Don’t get me wrong, the idea of the “Shadow Self” doesn’t only apply to psychology. Many ancient Shamanic teachings, including the ones I was taught, involved the preparation towards an illness or a spiritual death (by ascending into your own darkness or “Shadow Self”), and being reborn in an attempt to provide you with the experience and insight to heal yourself and bring that healing wisdom to the people of your tribe.
How Spirituality and Religions Contribute to the Repression of the Shadow
So, apart from society’s ideas of acceptable and non-acceptable behavior, what else causes such great repression of the Shadow Self? In truth, a lot of it actually comes from the endless cornucopia of “feel good” motivational teachings out there.
If you notice, a lot of modern spiritual and religious work revolves around moving towards the “light,” accepting the “light,” and seeking for the “light.” Yet by doing so, we ignore the entirety of what it is to be human! In fact, many of the spiritual and new age teachings out there provide an escape for those who do not want to be responsible for the entirety of themselves and their lives.
Understandably the “light” energies are usually represented with noble values such as love, peace, joy, harmony, and compassion. Many spiritual and religious movements completely ignore or condemn the darker elements such as anger, vengeance, control, fear, shame, competitiveness, jealousy, and lust. Because these darker characteristics are associated with negativity or “evil,” they’re avoided out of fear and buried even deeper within us. But this is a tragic mistake with dire consequences.
The more our darkness is avoided, the more it grows within us, waiting like a volcano to gush out at any unexpected moment.
The Importance of Integration (vs. Spiritual Bypassing)
Interestingly, many seekers of spiritual growth think that somehow all of the negative qualities within themselves will eventually be transcended as they “awaken to their Higher Selves,” “work through their karma,” or “become more enlightened.”
Yet from my own experience, this is a form of spiritual bypassing: using spirituality to avoid everything uncomfortable within us instead of facing it with honesty and courage. Furthermore, actually turning toward your Shadow Self helps you to embrace these disconnected parts of yourself, creating more psychological and spiritual balance (wholeness). Denying your darkness only creates chaos and disharmony.
The keyword here is “integration,” which comes from the Latin word integratus, meaning to make whole. To integrate an inner quality is to take ownership and responsibility for it, rather than rejecting or denying it. The benefits are many: sanity, healing, greater compassion, calmness, understanding, and wholeness are all to be found in integration.
On the other hand, the opposite of integration is to “disintegrate” – or to become fragmented and divided into pieces. A person that “breaks down” or “falls apart,” for instance, is someone who has been unable to handle stress and who has ignored too many of their personality traits, especially Shadow Self traits to function normally. In reality, a fragmented person can never handle adversity because they have no whole center, and they’re always handling life from the corners of their personality parts. This is why integration is so essential: it helps us to become whole again.