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


The very first thing my daughters father said to me when I told him I might be pregnant was “what are you going to do?”.

This was not received well by me at all. The words, the tone of voice, the body language implied I was at fault I needed to solve a problem that he, and I, had caused.

This was the first time he could have claimed me and our daughter.

Months later, a mere few days before flying to the Chicago area maternity home, I called him even though I knew it was against the rules. The agency and my mother had given me explicit instructions not to talk to him. I followed those instructions for several months. I disobeyed them days before. I called him, from a darkened room in my parents home. In something that sounded like a whisper and a cry, I told him what was happening and where I was going.

That was his second time to claim me and our daughter.

Four months into my stay at the maternity home, the agency learns from me that I had told him where I was. They were not pleased with me. He now needed to terminate his parental rights for if he did not, he could contest the adoption later.  The agency bought him a plane ticket. My mother drove him to the airport.  He arrived in Chicago. My heart was full with emotion.  While I did not state such, inside me, I was praying to gods I never believed in that he would use this chance to stop the insanity. He would proclaim his love for me and save me and my child from adoption.

That was his third time he could have claimed me and our daughter.

He signed pre-birth surrender papers and was sent packing. I was left there, alone, again.

Two months later, less than a week post partum, I was put on a plane by the agency and sent back East. A few weeks after arriving home my father found me, alone and angry in the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. My suitcase of items from Chicago was strewn across the bed and floor. Messes were not allowed in my childhood home. My father entered, hollered at me to clean up the mess and then his eye caught the packet of hospital photos that had been sent to me.  The only photos I had of my daughter, sprawled across the bed, in the open, for all eyes to see.  His eyes saw and his face flushed. 

He pointed his angry finger towards them and said “that did not happen and we will never discuss that.  Now put that away.”

That was my dads chance, one of many, to claim me and my daughter. He could have stood up then (and even earlier) for his daughters good name but he didn’t. That memory has been permanently tattooed on my brain. That?  What that? Oh, you mean my child? My daughter? Your granddaughter?

I return to Chicago very soon after and stay there for years. This time of my own choosing. I return east in the mid-1990’s due to medical diagnosis my father has received. He has lung cancer and will die soon.  While I told people I moved home to help my mother, cold hard truth was that I wanted to see  him die.

He didn’t, not then.

I stay in CT and begin seeing my daughters father, again.  He is engaged to be married and yet we are seeing each other.  All the love, the emotion, the passion is there. Another chance to claim me and our daughter.

He never did. He spent the night before his wedding in my bed.  I did not see him for years. (NB, I am sharing this potentially inflammatory information because it has been shared before, elsewhere, he and his wife know this already).

Another claim opportunity missed.

The need, the desire grows strong inside me. Will someone, anyone, acknowledge me? Accept me? See me as my child’s mother?

I marry in 1996. Prior to marrying, I share with my future husband the existence of my daughter.  He cries when he hears the story. He hugs me. He appears to have empathy. I encourage prior to marriage to tell his mother, my future mother in law, about my daughter. This feels important to me. Like something she needs to know.  Future husband disagrees. He will not tell is mother. It is not her business and does not make a difference in our relationship.

But it did.  It made a massive difference. That decision by my husband was interpreted to me as shame and embarrassment and a desire to keep my dirty laundry between him and I.  It was interpreted as an act of not claiming, not accepting, slut shaming.

And I allowed it.

Years later, just as I began my active search for my daughter, my husband returns home from work very angry. When I question him, he tells me that a coworker, a successful genealogist, had stumbled across my scarlet letter status while searching his family name online.  We argue. It is left unresolved yet the message is clear to me. I have blundered again. My dirty secret it out, on the internet of all places.

I am left unclaimed again. 

I allow it. By this time, I feel I deserve it. It has been almost 20 years.

June 28, 2005 I have positive confirmation I have found my daughter. Shortly thereafter, I find her father and I let him know. I advise him that if she asks me, I will share his name and contact details. He thanks me curtly via email and I don’t hear anything further — for a while.

We remain in contact for almost two years. Again, inside me, the desire rises, maybe now he will. Maybe this is my chance. He will now claim us, me, her. He will tell his subsequent children, three girls, that they have a sister.  He will finally tell his parents, and others, that he has not three girls, but four.

He and his wife decide to keep it to themselves. Reason cited is that since our daughter has not expressed a desire for a relationship, they are not going to share the news of her existence with others.

I am distraught and again, unclaimed.

I am now divorced, beginning a journey of recovery from divorce, adoption and more.  I date online. As part of this many of the interested men ask about me, several even google me and find out about my adoption activism.  None are discouraged. Many ask very good, considerate questions.  The relationships span only a few dates for reasons completely unrelated to adoption.

I meet my now husband as part of that online dating.  I tell him of my daughter on our second date. I knew, even that early, that this relationship was serious. I knew that I had to throw all my dirty laundry on the floor, again, and let him stare at it like my father did years earlier.  And so I did.

He paused, he processed, he seemed stunned and conflicted and compassionate. We have a good conversation.  Later, he shares his own sordid past.

We are engaged months later. He travels to adoption conferences with me, he reads my blog. We have long in-depth conversations about my daughters father, what happened and more. He is fully accepting.

I have never felt judged or lesser than or as if he was uncomfortable with who I am.  Quite the reverse, I feel he is in awe of me, he loves me, he is inspired by me, he respects me – even with the knowledge of my past, even knowing I have a child that wants nothing to do with me.

This past Monday my husband was confronted, for the first time ever, without me being present, with his wifes illegitimate child. A friend, a male friend, made a comment on my writing ability. Surprised that the comment came from out of nowhere, husband questions friend and in doing so, learns the friend reads this blog (hi friend!). Husband and friend proceed to have a conversation on my blog, what happened to me, my writing and my activism.

Husband comes home later that evening and one of the first things out of his mouth is a relaying of his conversation with friend. He is not angry or embarrassed. Rather he is surprised to learn friend reads here and at the same time he is clearly proud of me, proud that I am his wife.

I have been claimed.


My Reality

A blog reader emailed me privately tonight and asked me a question I have been asked several times over the past year.  They asked (and these are their words verbatim):

“It seems like you are less involved in adoption issues. You are blogging less and I don’t see you at events and such like I used to. Whats up?”

At first, I winced at this.  I felt it might be a judgment, a criticism, an expression of how I was failing “the cause”.

I felt defensive and instead of responding, I sat with it for a while. This is typically my response to such things. When something lights a fire in my belly, when it elicits a desire to strike back, and defend myself, I tend to stop, pause and take time to reflect,  I question why I am feeling defensive and wonder if the truth might be that there is a shred of painful truth in what the person is suggesting and that I am denying it.  I use such opportunities as a chance to look  internally and self reflect.

I will share the most honest answer I can give at this time. I wont spout excuses (though they aren”t) about my busy life, my career, my children, my darling fiance, my college classes, or other. I will tell you the truth.

It simply hurts too much. Adoption slays me more today than it ever did.

Avoidance? Acceptance? Reality? Call it whatever you need to.  But allow me to explain.

My divorce, my reunion, my therapy, it all taught me a valuable, yet painful, lesson.

It taught me how to feel. It taught me how to acknowledge and honor my feelings.  It taught me I HAD feelings and more importantly that they MATTERED. Where prior to reunion I spoke from a place of cold intellect, post reunion, I speak from a place of the deepest pain I have ever felt. This is not due to my reunion, or my daughters decision to have no relations to me, her brothers, her natural family but rather it is due to the fact that opening your heart to feelings opens it to feelings of all kinds, good bad and otherwise.

To open my heart to my fiance, to accept the love he offers, the acceptance, the understanding, the ability to be, is to leave my heart open to all the things I have pretended were.not.there. It is to avoid denial. To refuse transference and projections. It is to sit with all that is good — and bad in my life and let it be.

And it simultaneously feels wonderful and hurts like hell. More than I have ever hurt before. Ever.

And I don’t know how to handle it (yet).

And so I stay away from adoption like a child stays away from an open flame after he has been burned.

I do not want to suggest this approach is appropriate or that I want it to be forever.  But I acknowledge that it is. And for today, it has to be.

For now.