Dealing with Our Own Shadow
An excerpt from The Shadow Principle
The more often you find yourself in the situation of being perceived differently than how you see yourself and want to be seen, the less you truly know yourself and the more important a confrontation with your own shadow becomes. Friends and impartial observers are important in the showdown with one’s own shadow, since the ego is an unbelievably ingenious saboteur. While the ego – just as it doing right now – may pretend to be following along with great interest, it is actually secretly carrying clever rationalisations and excuses in its arsenal. For that reason, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a second and third opinion, just as we are gradually learning to do in medicine in relation to all central questions of physical health. In this case, we are dealing with our mental and spiritual health, and for those aspects, further opinions are just as important. The Bible tells us that we can see the shadow of others far better than our own, because we recognize the “splinter” in the eye of another, but fail to recognize the entire “log” in our own. For this reason, when doing shadow work, we need to obtain the support of others.
What is decisive for the success of shadow integration is whether you succeed in preventing your ego from sabotaging the entire enterprise, for example, by constantly justifying your own behaviour and by nipping many things in the bud with its "yes, but...". It has probably managed to do this many times, especially with people on the spiritual path. For this reason, the ego looks out into the world with a corresponding sense of self-confidence and is quite confident about being able to get through with its usual tricks this time as well. This attitude is, of course, very understandable. The ego not only has much to lose, but in the long run, in fact everything. The best idea is to keep an eye on it at all times and to always watch out for its little games. In this way, they become more and more transparent over time. Those who already know what to expect on the part of the ego will not fall for its tricks as easily.
Practical exercise: Ask someone close to you, who you are connected to, without the additional demands of being in a relationship together; in other words, preferably someone from your circle of best friends, your brothers and sisters or parents, for an honest shadow conversation. Give this person express permission to be maximally direct and honest and make sure you take responsibility for their openness yourself. Release them from any potential negative consequences. Let this person tell you what he or she likes most and what he or she likes least about you. It is important that you do not interrupt your conversation partner, but instead listen silently and attentively, and that you also record what has been said. In this way, you will already gather essential points for your positive shadow list of those qualities that you want to realize, as well as for your negative list of those qualities that you will have to face without really wanting to. Both aspects are part of the shadow, as will be seen.
Just as important to us as our friends and loved ones on this path of confrontation with the shadow are our opponents, enemies and strangers, because they help us with their unconscious honesty. Involuntarily, they reflect back the shadows hidden within us that we are trying to project onto them instead. By simply being exactly as they are by displaying the shadow aspects that we recognize in them and reject, they remind us of our task. They create a connection to our shadow that is comparable to the role played by the golden ball for the princess in the fairy tale The Frog Prince. In this way, every enemy and opponent also actually passes the ball to us; when it comes to shadow work. In effect, they play into our hands and provide the perfect setup for a goal that is impossible to miss.
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