Have you ever noticed how many different masks we wear throughout the day? How we adjust ourselves, conform and react to various situations, including people. We conform to the behaviors that are expected of us even if they don’t sit right with us. After all, it’s something we have to do to “play nice” right? Let’s explore this a little further and examine some of the reasons. Is it really because of what is expected of us, because of something we learned through social conditioning, something that was taught to us growing up, something we have to in order to fit in and to be accepted by others?
I’m sure you felt the exhausting effects from all the masks you wear every day while carefully hiding your own true identity. Why do we do this, are we not enough? It’s what many of us fear. And here we have it, anxiety is born and is just one of the subjects under the big umbrella of fear that rules our days. No wonder you fall into bed at night, completely drained and dead to the world. Guess what, you will get another chance and do it all over again tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that. Only you can say when it is enough.
It takes years, and sometimes a lifetime full of experiences to finally figure out if those masks you wear still apply. Can you imagine what a heavy load our shadow self is carrying for us? Should we expect it to be a happy camper, happy go lucky, waiting to take on more of whatever we throw at it, or is the picture becoming clearer as to why we call it our shadow self, a dark side we usually try to hide. And why do we hide it? Surely it can’t be all that friendly, it may even behave irrational. We haven’t dealt with it which means we have no control over it, never in a million years will we slow it to make ourselves look bad in public. And why should we deal with the challenging process of acknowledging it?Don’t we want it to stay the same, to do our dirty work, to carry the painful stuff for us, to keep the pain away from us, and for heavens sake please don’t make us look vulnerable and weak in front of others. After all haven’t we worked a lifetime protecting and hiding our weaknesses! To admit to them would mean that we have to face our flaws, to make ourselves look less perfect in front of others, to lower the wall and be susceptible to attacks and pain. To face this and take a closer look is a big step that many are afraid to take, until the day when this behavior no longer serves you, and questions arise that won’t deny your authentic self any longer.
“Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life.
– C. Zweig & S. Wolf
Previously, we have talked about the courage it takes to face your shadow self, and we have only reached the tip of the iceberg. We have practiced acknowledging these darker parts of yourself and I take it that you have clearly noticed the darkness of your shadow self. There is a reason as to why you are reading this, why you are wondering and why thoughts have started to enter your mind. It’s no coincidence and it’s not something you stumble across by accident, so why now? Perhaps you have gone through some traumatic events including loss and other painful experiences. Maybe you feel alone, making excuses and justifications for your behavior, or maybe you simply feel that you don’t fit in, that you have no place amongst society. Perhaps you feel as if you were from a different planet. Why doesn’t anyone understand you, why is life so difficult and hard.
So for argument sake and for you to understand this important point of your journey, let’s indulge in the complexity of ourselves for a moment. I want to talk about being born innocent and what happens as soon as we engage in the knowledge of good and bad. Envision your soul as a blank canvas, a sponge that is absorbing the fears and programming from your main influencers, your parents. Down the pipeline into your soul are fragmented pieces of what they themselves have not fully acknowledged and processed in their lifetime. You don’t know yet whether this information fits you or not, whether it holds value for YOU, but it’s there, stored away to be accessed whenever you need it. Ultimately you grow up with the ideals, expectations, norms, and social conditionings of others. You give in to conventional thinking for years and it becomes a way of life. You don’t even realize that there is more, that you are conforming, and that there is something that might fit you better. Subconsciously you continue to live your life suppressing your own ideas. It’s how you’ve been raised and it seems normal. After all it’s what you’ve been taught and your parents being wise and smart people must surely know what they were talking about. What if I told you that they were just trying to figure things out themselves?
Let’s take it a step further. I assume that you have summoned the courage to acknowledge your shadow self and sit with “yourself” for awhile. What you’ll discover here is a whole different chapter, a chapter you worked so hard to close and banish into the deepest and darkest corner of your soul. Are you prepared for what you might find? Remember in chapter one we talked about the things that will deeply disturb you, things you might not like about yourself. Are you willing to take a look and be objective? What will you do with the information? The true work is about to begin if you can answer these questions. Since you have made it this far, it’s probably safe to say that you are no longer in denial, that you are aware and conscious now, but where it goes from here is truly up to you.
What you should understand before you tap into the information of your dark side is the persona of the shadow self. Here is a take on it according to Carl Jung. He defines this persona as who we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world. The word persona is derived from a Latin word that literally means “mask,” however in this instance, the word can be applied metaphorically, representing all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups of people and situations. Just let it sink in and acknowledge all the social conditioning. All the times you tried to please everybody but yourself and all the various masks it took in order to do so. How far does it go back? We do this over the course of our entire life, don’t we? All the painful knowledge collected since birth, ultimately contributes to our dark side. Can we truly be completely accountable for it or are we a victim of life? There is hope, and while we have no control over the punches life deals us, we do have control over how we process and acknowledge them.
In chapter 1 we have summoned the courage to acknowledging our shadow self. We have become aware of this wounded dark side within us that carries our burdens and pains. That leashes out from time to time in an ugly way, but with the purest sole intent to protect itself. Perhaps if we can see it from this angle we can pour love over it and accept it as a part of ourselves. It doesn’t make you a bad person and mean, instead try to hear the cry for your attention, your love, the unresolved and underlying issues and conditioning that are still your triggers today. Our next step is to become aware of our masks and to recognize the reasons as to why we wear them. Is it something we want to continue to do, or is it something that no longer fits us? What will it take to shed these masks, are we willing to carry some of the burden from our shadow self and make our load lighter no matter the consequences? What are the consequences, and what have you to lose in an order to gain yourself? Wouldn’t anything that is not encouraging you to be your best version be something that never really had your best interest at heart? Why would you want to hold on to it? I know the many reasons, all encompassing fear, getting out of our comfort zone and the unknown. But is it really worth it to lose yourself over it each and every day? Only you can answer if it’s enough.
It is here where your success is determined whether you are truly ready to face what your shadow self has to show you. You either look at your faults objectively, willing to put in the work for a better more authentic version of yourself, or you stuff it down into your subconscious even deeper than before.
For myself I wasn’t ready to face the music, in this case my shadow self for the majority of my life. It was something frightening, something I denied and suppressed under the umbrella of fear. I spent a lifetime deflecting the pain, a pain that first came into my life at the age of ten and the sudden, accidental death of my father. A deep traumatic event that would affect me for the rest of my life. But eventually, I reached a point I could no longer “stuff it.” I had to face the music. Nothing seemed to fit anymore and it wasn’t a matter of choice. I wasn’t happy with my life and I started to question everything. I was searching for purpose and what I had seen, simply wasn’t enough. There had to be more. More meaning, more purpose, a more fulfilling way of life. It was scary to take that first step, but once you do you will never look back. You will commit to being a lifelong learner, eagerly growing and learning, exploring the true meaning of your life. It was as if a whole new person was born. Someone that was always there but was suppressed for a big part of life. My life….
I want to take a moment and thank my friend Mark for his highly valuable insight and support on the subject, here and always. He is no stranger to facing the shadow self and his advice and wisdom for the world and us is a true gift to me as well as many others. 🙏🏼