Embracing Our Shadow

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
― C.G. Jung

The program at New Life follows a 12-week cycle, with each week centering on a carefully picked them. The subject of “shadows” is an important part of Jungian psychology. Jung referred to shadows as any aspect of our personality that is hidden to us. While Freud assumed any unconscious parts of ourselves are negative, Jung believed that positive parts of ourselves could be hidden away as well. This is especially true for people with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. When we work on self-love we want to love our whole selves, and that includes the shadows.

How do we see what our minds essentially want us not to see?

We explored the idea of our shadows being reflected in others. We tried an exercise called Push-Pull, where we sat in front of another member of the community as we told them what pulls us towards them and what pushes us away. Then, we listened as they told us the same about us. After that, we switched partners, again and again. For many, this was quite a scary workshop. For some, giving negative criticism or negative feedback can be just as intimidating, if not more, than receiving it. Some were certain others would have nothing to say to them. We were advised to try and accept what was being said to us and receive them as gifts, rather than seeing them as compliments or criticisms.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
― C.G. Jung

The topic of shadows was looked at from all directions, from exploring the nature of fears in our men’s and women’s group, to our anxiety support group where we watched an interview with Debbie Ford, author of the book The Shadow Effect and discussed our own shadows. These groups are open to volunteers and guests as well as residents, and they offer us all new perspectives on the topics that are covered in the resident afternoon workshops.

In our Friday community workshop (also available to residents, guests, and volunteers) we discussed the parts of ourselves that we have disowned. We talked about how quickly we pick up things in early childhood, from walking to language and codes of behavior. For example, a parent saying to us, “don’t fucking say that to me! Don’t get angry with me”, might lead us to disown expressions of anger. Instead, we might learn to express our anger through sarcasm, hidden acts of revenge or passive aggressiveness. We practiced an exercise where our unconscious self might emerge through automatic writing.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
― C.G. Jung

After a week of dealing with the dark, we moved into a week of discussing gratitude and learning to bring the light into our lives.

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