Every time you ignore or repress a part of yourself, you do damage. Sometimes, ignoring and repressing your emotions or undesirable behaviors leads to a flare up or an outburst. What’s more, ignoring and repressing means you aren’t exploring and understanding, so those flare ups can be confusing and disconcerting. If you’re like most people, you’ve done or said something and only seconds later asked yourself, “Why the heck did I do that?! I should know better.” But, do you know better? Taking the time to examine the patterns around your undesirable behaviors will help you understand where they come from, why you interact with them the way you do, and how you can make peace with them.
With both the Lower Self and the Shadow, the pattern is to disown. The base level negative emotions that we associate with the Lower Self, like fear and anger, are less championed by society than their counterparts, like bravery and happiness. In fact, society tends to say, “Hey — I don’t want to see that [insert base level negative emotion]! Cover that up with a smile so we can all pretend it isn’t there!” We’re trained to pretend these emotions don’t exist and, when they become too obvious to ignore, to attribute them to something beyond just, you know, being human.
We see ourselves fall into a similar pattern when we interact with the Shadow. We reject those parts of our personality that we don’t like and disown them, often by projecting them onto others. “A procrastinator? Me?! YOU’RE A PROCRASTINATOR!” You know, something along those lines … The rest of us doesn’t want to accept that we have shadowy parts, and we tend to try to pretend that we just don’t have them at all!
Truth Bomb: You cannot live a full life if you deny the existence of any part of yourself.
There are many different ways we can assess the motivators of our actions. Try examining your behavior through a developmental lens. Maybe try out a situational interpretation. But we all know ignoring your behaviors and emotions certainly isn’t a practical solution. The first step towards accepting and embracing your lower self and the shadow is to begin to understand all parts of them. Let’s take a look at how our behaviors are rooted in our biology. In particular, we’ll take a look at three behaviors that often prompt that “Why did I do that?!” response: shutting down, procrastinating, and tuning out.
Do you have a hard time staying present when people yell at you? Or do you freeze when you hear certain noises?
In these moments, your body is taking you on an autopilot journey. That weird noise or your friend’s yells are seen by your body as a threat, triggering a takeover by your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Your ANS is the part of you that is responsible for the automatic processes of your body. People often “shut down” because they are over-loaded with stress or they feel powerless. An ANS-induced shutting down is often the result of extreme or preverbal trauma.
What you can do about it: The first thing to know about “shutting down” is that you really can’t verbally or rationally explain why this behavior shows up. When this behavior presents itself in your life, you might not even have access to the traumatic memories that instilled this reflex. The easiest way to look at “shutting down” is to see it as a response initiated by the nervous system and not a response to a memory.
Can you find anything and everything to do besides what you most need to do? Do you wait until the last minute to begin important tasks?
Evidence shows that procrastination is partly due to a maladaptation in your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for your executive functioning and governs tasks such as planning. While procrastination has a behavioral component to it – which is the habitual reinforcement of last-minute behavior – telling a procrastinator to just DO what needs to be done is like telling a depressed person just to cheer up. This approach never truly works because procrastination – like depression – has as much to do with one’s physiology as it does with their psychology.
What you can do about it: One of the easiest things you can do to help counter-act your tendency to procrastinate is to break your task down into small, easily accomplished steps. To support your progress, you can remove all distractions from your work environment, set and keep a consistent schedule, and monitor your mood. Also read this great article from the NY Times about some of the not-so-terrible things about procrastination. Remember folks, love all of yourself.
Do you zone out when your partner is telling you something? Do you have trouble paying attention in meetings?
This is often about more than simple avoidance. It’s often about an adaptive process by which you tune out unchanging data. This means that if repetitive information keeps coming your way, you’re going to stop being aware of it. This can also happen if you steadily assume that the information you’re presented with is going to be repetitive, regardless of whether or not it actually is.
What you can do about it: Sometimes your inability to see the newness around you is more about you than about the unchanging nature of your relationships. My advice here is for you to challenge yourself to approach your life – and all the people in it – with a sense of curiosity. Look for what you have not seen before.
So cut yourself a break and get a little more intimate with your socially unacceptable and less-than-desirable behaviors and emotions. They’re here to stay. You two might as well start getting along.
The Lower Self is one-third of your entire Self. It is also the repository for your anger, rage, despair, apathy, and other negative emotions. If you are dealing with irrational, explosive emotions that your rational mind knows are way out of context for the situation, you’re dealing with your Lower Self. When you’re blocked, or find yourself repeating unhelpful patterns, you’re probably also dealing with your Lower Self. It is the ugly stepchild of the psyche, and it will act the part if you shun it.
According to the Core Energetics Model, the self is divided into three parts: The Lower Self, the Mask, and the Higher Self (or, Core Self). Simply put, the Higher Self is the truth of who you are, the Mask is who you want to be perceived as, and the Lower Self is where you hold the pain you experience when the Higher Self and the Mask work against one another. Understanding the Lower Self will unlock valuable information and resources for you.
Exploring your Lower Self is like jumping into a deep swimming pool at night — risky, daunting, and maybe a little creepy. The goal is the contentment you’ll experience as you float on that dark surface, confident in your understanding of the relationship between your body and the water that surrounds it! But know that before you float, you’re going to have to swim, so make sure you know how, and bring a lifeguard.
Here are a few things to remember, as you take the plunge:
The Lower Self is messy. Rage and despair do not make for good dinner guests. Do not let the honesty of your experience be overshadowed by the havoc that confronting these feelings might cause you. The Lower Self is SO MUCH more honest and real than the Mask.
Dealing with the Lower Self is work to do in an environment of support; inside sessions or a program. These are difficult emotions. As always, acknowledge your own limitations and boundaries, and take care of yourself along the way. Equip yourself for the task at hand, and rely on the resources around you. The point is to transform the Lower Self, not to get lost in it.
Know that the chaos you might be feelings is temporary, but important. Acknowledge your emotions and their validity. Without being dismissive, recognize that they are just emotions. If you allow yourself to feel them and be curious about what they are telling you, they may pass even faster and have even more positive benefit.
Your Lower Self is worth getting to know. When you have the strength and courage to descend into the darkness, you will find the pathway to joy and the gift of your vitality.
One of the things that I love about the Greek gods is that they are all incredibly flawed. Zeus was always jealous and (hypocritically) always a cheater. Hera was vengeful. Artemis was impulsive. Poseidon was easily pissed off. Athena lacked compassion. The gods fell far from perfection, but they were worshipped nonetheless. Their power existed because they unapologetically claimed the truth of who they were – flaws, shadowy parts, and all.
When the shadowy parts of who you are — those flawed parts that you try to pretend don’t exist — come flaring up, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to disown them or project them onto someone else. We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like, that never seem to change at all, and that we can’t imagine learning to love. For example, I can’t spell and I am often late. These are not my favorite traits about myself, but they have proven to be a part of me that I just can’t seem to shake. Years of having them as my steadfast companion have tested me — Do I direct hate or love (or at least acceptance) at this part of myself?
When we are confronted with parts of ourselves that we just do not like, it is helpful to remember that we are multi-faceted people and that our strengths may actually need our weaknesses to be what they are. Who ever came up with the idea we were supposed to be without flaws anyway? Everyone has them (even the gods) and somehow they are still viewed as something that needs to be fixed.
What would happen in your life if you decided it is ok to have your flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings? Loving and accepting where you are when you start Personal Development work is usually the best way to move forward. After all, today’s starting point was a desired destination at one point in time, whether or not we were conscious of it. And, where you are headed will one day be a place you are eager to leave behind. Life is flux, and we’ve got to learn to ride it.
The best change we achieve comes from a loving unfolding of who we are in the world and a deep appreciation for the truth of who we are, every last bit of it. Those anthropomorphic gods (yes — made in the design of humans) achieved greatness through their strengths and their flaws (and often times their greatest accomplishments were a direct result of their biggest mistakes). Love your light and your shadows. Claim all of yourself. Be your own god or goddess.
So much of personal development focuses on what we can see and what we know about ourselves, that we might not realize we’re messing up on those parts that we cannot see and do not know. The Shadow is that unseen, unknown part of ourselves. And unfortunately, out of sight out of mind won’t work here: Our shadow is with us whether we want it to be or not.
The Shadow is the name that Carl Jung gave the parts of ourselves that we have disowned. For example, I might believe that I am good person and that this means I do, and don’t do, specific things. As a good person, I am kind to others, I don’t lie, and I make people feel good about themselves. Also, I get irritated when I see people being unkind, I get angry when people lie, and I get judgmental when people hurt other people’s feelings.
As a third-party reader, you know the likelihood that I have been alive for 42 years and not done those things at least once is pretty low. But, I might not see things so clearly. If someone were to ask me, “Are you ever unkind? Do you ever lie? Do you ever hurt other people’s feelings?” and I were to say, “No,” then we have caught the Shadow.
The process of working with the Shadow makes us more understanding and accepting of both others and ourselves. Incorporating our Shadow into our consciousness gives us access to our full self. These two benefits alone have an incredible impact on our life.
Here are some steps for starting your work with the shadow.
Shadow Workers, people who practice Shadow Work (a modality that helps people work with their Shadow), use this phrase to help clarify when the Shadow is affecting you. The idea is that what irks you in someone else is likely also something that irks you in yourself. When you are triggered by someone else’s action or personality, turn your gaze to yourself and look at how you have also done that thing, or been that way. Try to bring some awareness to different motivators for different behaviors.
We build up our Defenses to preserve and protect our Ego. In order to see our Shadow clearly, we have to understand its intricate, symbiotic relationship with our Defenses. Our Defenses are triggered when we make the “If you spot it, you got it” connection — recognizing that another person’s irksome behavior is reflective of our own. To really get the most out of seeing our Shadow, we need to be ready to step outside of our Defenses that may be clouding our understanding.
Seeing and working with our Shadow requires a lot of compassion, both for ourselves and for others. At the heart of it, learning to see our Shadow is changing our default reaction from Judgement to Compassion. We are developing our ability to understand that, even if we do not agree with them, everyone has valid reasons for the way that they are acting and being.