Everyone has a shadow. The shadow is composed of repressed negative emotional reactions to traumatic events. These repressed emotions include , terror, resentment, rage, hatred, grief, depression, and toxic shame. These painful feelings don’t dissolve once the events that caused them have passed. Instead they are gradually ignored and buried in the body.
When these emotions are buried in the body they fall under the control of the subconscious mind. Two things happen when negative emotions are warehoused in the body and neither is good. First, we lose our conscious connection to these feelings and the events that produced them. While we may dismiss these traumatic emotions they do not dismiss us. Instead they function as powerful magnetic blocks in our psyche that will continue to attract similar wounding experiences into our lives, over and over again. They are free to wreak havoc in our lives because they are no longer available to the conscious mind.
The Power of the Negative
The first secret law of the shadow is this: The negative energies in our psyche rule our life until we find them, confront them, and clear them. One of the central tasks of our life is to clear our shadow. If we don’t clear our shadow we won’t regain our wholeness. Overcoming the shadow is the fulcrum on which all spiritual progress turns. When we avoid facing our shadow we prevent our growth and guarantee the continuation of our unhappiness.
Here’s a true story that perfectly illustrates this law. Miriam grew up in Europe. She was born after her father went off to war and did not actually meet him until she was three years old. When her father came home from the war she quickly became his favorite. He took her everywhere with him. Unfortunately for Miriam being her father’s favorite upset her mother tremendously.
When Miriam’s mother was a child she was emotionally abandoned by her parents. Her own childhood emotional needs had never been fulfilled. As an adult she wanted her husband’s attention to be solely on her, not on her daughter. She fumed that she was second fiddle to her daughter in her husband’s affections. So she came up with a cruel solution to get her needs met. When Miriam turned five her mother sent her away to live in a Catholic orphanage. Suddenly Miriam had no family. She was abandoned and alone in a nightmare from which she could not escape. What her grandparents had done to her mother, her mother had done to her, only worse.
Decades later, when she was in her mid fifties, Miriam came to me with persistent pain in her mid back that neither her doctor nor chiropractor had been able to heal. She told me that she sensed that there were hidden emotional issues there that needed to be addressed, but she hadn’t been able to connect to them in any conscious fashion. At this point I knew nothing about her childhood. But when I put my hand on her back a moment later I knew immediately that her pain had to do with her mother.
My goal in that first session was twofold. I wanted to connect her conscious mind to the repressed emotional energy in her back then mobilize her blocked energy so it would be ready to emerge into her consciousness in future sessions. During that first session I placed my left hand on her back and my right hand on the base of her spine. I then had her make nonverbal sounds as if they were coming out of the blocked energy that was stuck in her mid back. She found making these sounds tiring and felt self-conscious in doing so.
I told her that both reactions were completely normal, but the work she was doing was necessary to prepare her psyche for deep healing. We were setting the groundwork now for what would occur in future sessions. In her second session that groundwork bore fruit. This time, as soon as I touched her mid back she broke wide open and her repressed grief, shame, and rage poured out of her. As our sessions continued the heartbreak in her system cleared and she realized how her initial heartbreak had affected the entire course of her adult life. She saw that her best friend in the orphanage, who had also become her best friend as an adult, was cold, critical, and distant, just like her mother. Eventually this woman also betrayed her, causing her considerable heartache. She realized that both of her husbands had been cold, distant, and critical as well. They too had used and betrayed her, continuing the ongoing, unconscious cycle of bringing wounding experiences into her life.
Virtually all the people with whom she had established close emotional ties, in fact, were emotional replications of her mother. Wherever she went she had drawn the same shaming characteristics into her life, symbolically re-engaging her mother. She might be a mature woman in her mid-fifties but she had never outgrown her childhood trauma; never put it to rest. While she had turned her back on her mother’s cruel betrayal, that betrayal had not turned it’s back on her. It had craftily followed her wherever she went, appearing in a different guise and a different person each time, but creating the same kind of wounding event over and over again.
Wholeness and Integration
Now as she faced and confronted her toxic shame she remembered the source of her life long wounding and cleared this piece of her shadow from her system. As she cleared it the pain in her back completely disappeared and a bright light shone in her eyes. Her face glowed. She had become whole and integrated. The light in her soul, instead of the pain in her shadow, now appeared in her eyes.
Lao Tsu, the ancient sage and founder of Taoism, once said, “Because the sage confronts his difficulties he never experiences them.” When Miriam finally turned back to confront the unconscious pain in her back her difficulties disappeared. It is often the case that we go forward by not pushing ahead but by going back to clear the past.