Listening to Our Shadow


By Aeray Lumm

One of the biggest traps we fall into when working with our shadows is trying to “fix” them.

Right now, you might be thinking, “Well, if I don’t fix them, what the heck am I supposed to do with them?” Trying to fix our shadows (or our flaws) is a part of our cultural conditioning, and the process of doing “shadow work” is counterintuitive to what we are taught. It takes time and guidance for the mind to understand why we don’t need to change or fix our shadows; to understand what we can do; and how to do it.  To understand what to do with our shadows, we need to first understand what we mean by “shadow” and how the shadow plays into our lives.

Your shadow is the part of you (thoughts, patterns, “flaws,” feelings, etc.) that you don’t want people to know about you. Perhaps you don’t even want to know these parts of yourself, and so you repress them. We are terrified that if we expose our shadows we will face rejection, lack of approval, perhaps even be cast out of our community or circle of friends. The belief that we are our shadows may lead us to have a decreased sense of self-worth, self-esteem, or self-image. Our genetic imperative to be accepted and to survive drives us to hide these parts of ourselves and pretend that we are “perfect beings.”

Perhaps you have taken on the journey of shadow work and are really “looking at yourself”—shining that light into those dark places and becoming aware of who you really are, and how you really feel. The question is … are you still trying to fix what you see?

The gift.

No one ever told us that our shadows are OK, that everyone has them, and that they contain gifts. No one told us that these parts of ourselves are innocent, that underneath our feelings, habits, patterns, and so on … is a young child waiting to be loved, to feel accepted, and to feel safe—that it is from these unmet needs that our shadows are born, amplified, and expressed outward in unhealthy ways. These shadows are childlike parts of ourselves that are “stuck” in a story of pain and unable to grow up. They pick fights, throw temper tantrums, feel selfish and afraid, and sabotage your life. Because they are stuck at a young age, and they do not yet have tools or understanding of how to cope with and move past their feelings … they continue to “act out.” If left unattended, they will continue to grow in their need and can control your life.

When we try to suppress, repress, change, fix, or push away these childlike parts of ourselves, they may feel neglected, abandoned, or unloved. This causes them to either act out more or to give up. Giving up can become a deep depression and caving in on oneself, believing in the shadows and the idea of their futility.

If you are looking at your shadows, and you are working to actively change those parts of yourself, you may eventually realize that what you are doing is a form of “reconditioning.” Positive affirmations are one such style of this. They do not lead to deep change, as you are attempting to push away the shadow by focusing only on the positive. You will also come to realize that the pain finds a way to break through the facade. Any form of trying to change our shadows, without actually listening to them, will ultimately lead to more repression and deeper feelings of abandonment, as it is you who is abandoning yourself.

These trapped, childlike parts of ourselves want to be free. They want to grow up and they want to feel loved. They won’t leave you alone until you can give them that. These “childlike” parts of ourselves have a reason for their behavior. If we knew that their negative impact on our lives was really a cry for more love … would we withhold that from them? That is exactly what we are doing when we try to fix, repress, or in any way push those parts of ourselves away when they come up.

So if changing, fixing, and repressing our shadows doesn’t work … then what does?

The answer is counter-intuitive to what we have been taught. It lies in allowing them. Relearning/remembering that being human doesn’t mean being perfect. It means having many different human experiences, all of them (on some level) valid. Our experiences have a reason and a purpose, and at the deepest level, they are always pointing to the need for love. How can we ever understand, and give to that need, if we are focused on changing or fixing them? Allowing is the act of making space for the shadows to be there. It is accepting that we are imperfect in our natures and that we are all “good” and yet we are all “flawed.” It is the compassion to say to ourselves, “This human experience I am having is OK.”

The moment we surrender and agree to look honestly at ourselves … we can experience a deep  release within us as our inner struggle begins to wane. Some shadows dissolve easily when we look upon them with love and acceptance. Other shadows need a change of perspective or attitude. Some shadows are multilayered, and like a combination lock, they need a process of allowing and accepting of each layer.  Shadow work takes time … and it isn’t for the faint of heart. One can get lost and confused in the shadow lands, and it’s always a good idea to have the support and guidance of someone who has taken the journey and “come out the other side.”


In the Third part of this series, “The Art of Allowing Our Shadows,” we will look more deeply into how to allow our shadows (to be published in the next issue).

Aeray Lumm,