So, we discussed what shadow is, and how our triggers are an invitation to explore ourselves. But how do we actually do that?
Going back to the story you read in the previous segment about me being unable to hold space for my crying partner, I am going to walk you through the connections I made around it.
Sitting with the trigger, I felt:
Tense in my body
A need to compare her lack of toughness to my ability to be tough
Embarrassed for her
Thoughts of “my dad would never approve of this.”
From here, I asked myself:
When else have I felt this way?
Any time someone seemed to weak or emotional
When was the first time I experienced this sort of situation?
When I was young and I was crying
What was the response when I would cry?
I remember my mom responding pretty well when I would cry, in particular when I was young. My dad always responded with “quit your crying” or “suck it up.”
What was our general family dynamic around emotion?
My parents were not emotional and did not express authentic emotions. My dad was very repressed, and my mom would vacillate between repression and overly emotional (leaking emotions but inauthentic expression).
How does this affect my ability to engage with my partner?
I feel angry. Why is she allowed to cry and I wasn’t?
I believe she is wrong for not realizing feelings are not supposed to be put on display
Then I enter into a dialogue in my head with her…
Me: Why do you let yourself cry?
Her: I can’t stop it
Me: But don’t you think it makes you look too emotional?
Her: No, I have feelings and think I should express them
Me: Don’t you have any pride?
Her: Yes, but I don’t see why it would affect me sharing my feelings
Me: Don’t you want to be tough?
Her: I am, but I don’t have to be all the time.
Then I replace myself with her and say:
I can let myself cry
I have feelings and should be able to express them
I can be tough and also have feelings
Inquiry is simply asking ourselves questions. We begin with whatever we know, the reaction or disturbance, and begin following that thread in earnest curiosity. If we sense we are attached to being "right" we wait until we can separate from that. The point of inquiry is find where we can be better, take responsibility for it and work to embody those connections.
For many people, they have been raised with a strong disconnect from their emotions. For these people, it is essential that inquiry and body dialogue are consistent and primary tools. When we are repressed, our feelings still must go somewhere. And if they are not going out, what are they doing? Many people will experience somatic repression, which is pushing the feelings deep into the body. Other people may let their feelings out in an inauthentic way. If we struggle with certain emotions, we will express them via a secondary, inauthentic emotion. For example - if you have a hard time accessing anger, you may channel that emotion into sadness. Most often, this sadness will last a long time because it is not the expression that is needed. Inquiry is a cornerstone of shadow work, but is imperative for people who have been taught to repress.
Questions that can begin an inquiry practice...
When else have I felt this way?
When was the first time I felt this way?
How did my family handle these situations?
Where do I feel this in my body?
What color is this feeling?
If the feeling was a movement, what movement would it be?
When I sit with the feeling, do I get any images?
Are there any memories I associate with this feeling?
What beliefs live inside this feeling?