Where our Shadow Lives and Healing Our Shadow

I wrote this and was published on Urban Howl in 2016. These words started as a poem, the poem that is the foundation of my Little Book of Shadow. Words that are still valid, important and necessary.

Shadow lives not only in the monsters we create, but the people we become.

When I was little, I cried for Darth Vader. I wanted to rescue him – seeing not a monster, but a man who was utterly alone with no one to love him or understand him.

I mourned for Maleficent when she couldn’t attend Aurora’s baby shower, feeling her rejection and isolation.

I wept for the Goblin King in Labyrinth, seeing a man longing only for love and family.

They were all supposed to be villains – designed to evoke fear or condemnation, rather than sympathy. But I somehow saw their pain and identified with it.

And I wanted to heal it.

Shadow is everything we are and everything we are not.

We are attracted to the bad guys. We create villains to hold what we do not like and reject in ourselves. We project on them everything we cannot accept about ourselves. They personify our darkness. They live in the places we try to escape.

Shadow lives in our pain and the pieces of us we discard.  

The good guys remind us of what we long for, what we are missing, who we are not. Ironically, this feeds Shadow, preying on our weaknesses. We turn to the bad guys because they own who they are. They do not apologize for their truth. We turn on the good guys because we see through their façade. Because our inborn intuition knows that perfection isn’t real, we cling to characters that imitate the real human struggle between self and Shadow. It is the bad guys who do this best.

Shadow is a container.

The villains are our true heroes. They teach us empathy and acceptance. To embrace our vulnerability and find strength in our perceived limitations. They hold what we cannot accept so we don’t have to hurt as much.   

Shadow is reflections in water.

And so it was the characters created to personify our dark side - the Darth Vaders, Goblin Kings and Maleficients, that I related to the most. While the characters created to mold us - such as Snow White -dug at something hidden within me, something I was blind to.

Shadow is revealing.

No, I never liked Snow White, not even as a child. Her happiness? Denial of pain. Her acceptance of everyone? Naiveté. Her voice? A reminder that I hid mine. Shadow is always with us, you see. Even in the innocence of childhood, Shadow begins to develop and grow.

Shadow is the outcast.

Everything I do not like about Snow White is a window into my own Shadow. A mirror reflecting back to me those pieces I neglect to accept. My masked feelings. The feelings I push away; insecurity, jealousy and vulnerability.

Shadow is accountability.

As a therapist, I knew personal growth and healing was to be found in my dislike for Snow White. She represented the places I cover to keep me feeling that I am good person. Snow White showed me where I was broken. She magnified my insecurities in sharing my voice. She illuminated my issues with my body. She exposed my lack of trust in self and others.  

Shadow is comradery.

Darth Vader allowed me to explore feelings I suppressed, like my anger when my parents divorced. The Goblin King reminded me that I longed for unconditional love. Maleficent revealed that I craved acceptance, even when I pretended not to care.

Shadow is a long-forgotten, abandoned building budding with new life.  

Where does Shadow hide? Everywhere. Even in the purest and most innocent of places. In the broken, the hurt, the rejected. Shadow thrives on pain and society’s ideals and morals. We run from Shadow because it forces us to accept ourselves as we are: human and flawed. Not the perfect people we try to be.

Shadow is freedom.

When we meet Shadow life unfolds. Issues and problems gain deeper meaning. We feel more complete. Meeting Shadow is like meeting a long-lost friend who arrives with gifts - just not the gifts you might have expected. Snow White gave me my voice, even if I wasn’t ready to use it. Darth Vader gave me empathy. The Goblin King showed me love. Maleficent brought me a kindred spirit.

Shadow is lost memory, pushed away and suppressed.

Shadow is a constant companion. Shadow swallows us at night, visits in our dreams. She is allusive and soft. She is transmutable, ever-changing and expanding. She can be your muse. She whispers in the wind, calls us into the dark, to the places that feel the most vulnerable and scary. She is the pull to turn around, to face what is behind us. She is a call, to say something. To do something.

Shadow is someone else. Not me.

She manifests in those things we don’t like - even hate. She projects onto others all the insecurities and character flaws that we refuse to claim as our own. Shadow festers when we compare ourselves to others. When we see ourselves through society’s eyes, the eyes of others we love, when we look through the lens of others’ expectations. Girls love to cook. Only men work physical labor. Women are more nurturing than men. Real men don't cry. When we live by these standards, we deny aspects of ourselves. This is where Shadow lives. In the rejected, projected and discarded.

Shadow is the damaged heart’s cries.

We can live in Shadow without realizing it. In those moments that we grow into angry monsters, spewing our perceived truths while lashing out at others - like a toddler acting out for attention. We are crying to be seen, to be heard, to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Here is where Shadow says, “see me, love me, accept me.” Here, Shadow displays its beautiful self - waiting to be transformed.

Shadow is the protective parent.

Shadow runs the show when we leave her unchecked. When we no longer can hold in place our broken pieces. When we can no longer pretend to be who we are not. When the pain, injustice, rejection, hate, shame and guilt become too much to hold. We splinter and break. Our true self goes into hiding, no longer able to protect itself. When we can no longer hide from Shadow - we become Shadow. We become all that we have projected onto others to protect and preserve ourselves. We become malicious deeds, hateful acts and the unleashed distribution of pain. Most of us will not become consumed by Shadow. We will instead wrestle with her, keeping her silent and at arm’s distance. Ever in fear of her power and untamed wildness.

Shadow is patience.

Shadow is not good or bad. It is not the place of demons, even though we often send our demons there to live. It is the holding place. A waiting place. A place of deep and profound healing. Often it is where creativity is born. It where ideas are born. Shadow reminds us that flawed is beautiful.

Shadow is vulnerability.

She whispers reminders that we are imperfect, that we are human. She gives us permission to see where we are blind, allowing us to grow, change and expand. Much like Snow White forced me to see where I was broken, pretending and trying to be someone else.

Shadow is ever-encircling.

There are so many ways to work with Shadow. The more we despise, hate, reject, and project, the juicier it is to work with. Something deep is ready to be seen and healed. She wants to be part of us, incorporated and whole. We can work with Shadow by meeting those pieces of ourselves that we do not like. When we look at the labels we place on ourselves and others, we see Shadow.

Shadow is inspiration.

We can thrive in Shadow. Here is where we heal. Here is where we become whole. Where we are able to love and accept ourselves and each other, just as we are. Shadow can be your closest ally. For she keeps you in check, keeps you aware, keeps you honest. She allows you to be human, to feel and to accept it all.

And as I finish, Snow White enters as a picture on my daughter’s wall, to which my daughter proclaims, “I love her.” And I smile. “Yes. I love her, too.”

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