Today I’m going to explore the Jungian archetype of the Shadow, everything we can’t see in ourselves, and the importance of shadow work in relationships.
But first, in the last two posts, I have talked about how we can mistake our partners for someone else. Either that’s someone from our past because of transference. Or alternatively, a reflection of the parts of ourselves that we do not want to see and deny, which leads to projective identification.
Either way, we are not allowing ourselves to see our partners for who they are. And, of course, it may also account for the times when we don’t feel seen, heard or understood.
What is the Shadow?
In reality, we are talking about the child parts of us and the leftover feelings from our childhood that get in the way of us making adult choices and forming the adult-to-adult relationships we desire.
As children, we learn the traits associated with ‘being good’ are accepted, while others related to ‘being bad’ are rejected. We adjust our behaviour to meet our needs and learn to adapt to the world.
Over the first 18 or so years of our lives, all the unaccepted or discouraged parts of us are bundled together, swept out of view and outside our conscious awareness. It’s called the Shadow because it’s always standing right behind us, just out of sight.
The Shadow includes all that we hate about ourselves and all the incredible potential that we doubt or deny we have.
We project our negative aspects onto others as strong dislike and project our positive potential as admiration.
How to spot your Shadow self
In a relationship, our Shadow and Shadow work matters for two significant reasons.
1. The Shadow can operate without us knowing.
Our conscious self goes on autopilot while the unconscious assumes control and drives the bus. The result is:
- We do things we wouldn’t voluntarily do and later regret.
- We say things we wouldn’t usually say.
- Our facial reactions express emotions we don’t consciously feel.
- We psychically transmit negative energy to others close to us.
2. Our partners reflect our Shadow.
When we say opposites attract, we may well not be referring to our partner but instead our Shadow, the opposite and contradicting part of ourselves.
There are always two sides to the coin.
- The compassionate person will have in their shadow indifference.
- The generous person meanness.
- The caring person is also cruel.
- The arrogant person humility.
- The resilient person’s fragility.
- The empathic person will have in their shadow selfishness and apathy.
Understandably in a relationship, it probably feels that indifference and meanness are the qualities that would repel intimacy. But, when we don’t make friends with our Shadow, we make that intimate connection with our spouse all the more distant, perhaps with rolling eyes, dependency, sarcasm and resentment.
All the time, we engage with the inner struggle; conflict, friction, and constant clashes are the external reality while we continue to project.
Confronting our Shadow selves in relationship
When disconnected from our Shadow, we are not connected to all parts of our authentic selves.
Perhaps when we protest that our partner does not see us, they do; maybe we don’t see ourselves.
When we learn ways to make friends with our Shadow, both positive and negative, we restore and renew a lost life, and inner adversaries become partners.
The Shadow is a gift, and Shadow work becomes a way of accepting the gift.
The challenge is to integrate the Shadow so that you’ll become a complete reflection of yourself and who you are. You’ll discover the relief of not always having to be good. You’ll find balance and perspective. It’s not about eliminating the Shadow; you can find your positive Shadow in the negative.
- Indifference may look like compassionately guarding our energetic boundaries.
- Befriending our meanness could result in retaining appropriate resources such as our finances for our own self-care.
- Connecting to fears of being perceived as cruel may mean leaving a relationship we have stayed in too long.
- Owning our humility may mean accepting help when offered.
- Being open to a sense of fragility means we stop and rest instead of endlessly keeping going.
- Setting aside the fear of selfishness may mean we can better set boundaries and meet our own needs.
What would your relationship look like then?
Show your partner your Shadow and deepen your connection
Because in a relationship, integrating the Shadow is the opportunity not only to show up as your authentic self but to take back the projections from your partner so that you can see them for who they are.
But we can’t take back the projection unless we are willing to notice our dance with our Shadow.
None of this is a get-out-of-jail card to say, ‘that was my Shadow, and so it doesn’t matter that you feel hurt,’ or a green card for your partner to criticise and shame you.
Not at all; it’s just the opposite. Now is the time to develop relentless self-honesty, self-responsibility and self-compassion.
Embracing our Shadow reverses self-rejection and connects you to all of who you are. Seeing all parts of yourself at work without shaming yourself reconnects you to your true self and reveals your immense brilliance.
There may be things for which you need to say a wholehearted sorry. Then you can focus and release the positive attributes rather than attempting to eliminate what is.
Find yourself and heal your relationship
The keys to engaging with the unconscious in our relationships are the same: Shadow work, taking back the projection, or transference.
- Mindfulness is the way of tuning in with what’s really going on. It is so helpful because when we are mindful, we can have a more profound sense of what is happening moment-by-moment basis, and in that way, we understand deeper parts of ourselves.
- Journalling is a beautiful practice. When you allow a constant stream of consciousness to flow without a filter, you will be amazed by what you notice about your inner world that emerges randomly. In three adjectives, you can ask yourself how you would describe the things about your partner that trigger you. What is so wrong with that, and how are you different?
- Pay attention to your feelings. Emotions are an expression of and, therefore, the gateway to your unconscious.
Cultivating better decisions with shadow work
When thinking about staying or leaving a relationship, Shadow work is key.
Shadow work helps you get to the bottom of the dynamic between you and your partner; sorting out what is yours and what is theirs to be responsible for becomes clearer. That’s also why couples counselling becomes necessary because somebody else can reflect on what you and your partner cannot see. The unconscious, by definition, is precisely that.
While both partners must look towards their Shadows for a relationship to be healthy, you can do this work on your own.
Over To You
If you’re stuck and curious about Shadow work or want to explore the impact of the unconscious in your relationship, get in touch for a clarity session. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2022
Soul Centred couples therapist, counsellor and Jungian Shadow Work coach Sandra Harewood specialise in working with women and couples stuck at a crossroads in their marriage. Relationships are precious; this is your chance to begin a new journey and experience the connection and intimacy you most deeply desire.
Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore creative solutions to their difficulties and deepen their self-knowledge to discover what keeps them ‘stuck’ in their marriages to create and experience extraordinary relationships.