Most of us don’t want to live the exact way our parents did – we don’t believe what they believe, we want to be healthier, more emotionally available, have better communication or be more successful in many facets of the word. Want whatever you want! There is nothing wrong with wanting. Just be aware of the fact that part of your brain may be working against those wants.
Maybe you grew up in a house where your parents didn’t have a healthy relationship with their emotions. Maybe one was more unavailable and avoidant, while the other was more hysterical.
As an adult, you unconsciously replicate their behavior or dynamic. Maybe you are not so nice to your intimate partners, maybe you cover up your vulnerability with aggression, maybe you date someone who makes you feel small or is emotionally unavailable. There is often a mixture – we may identify more with one parent and act like them or we end up dating someone like them. And often times, our behavior may change person to person depending on the energy they are giving off and your internal response to it.
I am going to use a personal example that has been a big part of my personal work as an example of doing shadow work throughout the next couple segments:
My father treated us kids pretty coldly once we were no longer small children. It got much worse when we started playing sports – he was very hard on us and had very high expectations that we didn’t quite understand at the age of 8. We often disappointed him and one of the main ways he responded was by stonewalling us, meaning, he just ignored us. It was up to us to try to repair the situation – a responsibility that should not be up to the child. At the time, him ignoring me made me feel sad, angry and very small. But subconsciously how my brain interpreted his behavior was: I was unworthy and unimportant.
As an adult, how would you expect I internalize this message? What do you think I would outwardly seek?
In romantic relationships, I was drawn to…
Addicts, alcoholics or people with serious mental health issues that prevented them from being available. These were people I had to fix and also people who were unkind or did not like me.
It was very important for me to try to earn my father’s love - that was a major story of my life and a core wound. So as an adult, part of my dealing with this wound meant that I found people that were unavailable so I could try to recreate the situation - if I earned my partners love, it would “prove” I was lovable.
I was not happy in these relationships, and yet I stayed. Because this wound was larger than my desire for the elusive happiness. I said I wanted someone nicer, someone who didn’t ignore me for a few days, etc. But unfortunately, the wound (shadow) within me demanded the same old story. When you grow up feeling unworthy, you won’t magically feel worthy of the perfect partner as an adult.
At this point, you may be thinking one of three things:
2) oh shit, yeah there’s some things I need to look at
3) nah, everything was perfect
I was once the person that felt my childhood was perfect. When people would listen to me talk about my parents they would tell me I sounded like I was in a cult. And my father did represent a biblical like figure to me – I wanted to be exactly like him. Realizing I had to take them off the pedestal was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do. But it was crucial – I went from being someone who so desperately wanted my father’s love to being someone who could see everything from a higher perspective and not needing it.
The bummer about shadow work is realizing that you may have a lot of good memories but that doesn’t negate the experiences that have created "limitations" within you. This can be confusing for you and also your family if you choose to discuss anything for them. We think things were “good enough” – and they probably were! But for us to transmute our blockages, we need to acknowledge and work with the shadow.
In order to do this work, you will need courage, awareness, comfort with the discomfort and self-compassion.
This work is an invitation to the life you always dreamed of. The more we integrate our shadow, the less resistance we have to going for what we want. It guides you in making significant changes that allow you to attain what you have always felt held back from. For most of us, we will receive an invitation just about every day. It comes in the form of getting irritated with a boss/coworker, jealous of a friend or stressed and wanting to binge eat. We can also call these triggers. A trigger is simply a disturbance – whether positive or negative. And again, you can have brilliant hiding in your shadow (golden shadow) that can also trigger a negative or positive disturbance.
The first thing you must understand when beginning this work is that you will have to be comfortable examining your attachment to ego, victimhood, sadness, depression, anxiety, control, etc. Anything that lives at the root of our reaction will have built a fortress protecting it – its livelihood depends on your attachment to it. When you are triggered and can say “I am open to learning how I can do this better” you will be slowly removing the fortress.
Going back to the personal example I provided yesterday, I am going to show another way that wound of being unlovable showed up:
I once was dating this girl who really liked me. She was great on paper, but I “wasn’t attracted to her.” But here’s the thing! Our attraction is a mirror for our wounds – we are attracted to that which bandaids them. If I was with someone who really liked me, what am I not distracting myself with?
Answer: Focusing on how I can earn the love of my partner. Someone loving me is such a stark contrast to how I feel about myself, that it creates an opening to seeing the actual wound (I am unlovable). That is hard to face. And so, it is often easier to date the people that maintain the wound as opposed to feeling the pain.
Anyway, she was someone who had no issues showing their emotions. She cried pretty frequently – something I was not accustomed to. Actually, I don’t know what “frequently” really was, it felt like a lot, but for me back then – every couple of months would have been frequent. But anyway, I could not deal with the crying. I would instantly tense up and my tone would harden and my responses would be sharper and along the lines of “just get over it” or blaming her like “well, of course this happened, you messed up."
My irritation at her being “too soft and emotional” was an invitation to explore my shadow.
Now here is where the attachment comes in...
I could have (and I did initially) try to vindicate my reaction with all sorts of “logic” or beliefs:
“she needs to be tougher.”
“she’s too emotional.”
“isn’t she embarrassed?”
“how can anyone survive like this?”
Affirming our reaction is easier than exploring why we reacted. To explore the reaction we have to drop our ego/attachment and everything we believe in that moment and be open to a new reality. And this is hard to do! But we want to at least begin by simply being aware of what is happening. I have found in myself, in friends + in clients that it takes time before we are able to shift – because we are still controlled by our subconscious, this almost eliminates the possibility of choosing another behavior. We have to allow the other options to slowly unfold before we can choose them consistently.
With the above story, after some time, I knew I was being too harsh. I knew I should be responding differently – being kinder, softer and more nurturing. But for a long time, I could not get myself completely there. Not until I started integrating my repressed emotions was I able to.
So be kind to yourself – understand that your shadow is not a reflection of YOU. It is something you inherited, therefore you do not need to feel shame for it. With that being said – when we become aware that there is a better option, it is our duty to take it. It is not YOURS, but you are now responsible for it.
To begin this work, please reflect and answer the questions in this document and hold on to them for later.