You and Your Shadow

Q At times I will have an angry outburst or violent dreams that really surprise me. Someone said that I have to look at my “shadow.” I understand this to mean my dark side that I don’t necessarily show to the world. Could you please explain what this term means and what might be going on with me?

AWe all encounter aspects of our personalities that surprise us. We might say, “I am just not feeling myself today.” Or “it’s not like you to say that.” Words come out of us that seem to erupt out of nowhere. When our inner editor or “good side” isn’t in control, more of our hidden self is revealed. This can be surprising, scary and confusing; however, it can also tell us that there are aspects of our personalities we are not aware of. Sometimes people will say things in humor or sarcasm that they can’t ordinarily.

The term “shadow” was popularized by Jungian psychology. It really means any aspect of us that is unconscious, and not expressed. This is usually created when we are children and socialized in our families, schools and society. Children are very free in their expression of likes and dislikes, to the point of being rude. They can also be impulsive and selfish. Parenting curtails and shapes their behavior to suit familial expectations and help the child learn self-control and cultivate appropriate conduct. This process inevitably creates a shadow. Sometimes, society’s expectations can also make us repress some of our better aspects.

One way we can learn about our shadows is to notice what we greatly admire or despise in another. A big emotional connection with someone indicates that we are seeing an aspect of ourselves that is hidden and unclaimed. This could be a talent we haven’t cultivated or a negative trait that we haven’t dealt with. It is a challenging concept to understand and accept. We need to take a more spacious, spiritual perspective to see the bigger picture.

When, with kindness, we inquire into every nook and cranny of our being, we have greater understanding of why we are the way we are. This naturally evokes compassion for ourselves and others because we realize how greatly influenced we are by life’s greater forces that we can’t control and don’t really understand. Thus, we are one small thread of a very large and intricate fabric. While unique, we struggle and shine in similar ways.

Your outbursts are opportunities to investigate into the emotions that you are not able to control. Ask yourself what evoked the anger. Who are you angry at? How long have you been feeling this way? Anger can also be a way to express strength and directly say no. Once you are comfortable with your own  power and feel that you have the space to express it, the outbursts will also subside.


Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393.


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