Second Installment of “Inviting Yourself In” A Blog Series on Supporting Recovery through our Inner Landscape

This series will explore themes of healing and going deeper into yourself, welcoming all parts of yourself – the light and the dark – to the metaphorical table, in order to live a life of meaning, purpose, and peace, and experience a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the human experience.

How about Hosting Your Shadow this Holiday Season?

Whether the shadow becomes our friend or our enemy largely depends on ourselves ~ Marie Louise Von Franz.

As we move into the holiday season, we will most likely be hosted at someone’s house for a gathering or at an event, or perhaps we will be the host of a community of friends, family, or co-workers. Hosting is an integral part of the holidays and involves opening up, creating space, and welcoming in others. It also can be about generosity, kindness, and love.

I want to invite you to come along with me on an exploration of this idea of hosting within the context of your healing and recovery process and consider dedicating your inner recovery work over the last few months of 2016 to hosting your shadow.

What is the shadow?
Let’s start with a little psychology (from the perspective of C.G. Jung) and explore a few of the different parts of what makes up the whole of who we are:

  • Persona: what we present to the world and how we would like to be seen
  • Ego: our sense of identity, what we are and know about consciously
  • Shadow: the parts of ourselves that we fail to see or know, hidden aspects
  • Self: the wholeness of who we are, the light and the dark, the base metal and the gold

The great poet Robert Bly calls the shadow, “the long bag we drag behind us” and in this bag are things like what others don’t like about us, or what our culture says we should be, or every part of our personality that we just don’t like or want to acknowledge. It could be our spontaneity, anger, sexuality, individuality, impulsiveness, perfectionism, inferiority, shame, spirituality, a talent… The list could go on but you can see that what goes in this long bag we drag behind us are all the things we deny in ourselves. The bag can be filled with anything we consider “less than” about ourselves, but it can also be filled with things that are purely amazing about us, but have not been given freedom for their fullest expression in our lives.

Of course, it makes perfect sense that we try to moderate or “hide” our dark side from the world. Think about it for a minute – it would not be ideal if we were exploding in anger all the time or seeking our own individuality or pleasure at the cost of life-sustaining relationships; however, it is so important that we not “hide” this shadow side from ourselves. Our own inner awareness and exploration of our shadow is essential for recovery.

The body can also be a part of the shadow. It can be the part of ourselves we reject and condemn. It can express our deepest feelings of shame through armoring up, becoming rigid, tight, protecting us against the things we have disowned, perhaps things like pleasure and spontaneity, and mindful enjoyment of food.

I am a strong believer that the healing process from an eating disorder must include an invitation to and hosting of the shadow in order to restore us to the wholeness that we were born with.

We can’t have light without shadow, or shadow without light. They come from the same source, our wholeness, and are simply different expressions or aspects of who we are.

What happens when we deny our shadow?

When we refuse to look at this part of ourselves, it shows up in other ways, perhaps through dark moods, tension in our bodies, or anger expressed in the wrong direction. But remember, there is also gold in the shadow. We are not only denying the things we think are dark, such as our rage, but we may also be denying a part of us that is bright. This may or may not surprise you, but we often have a harder time recognizing the gold in our shadow. It is a lot easier to recognize the darkness such as impulsivity or rage (and then beat ourselves up for it) than it is to recognize the parts of us that are pure gold, but which have been limited and put into that long bag we drag behind us.

Sometimes what, happens is that we see these things in everyone else but ourselves. We become irritated and enraged at the faults in others, their shortcomings, or perhaps in their gifts and talents, because we have rejected our own.

The shadow itself it not a “bad” thing. We all have it. It only becomes hostile when we ignore it or reject it.

How do we host the shadow?

Let’s come back to the idea of hosting and try to really get into the feeling space of hosting a party for your most intimate friends. It usually involves a few important steps:

  • Having the idea of the gathering and setting an intention
  • Initial planning of who you would like to be there, where you will host, and what time
  • Extending the invitation with the details of where, what, and when to the guests
  • Approaching the day with an attitude of generosity and kindness in order to create a welcoming space as a host to those that arrive
  • And of course, there are often feelings of both excitement and anxiety as the gathering day approaches

I think there are a lot of parallels here in hosting your shadow and creating a space for it in your life. Some of the best ways I know to approach hosting the shadow is through intention setting, extending the invitation, creative ritual, personal reflection and self-compassion.

Intention Setting is the first step. It is often motivated by a wondering or a curiosity. Set the intention to work with the shadow. This could be an excellent use of your time with a therapist and a good way to be grounded in a relationship as you embark on this inner work.

Extending the Invitation is the ask. It is the openness to asking the shadow aspects of yourself to come forward. The invitation is an openness to befriending the darkness, not forcing it to come to the light, but allowing it an opportunity to be fully integrated into the whole of who you are.

Ritual is about creating sacred space and honoring something. It can be the smallest, most intimate symbolic activity that acknowledges the existence of something. A ritual for honoring and making space for the shadow elements of our wholeness can be creative such as lighting a candle and painting, drawing, writing, dancing, or sculpting. This is not about conquering the shadow but more about opening up space for it to express itself in your life through your body.

Personal Reflection is inner work. It is the work of continual confrontation of the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, and consciously and intentionally giving value to the whole of who we are. This requires that we find time, quiet time, alone, to reflect, meditate, and together with the help of a therapist to help us explore the things that are hard, dark, and in the shadow.

Self-Compassion, Kindness, and Generosity toward ourselves is the core of this work. James Hillman said, “how far can our love extend to the broken and ruined parts of ourselves, the disgusting and perverse? How much charity and compassion have we for our own weakness and sickness?” We can find cure and deep healing in extending love and compassion to the parts of ourselves we see as most inferior.

Wrapping up here, I love this Jung quote and want to share it with you:

To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light… anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle”

The search for wholeness requires both the light and dark side of ourselves to be hosted and have space for expression. This middle is not about compromise but about vitality, creativity, and full expression of the whole of who we are!

So the question is: Will you extend the invitation to your inner world and host your shadow with grace, self-compassion, and curiosity?