Have you ever thought of yourself as having a split personality? One minute you’re a hardworking, fun loving optimist; the next, you’re grumpy, living in your nightgown and have eaten your weight in Christmas chocolate. Some people might put this down to the seasonal slump, that come the New Year will disappear under promises and resolutions that say “this is a fresh slate and a new me”. Fast forward to April, spring is in the air and you’ve fallen into bad habits again. Why is this? It’s because our shadow self is still there, silenced by fake smiles and obligations and it isn’t going anywhere.
The shadow self is the other half of our divided personalities. It’s the part of us that we try to shut out; our repressed ideas, desires, weaknesses and fears. Carl Jung said that it is the part our ego that we don’t identify with due to its negativity, but are we not only ignoring the bad as well as the good? Over the years, I have found myself identifying with Persephone, the goddess of spring (our present, lighter personality) and the underworld (our shadow, darker self). Before she is abducted by Hades into the land of the dead, she lives under the gaze of her mother. She is naive, sweet and every part the young maiden that everyone else thinks she should be. It isn’t until she is trapped in the underworld and the land of the subconscious that she learns to embrace her role as the strong co-ruler and guide to lost souls. Like Persephone, I find myself split between the accommodating and trusting part of me that aims to please others, and the darker half that longs to shut myself in a dark room and delve into the macabre and difficult subjects that others find too hard to talk about. My shadow self is stubborn, outspoken and severely lacking in self-esteem, yet it is these traits that allow me to empathise with other people and allow me to stand up for causes I believe in. The hard part is finding the balance - the tightrope of inner peace.
If, however, that balance starts to shake, we can start to project our shadow selves onto others. We see our weaknesses in the faces and behaviour of our friends, family and co-workers. If ignored for too long, our shadow can take over the lighter self and become a monster, resulting in depression or even psychosis. What it needs is love and understanding, to know its relevance. Once you feel ready, here are some exercises you can do to help you in your path to wholeness.
(These exercises will result in the acknowledgment of the good, bad and downright ugly. If you suffer from extreme low self-worth, then this may not be right for you. Please seek a mental health professional first.)
The most important thing you can do is stop beating yourself up for the things you do. Shadow work is never going to be easy. You will discover things that shock and scare you, but remember, it’s just the first step into discovering who you are, ignoring social stereotypes and living authentically for you. So walk that tightrope, keeping looking forward and know that embracing the dark will make your unique light shine that much brighter.