Linda: The process of discovering our hidden parts is not about “search and destroy.” Search and befriend is probably a better way to put it. We don’t get rid of the shadow and we don’t destroy it. We can’t. All we can do is accept and come to terms with these aspects of ourselves. Like an eccentric old grandfather who has moved into our family’s spare bedroom after his wife died, we relate to our shadow with a combination of curiosity, incredulity, and begrudging tolerance, that over time transforms into amusement, compassion, and finally love.
In the process of becoming more accepting, we come to directly experience how strong our commitment is to image management and the shaping of others’ opinions. The commitment to protect ourselves continually runs counter to our desire to be free of the shadow’s tenacious grip upon us and we can feel at times that we are locked in the grip of a relentless conflict that is pulling us in opposite directions.
At these times we can often project this inner struggle onto others, particularly our partner who may show up to us as a demon who is tormenting us with criticism or blame. When we identify him or her as the source of our misery, our primary goal becomes the elimination of their influence on our life. We may accelerate our manipulative strategies in hopes of silencing them or appeasing them, but these tactics rarely work. The manipulative reactions that are fueled by our discomfort bring forth similar responses in our partner and the cycle generally escalates exponentially.
At these times it can seem as though we haven’t made any progress in our relationship at all. In fact it is easy to conclude that things are worse now than they were before and that we were better off before we began doing any of this work in the first place. Actually, the opposite is probably the case. It is BECAUSE we have been moving in the right direction that we are experiencing some of the unpleasant feelings that we had previously been submerging. Like an infected wound that has been lanced and allowed exposure to the fresh air, our denied pain needs to be felt and expressed so that we can get on with the process of healing.
Although it may appear as though our partner is the source of our pain, the truth is that they are actually the trigger that illuminates what is already there, but simply underneath the vision of our awareness. It FEELS like the other person is making us feel bad, but what is really going on is that we are allowing ourselves to open more fully to the feelings that our partner is awakening in us.
In doing this work we clarify the very important difference between indulging in destructive or irresponsible behaviors and acknowledging them with the intention of eventually transforming them into more skillful, conscious responses. Ironically, we cannot free ourselves from the negative patterns until we accept them as a reality in our lives that we have to come to grips with. Telling the truth about these tendencies that have a hold on us is the first step in releasing ourselves from their grip.
It is our resistance to them that keeps these patterns in place and in openly acknowledging them they begin to lose some of their power over us. As we become adept at accepting the reality of our shadow parts and discovering the gold that they bring with them, it becomes increasingly easier and less embarrassing to tell the truth about them when they show up in our lives.