even the parts I am not crazy about. A good deal of that acceptance journey followed my reunion with J and G.

    Looking at those aspects of myself I had locked away for a few decades, because I was convinced no one would love me if I didn’t, was the hardest, most emotionally painful roller coaster ride I have had in my life, and I would not change that journey for the world. Facing “my shadow” has provided me with the ability to be kind and compassionate to myself, by accepting the light and shadow of my self.

    Very well done post, Suz. I love your logic and the way this post invites us to consider our own shadows without demanding we do so. Suz writing at its best.

  4. Excellent post, Suz. I think reunion, or even just finding our lost children, and the buried emotions that brings forth, causes us to look at ourselves again, reevaluate, try to make sense of it all.

    Re: I was pretty much convinced I was lower than pond scum, white trash, evil incarnate. This belief was reinforced daily by friends (who refused to talk about my daughter for it made them “uncomfortable”), family (who literally told me never to discuss “that” complete with a mother who told me I would be lucky to find a man who would marry me and a sister who told me I did not deserve children after what I had “done” to my first) and society (who took my name off of my daughters’ birth certificate presumably in an effort to protect her from all my slutty evilness).

    I can totally relate to this. After losing my son, I believe I unconsciously sought out men who would were happy to think they were better than me, make me feel worse about myself, and not commit because I was not worthy of commitment. Which further convinced me in my low self image.

    Thank goodness (I say now) that they didn’t commit. Where I would have ended up if they had. I made a conscious decision, long before my reunion, to seek a different kind of man, and I found him. But I have to add that I still doubted my worth, for the first several years of our marriage, wondered when he would figure out that I was bad and leave me. I lived in fear of that for too long. I hate to admit that on occasion those fear still arise.

    Some people (like my mother) told me I was lucky to marry such a man as my hub. Eventually I began to counter that with “you know what, HE’S lucky too!” Why do people say shit like that!? We’re all lucky to find true love, a marriage based in mutual respect, caring and equality.

    Ugggg… this comment is almost as long as your post. I look forward to reading more on this. Figuring out the whole shadow thing.

    Again, thanks for writing about this.

  5. Suz, you are always wise, but I think you’re especially brilliant here. 🙂 When I was pregnant and considering placing it was always running through my brain that I had done something bad (getting pg with someone I barely knew) and could do something good out of it (placing the baby and making a nice couple very happy). I was bad but could make myself good. This gave me relief from my panic for quite a while, actually.

  6. Denise, you had commented: “Some people (like my mother) told me I was lucky to marry such a man as my hub. Eventually I began to counter that with “you know what, HE’S lucky too!” Why do people say shit like that!? We’re all lucky to find true love, a marriage based in mutual respect, caring and equality.”.

    Oddly, I’ve had friends say the same thing to me regarding Suz and I, ‘what is she doing with you, she’s TOO pretty for you’ and so on and so forth. Way back when we first started going out it sorta bothered me, then I basically said F it and considered the source of the statement. ONLY a couple knows what the ‘inner workings’ of a relationship are and what goes on behind closed door so to speak. The truth of the matter is we’re both lucky to have found each other at this juncture in our lives. As you point out, I don’t know why people say shit like that either, clueless individuals. I feel very blessed to have Suz as my partner. I always joke but it’s so true, ‘life is a journey, not a destination’, I am happy beyond words to journey along life’s highways and byways with her by my side. Apologies for the length of this, my diarrhea of the mouth is at it again.

  7. Thanks for the validation, Rich. In our case, it wasn’t that one or the other of us was better looking, but that Henry was stable, solid, straight-and-narrow and I had lived a rather unstable life (which I credit to the loss of my son). My mother also said, “I hope he’s a patient man because you need a lot of patience.” WhatEVER! As you said, we have to consider the source. But it took a long time for me to believe that and stop taking seriously the comments of the clueless.

  8. I was NOT familiar with these conepts and so appreciate this post and links you posted, I can tell this is a huge step for me moving forward to learn about these truths/ideas. I know that my break from blogs was necessary, just as I know my return is so timely. Thank you for sharing this.

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