Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

If You Really Want to Feel Loved, Show Them Your Shadow!

Seven steps to being more "you" in your relationships.

Within our dark side, lies part of our unique light
Source: pixel2013/Pixabay

We all want to be loved. We all want to be seen and appreciated for who we truly are. We all have a desire for people to see beyond our façade and truly grasp our uniqueness. At the same time, we all make a concerted effort to hide our imperfections and present our best selves to the world.

We want people to see our ”authentic” self, while at the same time, we are presenting a positive veneer of a successful, composed, emotionally regulated person. And because of this positive veneer, when people celebrate or compliment us, we often do not fully believe them, because “they don’t really know who I am… If they only knew my bad or sad or mad sides, they wouldn’t love me.”

I use the term shadow parts to refer to those parts (or self-states)[i] that are denied, suppressed or hidden from ourselves and others: hostility, aggression, vulnerability, greed, sadism, dependency, helplessness, sexuality, vengefulness, and more.

Since such parts might also be socially, religiously, or culturally frowned upon, people dissociate these parts even from themselves. Yet within these forbidden parts exist many other “positive” resources that also get repressed, such as assertiveness, eroticism, creativity, imagination, boldness, vitality, and more.

Within our dark side lies part of our unique light.

This dynamic is easily seen if we observe the physical shadow that is created when a flashlight is shined on us. If we move away from the shadow, it actually becomes larger, like a dark cloud hovering over our head. Yet if we move toward and into that shadow, we not only minimize the shadow, but our own figure grows in relation to that shadow (click here for a short video demonstrating this idea).

So just like the flashlight dynamic, the solution to the shadow smokescreen we naturally create (which inevitably increases our loneliness in our most intimate relationships) is to dare to show those parts. That is the fastest way to allow our loved ones to see our unique power and for us to begin to believe their witness.

Why does exposing our shadow increase the light that is us?

When we show our loved ones our backstage, they get to see us ”without makeup”—warts and all. The truth is, they have been observing this side subtly and subliminally all along. This, then, serves to validate their unformulated experience and helps them see us as a separate, complex, mature person who is self-aware and not embarrassed to show our flaws.

This maturity usually leads to a deeper sense of appreciation and love in our partners’ perception of us.

Therefore, if they still appreciate and love us after seeing all our sh!t, then their respect, admiration, and love will bypass our usual defense mechanisms, and we will really feel loved and seen.

As a couples therapist, I encourage my clients to show their shadow parts to their partners. I once worked with a couple where it seemed clear that the wife did not enjoy her partner’s company and that she sought excuses to go to her office in the evenings to work.

Her partner interpreted her desire to work as her way of avoiding intimacy with him after the kids finally went to sleep. She passionately denied what was a natural and normal desire that is a part of every relationship: the desire to have some time to ourselves without our partner. Why was she denying this legitimate desire?

It took several sessions for her to share the truth that she wasn’t enjoying time with her children either and that her current desire was to focus on her career. For her, professional ambition and healthy narcissistic preferences were forbidden. She experienced these feelings as her shadow parts that were to be denied or smoke-screened.

The price she was paying for this cover-up was a feeling of phoniness, loneliness, and despair in her marriage, as well as a constant state of defensiveness toward her husband. When she finally shared these parts, her partner smiled, and the tension in the room lifted since they could now observe, reflect, and even play with their shadows as a couple in this new light and with their new understanding of their motivations, experiences, and feelings. Her partner lowered his automatic, negative mind read of her desire to work, and she felt more invigorated and validated in her professional ambition.

Another couple I worked with had created the complementary dance where one partner took the role of "The Benevolent Father" and his partner took the role of "The Insulted Child." The insulted partner constantly tested his partner, who kept failing by not being sensitive or affectionate enough. The "child" partner interpreted almost every behavior the benevolent partner did as a jab or passive-aggressive move.

Early on in the therapy process, both partners could see the shadow parts of the insulted child, mainly the insulted, vindictive, immature parts. Yet both partners were not able, or rather preferred not to see, the shadow part of the "benevolent" partner.

I tried to explain to the paternal partner that it is in his best interest that he let his lover see his (passive) aggressive sides: his cynicism, his constant forgetfulness of the requests made by his partner, his contempt and ridicule of the immaturity of his partner. I told him that if he dares own up to these parts, his partner would stop automatically, negatively mind-reading (also called negative sentiment override)[ii] him and would actually appreciate and love him in a deeper, more mature way. To that, the pious partner replied, “Why? I don't want my partner to see my shadows and my flaws.”

Karen Arnold/Pixabay
Real self-esteem comes from owning our flaws and still having high regard for ourselves.
Source: Karen Arnold/Pixabay

We often believe that if we show our ugly or forbidden sides to our partner, then our partner will be hurt and leave us.

The truth, though, is that our partners already implicitly and semi-consciously experience these parts of us. It is our denial or minimization of these parts that creates suspicion, distance, negative sentiment, override, and contempt in the minds and hearts of those closest to us.

Subsequently, we begin to question whether they really love us, or if they are just saying the words and going through the motions. Over time, this creates insecurity and boredom, because emotional communication feels a bit fake and insincere.

The cleaving to our original positive presentation of ourselves is a barrier to a more mature, differentiated love.

When one partner finally admits and shares these perceived negative sides, they are, in fact, also liberating their partner from their confining, complementary, and often limiting role, toward a wider expression of their own different selves. Consequently, the relationship becomes more balanced, and roles become more fluid.

Both partners begin to feel a new sense of freedom and flexibility, where they can bring more sides of themselves to the intimate encounter without judgment. Our partner becomes a more rounded character in our eyes, and we can have a renewed, eyes-open sense of who they are. Our love for them becomes a more mature and whole one.

Don't hide it. Let them see it. Bring it in its full rawness. Do it trembling, but do it. In the long run, you will feel more celebrated than you have ever felt in the relationship

So, if you want to endeavor to share more of your shadow, here are seven steps to help you do that:

1. Choose a relationship that is important to you and that you want to bring more parts of yourself to.

2. Share your intent to introduce more aspects of yourself into the relationship in order to deepen it and not to be purposely hurtful. Share this article so you both have a common language.

3. Dare to share, at a soft, loving, slow, and comfortable pace, the parts that you may not be proud of in yourself. Perhaps it is the way you sometimes ignore, belittle, stonewall, or have other forbidden thoughts about things your partner cares about. Don’t spew but rather open the shutter in bite-sized portions, so you and your partner can digest this new information. See a short video explaining the art of sharing constructively.

4. Hold onto yourself and breathe. Allow time for these new admissions to land for both you and your partner.

5. Your partner may be initially shocked, hurt, or disappointed. Remind them that you are sharing these parts out a deeper wish for intimacy.

6. After a while, check in again with your partner and hear their thoughts and reactions to what you have shared. In what ways did they already sense these parts in you? In what ways do they now feel validated for their unformulated negative experiences with you?

7. Be ready to hear some difficult truths from your loved ones. Remind yourself that ”the only way around is through,” and they, too, are connecting to new parts of themselves. What you are both experiencing are actually the growing pains of stepping into the crucible of the intimate relationship[iii]. Stepping into the crucible is perhaps the fastest way to manifest dramatic growth in a relationship with the ability to sustain great intimacy as well as conflict.

If you choose to walk this path, then be prepared for the next chapter of your relationship: a more differentiated bond, where you are able to bring a wider range of yourself, all the while seeing and appreciating the same in your partner. Where both your shadow and light are not only seen but also celebrated. Ultimately, you will have a better chance of feeling loved for who you truly are.


[i] In relational psychotherapy, the discourse is not of the true or false self (as in the days of Winnicott) but rather a complex, varied array of different self-states, which exist in us all. Within this paradigm, mental health is the ability to have access, choice, and control over several self-states.

[ii] Mind reading is when one partner interprets behaviors or fuzzy statements by their partner. When the relationship is constantly tense or conflictual, then both partners’ mutual mind read is usually negative, which results in what psychologist Robert Weiss calls negative sentiment override.

[iii] David Schnarch uses the term crucible to describe the hot, conflicted reality of a committed intimate relationship.

Schnarch, D. M. (2012). Passionate marriage: Keeping love and intimacy alive in committed relationships. Scribe Publications.