What happens as we grow up?
Through time, we learn to both enjoy, and despise, our socially-approved egos because, on the one hand, they make us feel good and “lovable,” but on the other hand, they feel phony and inhibited.
Therapist Steve Wolf has a perfect analogy that describes this process:
Each of us is like Dorian Grey. We seek to present a beautiful, innocent face to the world; a kind, courteous demeanor; a youthful, intelligent image. And so, unknowingly but inevitably, we push away those qualities that do not fit the image, that does not enhance our self-esteem and makes us stand proud but, instead, brings us shame and makes us feel small. We shove into the dark cavern of the unconscious those feelings that make us uneasy — hatred, rage, jealousy, greed, competition, lust, shame — and those behaviors that are deemed wrong by the culture — addiction, laziness, aggression, dependency — thereby creating what could be called shadow content. Like Dorian’s painting, these qualities ultimately take on a life of their own, forming an invisible twin that lives just behind our life, or just beside it …
But while the Shadow Self may be portrayed as our “evil twin,” it is not entirely full of “bad” stuff. There is actually gold to be found within the Shadow.
What is the Golden Shadow?
Jung once states that “the shadow is ninety percent pure gold.” What this means is that there are many beautiful gifts offered to us by our Shadow side if we take the time to look. For example, so much of our creative potential is submerged within our darkness because we were taught when little to reject it.
Not everything within our Shadow is doom and gloom. In fact, the Shadow contains some of our most powerful gifts and talents, such as our artistic, sexual, competitive, innovative, and even intuitive aptitudes.
The ‘Golden Shadow’ also presents us with the opportunity for tremendous psychological and spiritual growth. By doing Shadow Work, we learn that every single emotion and wound that we possess has a gift to share with us. Even the most obnoxious, “ugly,” or shameful parts of ourselves provide a path back to Oneness. Such is the power of the Shadow – it is both a terrifying journey, but is ultimately a path to Enlightenment or Illumination. Every spiritual path needs Shadow Work in order to prevent the issues from happening that we’ll explore next.
What Happens When You Reject Your Shadow?
When shadow-work is neglected, the soul feels dry, brittle, like an empty vessel. — S. Wolf
Rejecting, suppressing, denying, or disowning your Shadow, whether consciously or unconsciously, is a dangerous thing. The thing about the Shadow Self is that it seems to be known. It yearns to be understood, explored, and integrated. It craves to be held in awareness. The longer the Shadow stays buried and locked in its jail cell deep within the unconscious, the more it will find opportunities to make you aware of its existence.
Both religion and modern spirituality have a tendency to focus on the “love and light” aspects of spiritual growth to their own doom. This over-emphasis on the fluffy, transcendental, and feel-good elements of spiritual progression results in shallowness and phobia of whatever is too real, earthy, or dark.
Spiritually bypassing one’s inner darkness results in a whole range of serious issues. Some of the most common and reoccurring Shadow issues that appear in the spiritual/religious community include pedophilia among priests, financial manipulation of followers among gurus, and of course, megalomania, narcissism, and God complexes among spiritual teachers.
Other issues that arise when we reject our Shadow side can include:
- Hypocrisy (believing and supporting one thing, but doing the other)
- Lies and self-deceit (both towards oneself and others)
- Uncontrollable bursts of rage/anger
- Emotional and mental manipulation of others
- Greed and addictions
- Phobias and obsessive compulsions
- Intense anxiety
- Chronic psychosomatic illness
- Depression (which can turn into suicidal tendencies)
- sexual perversion
- Narcissistic ego-inflation
- Chaotic relationships with others
… and many others. This is by no means a comprehensive list (and there are likely many other issues out there). As we’ll learn next, one of the greatest ways we reject our Shadows is through psychological projection.