One very important aspect of working with the shadow comes from the work of Cliff Barry, who has separated the shadow into four different quadrants—four different aspects of the shadow—to help people understand the energies that are often in shadow for us. His belief is that these energies are essential parts of who we are and they are either working for us or against us. If we become more aware of them, then we will be able to have them work for us more than against us.
One of Cliff Barry’s shadow aspects is the predator; one component of this is the perpetrator–victim dynamic. Even within the area of shadow work, this is a broad area of inquiry and discussion, so we will just touch on it here. First, let’s take a look at how this dynamic is created.
If at some point in your life you were unable to protect yourself, take care of yourself, or you were hurt by an outside force, whether a person or an institution—then in this experience you intimately learned about being a victim. What is less talked about is that victims through their experience learn about being perpetrator as well. This is not to say that they are perpetrators but rather that they understand both sides of the coin. Through being victimized we understand the realities of perpetration.
Victims usually vow never to be like the person who hurt them. And this sets up a shadow dynamic. They either act out the perpetration while denying its effects. For example when someone experiences abuse and then perpetrates it on someone else. Or, they turn the abuse on themselves.
In situations were the person replicates the perpetration they experienced, they often do this because the pain is so significant that it is unmanageable. So, they use a variety of methods to minimize the pain disconnecting them from themselves and the results of their actions. They often make a vow to themselves, usually unconsciously, never to be in a powerless position again. Often this person thinks along the lines of “I don’t want to be the victim.” But because, they believe that the same situation will in one way or another play out again –it is usually all they know- it is supportive of their survival not to remain in the victim role.
Someone who has not been through this kind of experience might wonder how a person, after experiencing such a horrific experience, could go and do the same thing to others. The reason is more complicated than can be explained here, but for our purposes the dynamic is that the victim is simply trying to take back power in a situation where they felt powerless so as to avoid the pain of that event.
Conversely, sometimes the victim will say something like, “I will never do that to another person.” But, because they have not resolved the dynamic, they play it out inside themselves. For example, they might be horrified at the idea of hurting another person, but they might be cruel to themselves on a regular basis. In this version, the perpetration is turned inward toward themselves, which might manifest as a strong critical voice, self-sabotage, or even a lack of self-care, all of which may or may not happen consciously. Very often, this person, even though they try their hardest not to let this inner perpetrator out, will inadvertently do just that. This can sometimes cause them to be even harder on themselves and continue the cycle.
Even if we are not aware of a shadow dynamic, it still is expressed—we just don’t have control over the expression.
To learn more about the Victim–Perpetrator Shadow Dynamic, watch this video: Free Yourself From the Victim Perpetrator Dynamic
To work with the shadow, it is helpful to notice when it is most active. One of the ways to know that we are in the shadow terrain is to recognize the emergence of a certain type of blindness, deafness, or shutdown. To work with the shadow, it helps if we attune ourselves to this “lack of knowing,” which will make us more sensitive to how we relate to the world around us. Instead of paying attention to where we have openness and clarity, we pay attention to where there is constriction, lack of understanding, and disconnectedness. As we start to become more aware of how our shadow feels, we can begin to work with the shadow when it comes up. We learn that, if we pay attention, then we can gather some really valuable information to help transform our shadow and open up to even more expanded ways of being.
Another way to see our shadow is to notice when we are blaming, shaming, victimizing, or moving into anger, deception, or aggression. Behaviors such as these are clear indicators that our shadow is active in some way. While the first way of seeing our shadow is about becoming attuned to a feeling—how the shadow feels—the second way is to know that if you are pointing a finger at someone chances are there is a shadow involved.
A misconception that people sometimes develop about working with the shadow is that this way of looking at things means that everything is “their fault,” and they feel that they are going to have to continually take responsibility for every experience regardless of how bad the other person’s behavior is. While you are always responsible for your own behavior, regardless of the situation, every other person is also responsible for their behavior. Just because you look at your responsibility in a situation doesn’t mean that another person doesn’t have the same responsibility in the same situation. If you are around someone who does not take responsibility for their behavior, your healthiest choice might be to leave the situation rather than continuing to look at your shadow.
Recognizing the role that your shadow is playing in the situation is not done just as a practice of accepting responsibility; it actually gives you a greater degree of clarity about how you can proceed. It helps you see how you might be able to bring a problem or a challenge to the surface so that it can be worked with, or how you might be able to work with it directly. When we work with the shadow, we do so in order to more adeptly change the situation into what we want.
A third way that we can work with the shadow is by doing excavation work and understanding how our issues are likely to show up as shadows. This process of self-inquiry helps us understand how our prior experiences have created these patterns. We can assume that there are some shadow elements where we were wounded in the past and that each wound has its own pattern. These patterns act as templates that can at times be replayed in our current life. And so many times—though not always—this template of wounding exists in the shadow realm. For example, when we think “Why is this happening again? Why am I experiencing the same thing that I’ve experienced so many times?” we have stumbled upon one of these wounding patterns.
It is the process of personal inquiry that helps us to unpack what is going on and to bring what is in the shadow out into the open. When we start to look at our stories, our experiences, and our wounds, then this naturally starts to bring shadow elements to light. It helps to clarify where we might be hiding or where we might not be able to see ourselves. And this, of course, creates a tremendous amount of transformation.
These are three ways that you can start to work with or identify where the shadow exists in your life so that you can create more of what you want instead of more of the same.
We can explore these techniques and more in a one-on-one session designed to illuminate how deep subconscious patterns are affecting your everyday life. Find out more here –> One-on-One Sessions with Dr. Kate
One of the trickier pieces of working with ourselves and the realm of personal and spiritual development is working with our shadow, which comprises all of the elements of us that we are unable to see. Often, we see these traits in others but not in ourselves. When we look out to the world and are irritated or upset by another person’s behavior, or we think that they should be different, then usually what we are seeing is our own shadow.
We can see our shadow by correlating what we do not like in another with what we are not aware of in ourselves. For example, if we do not like a person’s selfishness, we might look inside to see how we are also selfish. Because we all have all traits, whatever we see in another, we also have If we deny that we have a certain type of trait, then we’re very likely to see this trait outside of us and react negatively to it in the outside world. We do this because, at some point in time, we’ve decided that this trait is one we shouldn’t have. So then, when we see it in someone else, we believe that they shouldn’t have it either.
However, there’s another layer to working with the shadow: where we look at how our particular stories, issues, and problems are interplaying or interlocking with what it is that we are seeing in the outside world. We might get irritated or have some other negative emotion about someone’s behavior. But, actually, what’s happening is that we are seeing a reflection of the parts of us that are coconspirators with this particular behavior—the things that are we unaware of that help to create our experience of this trait.
If someone acts a certain way or we perceive that they’re treating us a certain way, then we can explore how our storyline, our doubts and fears, the places that we don’t want to go, and the things we do or don’t want to feel inside could be interacting with this particular event.
Our first step is to simply ask, “How do I live out this trait that I do not like in this other person?”
Next, we can look at how that trait interacts with our personal stories. How does our personal story (way of being) help bring out this behavior in others?
Our shadow is incredibly important while we are trying to build our relationships on any level—whether that is a partnership or a friendship or a community. Inevitably, our shadow projections are going to come. When they do, they tend to be the things that are most disruptive to our relationships. Because these traits are in shadow, it’s easy for us to simply blame the other person for exhibiting bad behavior. As we turn around and begin to work with the shadow, we begin to unlock our own potential and the potential of the relationship.
As we become better and better at shining light onto our shadow, we are able to shift and transform situations, not because the situations themselves change, but because our perceptions of those situations change—radically. We see opportunities where we didn’t see them before. We understand how to show up differently or be different so that we can create a whole new reality for ourselves. We also learn to take responsibility for our contributions and keep the focus on our own work which speeds up our growth.
While it is at time challenging work to do and just as quickly as we grasp it can seem to elude us, working with our shadow is vital to our personal and spiritual development. We simply cannot progress pass a certain point without taking it into consideration.
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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.
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.