Today we will be talking about what shadow is, and how to work through and understand the emotions that surround shadow. I hope you have your bug out bag handy, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back to part one where I outline what a bug out bag is, what goes in it, and why you definitely need one. Ok, lets get started, shall we?
What is shadow? You’ve heard us talk about it. You’ve heard us bitch about it. You’ve heard us tell you it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding work you can do for yourself. So, what is it? I understand shadow as being a former defense mechanism put in place due to trauma, abuse (physical, verbal, mental etc), bullying, too high of expectations, forced conformity, loss, too much responsibility at too young an age, societal pressures, the need to fit in social circles and more that I haven’t found yet. Shadows can form from a number of sources. Parental figures, siblings, friends, authority figures (non-parental figures such as teachers, relatives, babysitters etc), social groups, partners, and various other relationships. Shadow can also form due to witnessing any of the above and/or learned via a “trusted individual” be it friends, family, neighbors through warning, learned behaviors, over cautious people, or even your environment.
The reason why I call them defense mechanisms is because at one point, they had a purpose. For example, as a young woman, you are told that you must act a certain way in order to “fit in” and maybe have even been told you are meant to be “seen and not heard”. A shadow of pushing back, raising your voice, demanding to be heard in a forceful way could develop as a means to hold onto your sense of being. Or maybe it’s becoming meek, quiet, someone who just goes along with whatever because you don’t want to make a fuss. Or maybe, you become a people pleaser. You’re told not to act a certain way because it’s “not lady like” and no matter what you do, you can’t get it right, so you choose to do what everyone else is doing, even if it’s something you don’t enjoy doing.
I’m telling you this because shadows are sneaky. They feed off our emotions and begin to spin their own rhetoric about how we are supposed to be and act and behave. We build these castles in our minds that once protected us but are now obscuring our view of the landscape of ourselves and who we are meant to be. Our shadows eventually become our voice in the world. They become so rooted within us, that we don’t even realize they are there. Hence, why we call them shadow.
So, how do we engage with this work? How do we find them? How do we uproot them and break down the walls so they become exposed? Remember that practice of meditation I told you about in the last post? That’s going to be where we start. Meditation gives us the ability to observe without allowing our thoughts to get in the way. Most of the time, our emotions are lying to us and they rally the mind to follow suit, creating an endless cycle of amping yourself up while allowing the mind to create every situation in the book to keep the emotion fed. Avoid listening to what the mind is saying in connection to the emotion. Simply sit with the emotion and listen to your body.
My method of identifying an emotion is to get into the body’s reaction. When a situation arises that causes a strong emotional reaction, the body is always affected in one way or another. In this method, the body essentially becomes the road map to who we are and why we do what we do. Think about anger, for example. It’s an easy emotion for people to pull up right now, given the state of the world. Don’t get angry, but just think about the last time you remember being angry. What can you remember about what your body did? Did you start shaking? Did your heart beat increase? What about your breathing? What were your hands doing? Did your face flush? Did you clench your teeth? Don’t know? Unsure? Perfect. This is a great place to start. Go grab your journal. Already have it? Ok, lets dive in then.
The emotion(s) will be our vehicle for figuring out what our shadows are and what they are telling us to do. But in order to be able to ride along, we first have to be able to identify the emotion. Pick one emotion, you can even pick a good emotion like joy, or desire, or happiness to start. I want you to take the next week and write down every way your body reacts to that emotion. Every detail you can manage, and I want you to put a word to it. Happiness, joy, sorrow, grief, anger, frustration, fear. Identify that emotion, and allow yourself to be sure of it.
At the same time, I want you to note down the situation. What happened? Was someone else involved? What is their place in your life? Partner, friend, boss, sibling, friend, stranger? What was said? Can you identify why you reacted? What was it exactly that tripped you up? It’s ok to forget some details, but try to be as accurate as you can. Keep the notes about your physical reactions, what emotion it was, and what happened all together. That way, when we refer back to them later it will be easier to understand what was connected where. Also, keep in mind, there may be multiple emotions that come up. Often, I experience anger and frustration together. Note that as well.
What you are doing is creating a symbol set for your emotions, a way to better understand them and to catch them in the moment. You are also creating a relationship with that emotion and with yourself. You are building trust with yourself, trust that will come in handy later and for the rest of your life. I’m not saying emotions are bad and we should all strive to be Data, but the ability to observe and understand our emotions gives us the most powerful tool in our tool box against shadow. It gives us the opportunity to choose.
The more you work with emotions in this sense, the easier it will be to notice them when a situation tail spins and sends you into that emotion and it will give you the ability to pause. This work will be vital later on, but its also vital now. This kind of work will never end, but it will change and slow down the more you understand your emotions and why you react. Over time, your symbol set may change. And it may not. Both are ok.
A quick recap. Pick ONE emotion. Begin to pay attention to it every day. Make notes about how the body is responding, avoid allowing the mind to run wild with the thoughts, what was the situation, and where within your body do you feel the emotion the strongest? Write it all down. Even if it seems unimportant, write that shit down. It’s ok to miss the emotion in the moment, as soon as you recognize it, write down everything you can after the fact.
Now, if you chose a difficult emotion to start with like I did, take the same amount of time that you spent with that emotion, situation, etc to practice self-care. Dig into your bug out bag and utilize whatever you need to rebalance and ground yourself. Give yourself a big hug, this is tough work.
One final note before I go. Avoid putting any of this work on social media. Your journal, your bug out bag, your symbol set. Here’s why:
- Having your bug out bag on your phone doesn’t make it an in your face reminder of self-care.
- Social media is a distraction, and inadvertently feeds your emotions, mind, and shadows in negative ways.
- Others can and will voice their own opinions about what you are doing. Which will make it more difficult for you in the long run.
- This work is immensely private and personal. You may not want to share it with the world.
I’m not recommending that you go through this work alone. In fact, I hope that you have at least one person (no more than three!) that you can share your thoughts with, or someone who will bring you tea and cookies when you’re done beating yourself up. Tribe is as important as this work, and without it, this work is brutal. I know from personal experience. I love you and I am so so proud of each and every one of you. Keep going, take breaks, breathe, you got this. I know you do.