I like seeing Halloween photos appear on my Facebook or Instagram newsfeed. People look happy dressing up in costume and being playful together. I think one reason Halloween is enjoyable is because it is a time that the Shadow is socially acceptable, appreciated, and expressed.
The Shadow is the forbidden or cut-off part of our psyche containing thoughts, feelings, and desires that are rejected because they are not socially acceptable. The Shadow holds hidden talents, ambitions, and dreams. It’s “the dark” part of our personalities. The Shadow contains a great deal of envy, rage, jealousy, regret, fear, resentment, lust, and other rejected personality traits. Psychiatrist-Psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that creativity, mystery, depth, knowledge, insight, and great power can all be found in the Shadow, too.
From a young age, we all experience the splitting off of parts of our personality as some aspects are celebrated, encouraged, and accepted, while others are discouraged or punished. As a result, we may suppress these unwanted parts of ourselves. Even when they’re stuffed down or away, they are still there and they come out in our projections, our envy, passivity, aggressions, self-denial, secrets, and our black and white thinking.
It is wonderful to become familiar, tolerant, and accepting of our Shadow because it is half of who we are. When we own these parts, we are empowered as these parts end up paradoxically having less power over us. We cannot reach our fullest potential without integrating these less than attractive parts.
There are ways to do Shadow work, and to begin to discover your Shadow so that it gives power to you, instead of taking your power away.
Claim and own your projections
Projection is an unconscious defense mechanism we use when we put something that is part of ourselves onto others, as we fail to see that we are assigning them certain traits that are actually more reflections of ourselves. We do this because we are usually fearful or ashamed of these parts of ourselves. To know what you might project onto other people, you could write a list of the qualities you do not like in others. Then write another list of traits or qualities that you loathe, abhor and despise in others. The list might consistently include qualities like self-pity, conceit, bad manners, greed, etc. Consider that these traits may be a window into your personal Shadow.
Claim and own your intelligence, beauty, gifts, and talents
If you find yourself attaching to people that have certain qualities and traits that you want, you may consider what desires or dreams you have that you abandoned or feel unworthy of achieving. If you picture yourself like a small child, who was not invited to the party, and sits outside the door looking in, you may consider that you are living in a state of envy of the accomplishments of others. This comes from a false belief that you can’t have what you want. Pay attention to what you admire and idolize and consider that within your Shadow and repressed parts of yourself you want those things. You are those things. You can begin to try to get them once you see this.
Own your envy
The paradox in life is the duality of everything. The Shadow contains the dark side of our personality; it is the part of us that compares ourselves to others and finds ourselves coming up short. If you find yourself jealous or envious of someone, maybe they are living out the life you want, and could have if you take the action steps and get out of your own way. Write down qualities of someone you admire, adore or envy. Notice if you have some of these qualities and could develop them further. The qualities you envy in others may be qualities within yourself that you have denied. You can cultivate these very qualities in yourself. Maybe your unconscious Shadow self is self-effacing, even on a very subtle level.
Accept that there are shades of gray in yourself and others
There is a tendency towards all-or-nothing thinking, where we put other people way up on a pedestal, or completely annihilate them in our minds. This polarized way of thinking is childlike, but we all catch ourselves doing it. This is part of why our personality has a split and we accept certain parts readily, while rejecting the Shadow. We have to learn to live in paradox, or in the tension of the opposites. We have to hold space for grey areas where both good and evil can exist in the world and in ourselves.
Shadow work takes time and is not easy. It is worth it because when we own all the parts of ourselves, including our dark side, we feel more alive, connected, empathetic, spirited, and whole.
Halloween is a fun time to embrace some of the darkness in a safe way. I am appreciating Shadow today.
Special thanks to internationally renowned therapist, Beverly Engel, for her work and writing around the shadow personality and women’s issues. Her work profoundly informs mine!