There was an old radio program back in the ’30s called The Shadow, introduced by these words: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The first time I learned I have a Shadow Self I wanted to run back into my little hole and hide because I was afraid of the truth. I didn’t want anyone to discover that I actually had a dark side. Because didn’t that make me an evil, wicked person, deserving of cruel and extreme punishment?
Once I worked for a woman who did nothing but complain. She complained about her customers, her competitors, her suppliers, her employees, her husband, her friends, her neighbors—you get the picture. When she wasn’t around, the atmosphere was pleasant and it was a joy to work there. But the moment she walked into the store, this woman’s bitterness rained on everybody’s parade.
Behind her back, I joined my co-workers and began to gossip about her:
"She’s crazy, she must be bi-polar."
"She has a wonderful husband and look at the way she treats him.”
"I can’t believe she screamed at that customer."
"Oh, yeah? You should have heard what she called you yesterday!”
It took me a few months of working in that toxic environment before I realized I was seething with resentment—and shame. I had read The Four Agreements. I knew gossiping was poison. So each time I made a snarky comment, I was mirroring the traits of this very unhappy person and that wasn’t who I was supposed to be. My persona was compassionate and understanding, not venomous and vindictive.
I had met my Shadow Self and it scared the heck out of me.
I wanted to hide my shame from the world, pretend to myself that it never happened. So I submitted my very polite resignation letter and fled that job, hoping I could easily redeem myself by thinking good thoughts and waiting until Love and Light overtook the evil darkness of my self-imposed winter.
What I didn’t know at the time is that each of us is composed of Light and Shadow. We feel joy. We feel anger. We have positive experiences. We have negative experiences. And each one of those Shadow or Light-filled emotions and experiences makes up our whole and authentic selves.
In the movies, shadows are often portrayed as lurking predictions of oncoming doom. But what I have come to understand about the Shadow Self is that if we don’t accept it—if we try to repress it—those dark and shadowy energies actually become stronger and all of our negative traits that we dare not acknowledge are projected onto others.
The fact is your Shadow Self can be a great teacher. Yes, it is the lower, hidden part of your self, where greed and wrath and jealousy and defiance resides. But it is also a blessing that can give you amazing insight and power and courage.
The Shadow Self teaches us that good people can do bad things but we must forgive and love ourselves as we are, to accept the positives with the negatives. In this way, we will become the balanced, whole, and authentic individuals we are meant to be.
Knowing your Shadow Self doesn’t mean you can’t change your destructive behavioral patterns, but it does mean that even if The Shadow does know the darkness within your heart, you don’t have to be afraid of it.
Write about what your shadow is, how it became that way, and how your shadow makes you feel.
Write a story about something you did that you feel guilty or shameful about but have not admitted until now. Then write why you must forgive yourself.