One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
It is better to be complete than perfect.
In our last blog we examined strategies for identifying, or meeting, our Shadow. Although this process can be unsettling, it is essential to identify, reclaim and integrate these denied, repressed, or rejected aspects of our self in order to become a fully integrated person. As Jung states above, the goal is completeness, not perfection.
In her book “How Did I Get Here?” Barbara De Angelis wrote the following: Our real enemy is not the darkness within us, but our rejection and denial of it. It is not by turning away from the Shadow side of our self that we find peace, but in turning toward it, knowing it, and embracing it as a long lost part of our self. In this passage, she expands on Jung’s wisdom and reminds us that the enemy isn’t our Shadow. Rather, the enemy is our denial and rejection of it, which in turn feeds our Shadow and creates havoc in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
The purpose of this blog is to examine the steps necessary to more fully integrate our Shadow into our whole self or being. Let’s start this process by examining the word “integration.” The word integrate comes from the Latin word “integratus” which means to make whole. The process of integration, as it relates to our Shadow, means to own and accept those aspects of our self that are considered to be negative (e.g., selfishness, laziness, lust, etc.). Owning, accepting, and taking responsibility for these aspects of ourselves stand in stark contrast to denying, rejecting, or projecting them onto others. Now, let’s consider the opposite of integrate: “disintegrate.” Disintegrate means to splinter, shatter, or disperse. As Mateo Sol points out, we use phrases such as “break down,” “unglued,” or “fall to pieces” to describe someone under stress who has failed to integrate his or her Shadow. As such, the goal in this work is to not only recognize, but also to embrace those aspects of our being in order to be made whole or, to quote Jung, “complete.”
In order to integrate our Shadow, it’s important to understand the habitual things we do when we’re on “autopilot” (in the “fog of illusion”) that feed our Shadow. First, keeping secrets reinforces this notion of “disintegration’ by splintering ourselves psychologically. When we keep secrets we lie to others, and often to ourselves, reinforcing this notion of “the other” that is often denied or repressed. This “other” is perhaps most famously portrayed as “Mr. Hyde” in the classic “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Keeping secrets and telling lies is akin to drinking the potion – it feeds our Shadow and triggers the ugly transformation.
From a psychological perspective, holding on to guilt and shame also nourishes our Shadow, reinforcing this notion of separateness. Finally, needing to always be “right,” and thereby making others “wrong,” allows this internal separateness to now be extended outwardly, thwarting or even severing relationships with others. So to summarize, keeping secrets, lying to yourself and to others, holding on to shame and guilt, and making others “wrong” are ways that keep the Shadow alive, energized, dark and distant.
There are ways to shine light on your Shadow and, in the process, befriend it and begin to enlighten your entire being and perhaps even those around you. First, you must forgive yourself and let the past go. In a previous blog we explored the need to let go of guilt, shame, and self-judgment, as well as the need to be “right.” Second, stop projecting your Shadow traits onto others. It is absolutely essential that you own and take responsibility for all of the aspects of yourself, good and bad. The more you project on to others, the further away you move from reality and authenticity.
Integration does not mean indulgence; accepting your temper does not mean that you believe you now have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card to indulge in it. By accepting your Shadow traits, such as anger, you are honest with yourself and by bringing this awareness to your consciousness, you are much better able to manage it. When we have the courage to embrace this process – and it is a process, not a one-time event – we begin to step into the light of our own authenticity. Ultimately, this allows us to not only meet our Shadow, but to access it for the “gold” that resides in the dark, including creativity, profound intuitive insight, and passion. When we meet and walk with our Shadow, we are better able to manage this darker side of ourselves. As I often say you can either meet and manage your Shadow or deny it, and it will manage you. When we ignore our Shadow we actually feed it, giving it dominion over us. Perhaps the wisdom from this well-known Cherokee Native American story says it best:
One evening a Cherokee Elder and his grandson were talking by the fire. The Cherokee Elder told his grandson he needed to know that there is a battle raging inside of everyone.
“My son,” he said, “there is a battle between two wolves inside each of us. One wolf is dark and contains anger, envy, greed, guilt, pride and jealousy. The other wolf is light and contains joy, peace, hope, love, humility and kindness.”
The grandson thought for a moment and then asked, “Which wolf wins?”
The Cherokee Elder replied, “The one you feed.”