Dancing in the Shadows

Can you remember any comments like these from your childhood?

  • ‘Be quiet!’
  • ‘Don’t do that’
  • ‘Why can’t you be as nice as your brother?’
  • ‘You must work hard to survive’
  • ‘What makes you think you are so special?’
  • ‘You are not pretty’
  • ‘Where are your manners?’
  • ‘You are such a naughty child!’
  • ‘You must make a success of your life’

I suspect you remember your own variations of these limiting comments, but the principle is the same. A certain part of our pure essence, whether it is our voice, our looks, our playfullness, our willingness to fail or our creative side, is locked away into what is commonly called our ‘shadow’. Our shadow can contain our golden qualities, like our singing voice, but also perhaps less welcome qualities like our anger. All of these qualities have a valid place in our lives, even our anger, so when we lock them away we lock away authentic parts of ourselves.

In their place, we develop personas. As an example, if the naughty rebel in us is invalidated, we become a ‘nice boy/girl’. We realise that to get by, to survive, we must pretend to be something we are not, to act in a way that is deemed acceptable by those around us.

The best way to know these shadow parts is to follow the basic rule that what we have locked away in ourselves we project onto other people. We may project our beauty, our intelligence, our singing voice as well as our anger. It is easy to tell if it is a shadow part rather than an observation. If you engage with someone and it leaves no emotional charge in you, whatever you see is theirs; if it hooks you in some way emotionally, then it is yours (it might also be their issue too, but that’s not your concern).

Part of healing our shadows is to recognise both the aspects of ourselves we have locked away and the personas we have developed to become more acceptable. Here is an example: John is constantly told by his parents that he is a naughty boy, that he needs to ‘behave’. To appease his parents, his naughtiness along with much of his childhood playfulness is locked away in his shadow and he develops a persona which we will call ‘Well Behaved William’.

‘Well Behaved William’ is more acceptable, but comes at a cost. All of those rebellious thoughts and inclinations are still there, but are festering in the background where they go toxic. If the persona is tested by difficult events, the toxic side of the rebellious child comes out and ‘Well Behaved William’ will give way to a secondary persona called ‘Raging Rodney’ who might release all of that pent up energy by throwing things around the house and shouting at everyone in his path.

In a kinesiology session, I often look for the qualities that have been locked away and the core beliefs that have developed. This gives us a clue as to what lies in your shadow, but can you now take this further and explore how you learned to survive. What are your personas?

With this information you can start to embrace the authentic aspects of you that have been locked away and know when you are in your persona rather than your true self. This does not need to be ‘fixed’ as such, it just allows you to make choices which, over time, will result in you automatically choosing to show more of the real you. You will also become more aware of the triggers in life that drop you into the drama triangle (victim, perpetrator, rescuer) where the authentic parts of you try to hide and the personas emerge.

The drama triangle is a key part of this work, so please read into this subject if you want to go deeper. Here is a good link: Three faces of a victim

Once you have named some personas, I would encourage you to feel into them more deeply using a process developed by the Hendricks Institute in California. It helps to have another person asking the questions, but you can do it on your own. This is what you do:

  1. Find a name for your persona, perhaps ‘Compliant Charlie’.

  2. Stand and embody the posture that indicates they are present

  3. Find the attitude that persona brings

  4. Find their voice and tone

  5. Step fully into the character of their persona

Having embodied deeply that energy, have someone else ask write down your answers to these questions, or if you are doing this on your own, just use your intuition. Always use the persona’s name:

  1. What is the most important thing to you Compliant Charlie?

  2. What are you most proud of Compliant Charlie?

  3. When did you make your first appearance Compliant Charlie?

  4. Who did you learn your style from Compliant Charlie?

  5. What are you most afraid of Compliant Charlie?

  6. What do you most want Compliant Charlie ?

Once you have established what that persona wants the most – perhaps acceptance, to be free or to be understood – you then move to a new set of questions that invite a different posture, and a more authentic aspect of you to emerge. You can now stop using the old persona’s name:

  1. What would it be like to have that?

  2. State: ‘YOU CAN HAVE IT!’

  3. What is the gift in that?

  4. What does the gift bring you?

  5. Who are you now, what is your new name?

You will have many personas, so plenty of opportunity to explore why they were created and what might bring them peace. The more you know about yourself, what is really you and what isn’t, the closer you are to finding the peace that comes with living a life authentic to your pure essence.

When you have found and embraced that part of you, you can move to the boundaries of that place confident that you know the worst aspects of yourself and that they are within your control. You can embrace your peaceful warrior when you know your savage has been faced and is manageable. You can embrace your sexual power when you know you can trust your internal predator and aggressor. Fear of our darkest shadow self stops us embracing the fullest version of the person we really are.

One final dynamic to consider. The personas will not give way easily, they cannot be forced to give space to the authentic parts of you. This resistance is often led by what are commonly called our gremlins. These gremlins have got us safely to where we are right now, they found a way to present an acceptable face to the world and have the proof that it worked – you are still alive after all, right? Why risk change? What’s wrong with life as it is right now?

The gremlins will have all kinds of reasons to resist change – it’s not safe, you don’t have the support, the world won’t like the real you, do you even deserve more than others have? They will speak to you, so the challenge when looking to be authentic is to understand where your influences are coming from – what is your persona, what is your gremlins speaking and what is your genuine, authentic self that wants to emerge out of the shadows? It isn’t necessarily easy to do this, but please do try…

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