Personal growth can come from various activities and various approaches.

The most important factor being insight into one’s self, because that is how you find out where you’re blocked and where it you need to focus in order to grow.  But what happens when insight seems to fail you?  Why is it that we just can’t seem to get to the source of the problem?

The answer may lie in your shadow.  Some of you may have heard this term from psychology or the media.  It’s important to understand what it is.

The shadow is the area we have the most trouble seeing.  Partly because it concerns something we don’t truly understand.  But more problematic, it’s often the thing we don’t want to see.

In the second case, you will start doing a lot of things to hide the truth from yourself.  For an example, you may be trying to hide the fact that you are want to lie or hiding the fact that you actually are lying.  You may be working on hiding it from other people too.  Once this starts happening insight goes out the window because your focus is on hiding the problem from yourself and from others.  In order to have personal growth you have to be aware of what is going on within, you have to have in-sight.

A person who has no shadow issues around lying won’t think much about it much at all.  They won’t get angry if someone calls them a liar.  They won’t get excessively angry when they see someone else lying.  Such a person doesn’t feel an overwhelming desire to lie.  This type of “shadow free” person may choose to lie in a situation they feel warrants it, but they won’t feel compelled to.

Often when something is a shadow issue for you, you will get really angry when you get accused of doing the thing, or you get excessively angry when you see someone do it.  Sometimes you imagine people are doing that thing when they are not.  Sometimes, similar to an alcoholic you feel a drawn to do the thing you think you aren’t supposed to do.  Whenever you see a politician who spends his or her career preaching against something, and then gets caught doing exactly that thing, you have found one of their shadow issues.

The reason we can’t see the issue is because we developed a coping mechanism around something that seemed overwhelming in the past.  You might have:

Decided the attribute made you unlovable and decided to eliminate it from your character.

Felt helpless when in the presence of the attribute, and developed anger to feel more powerful.

Felt helpless when in the presence of the attribute, and shut down now to avoid that feeling.

You might be seeking vindication for some past wrong, and can’t let go of old feelings around the issue because that would be letting someone off the hook.

Any time we have a strong reaction around an issue or a personal attribute, there’s a lot of energy tied up in that issue.  If you developed anger to cope with helplessness for instance, you feel both the helplessness and the anger every time the issue comes up.  And that’s a lot of energy that’s going to old feelings.   If you can uncover the truth underlying your reactions you have a chance at letting go of old patterns and freeing that energy to use in new ways.

However, part of the coping mechanism may be that you’ve been hiding the whole situation from yourself.  You haven’t allowed yourself to acknowledge how angry you are, or you haven’t let yourself see that you are even reacting.  “I’m not angry.”  Or “I never do that.” This is part of your shadow, and you have habits formed to prevent in-sight.

If you have trouble seeing this thing in yourself you may need to begin looking for it outside of yourself.

What are the types of things that happen that make you really mad or that you keep thinking about after the situation is over?  Do you find yourself quick to accuse other people of certain behaviors?

To begin to locate your shadow you begin by:

Looking for areas where you are quick to cast blame on another person, or accuse someone of doing something to you.

What types of behaviors make you incensed?

Who do you hate or can’t stand and what reasons do you give for those feelings?

Are there situations you can’t stand seeing someone else in?

Are there emotions you won’t allow others to express in front of you?

If you are accused of something what do you believe in too readily?

If you are accused of something what accusations make you enraged?

Photo by Vivian Maier

The trick with locating shadow issues is to try to observe yourself or another as if you are an outsider taking note of a situation.  You first begin by just noticing if there are situations where your react strongly, or people you feel strongly about.  Then after you begin to see when and where your strong reaction happen, you work to notice if there’s a theme to what you are reacting to.  You ask yourself if your reaction is in proportion to the event.

Most people avoid looking at their shadow by explaining away their reactions to situations.  “I’ve just never liked being accused of lying.”  “I can’t stand it when someone wants to hog the spotlight.”  “I’ve never been comfortable with people who are arrogant.”  “It enrages me when someone is irresponsible.”  “People always let me down, I’ve just come to expect it.”

But the real question is why?  Why do you have such strong feelings?  Or alternatively why does that behavior or situation make you feel helpless or shut down?  Once you start asking ‘why?’ you begin to uncover what it is you’ve been hiding from yourself.

The process of questioning why and trying to see the situation as a detached observer will begin to point to where your shadows are.  To the areas of your life you’ve been trying to hide or ignore.

One last thing, if the idea of examining an issue feels overwhelming:  Most of these issues began as coping mechanism when we were children.  A feeling of overwhelm and helplessness may be the feelings left over from when we were children.  Remind yourself that you are an adult now, and that you are no longer helpless and can deal with these emotions.  If it still feels like too much, you can always seek out a professional who can help guide you through the process.

Lauren Torres – Lansing, IL
Copyright © 2012 [Lauren Torres]. All rights reserved
Do not reproduce with out express written permission.


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