The average person spends most of their day in operating from various states of unconsciousness. We sometimes call it autopilot, our bodies are going through the motions because the motions are predictable. Our minds are not fully conscious, but may instead be checked out as our bodies and mouths operate from a trance state. Sometimes we are simply distracted/preoccupied by our thoughts and other times it is something less innocuous, like trauma.
We can also check out when something activates in us a program or conditioned response. For example, you make a mistake at work and before you even fully take it in, you try to hide it or blame someone else, because when you were growing up those in authority (parents or teachers) allowed no room for mistakes. These unconscious states, where we are running a programmed response that is not serving our best interests, are known collectively as our shadow.
Each of us has a shadow, because where there is light, there is also dark. Emotional maturity, fulfillment, liking ourselves, and healthy relationships require us to be willing to look at those dark places and work on our shadows.
The uncertainty of these past few years is activating the shadow in so many, if not all, of us. Living in close quarters or living alone, our restrictive conditions are ripe with opportunities to be triggered into behaviors and reactions that do not serve us very well.
What Lives in Our Shadows
Most of our beliefs and behaviors are set by age 6 or 7. This includes how we handle stress. How resilient we are when we fail. How we motivate ourselves. As well as what we believe we are allowed to have, desire, and go after. This includes our careers, types of relationships, level of wealth, racism/bigotry, and so on.
We learn these programs or conditioned responses from our parents, our friends/siblings, and from our community. Some may be authentic to our nature, but some may simply be demonstrated for us enough that we take it on as our identity. A learned behavior rather than an authentic trait.
How We Can Manage Our Shadow
Discerning, achieving, striving for, and creating the life we want requires us to become aware of our boundaries, emotions, and needs. Unmet needs, crossed boundaries, and the surfacing of buried emotions activate our unconscious programming. Those behaviors that are reactive, destructive, and usually result in self-sabotage.
Some behaviors will be easy to change. And some will require us to do some healing and become conscious of our emotions/wounds/beliefs the behavior is defending, concealing, or protecting.
Becoming conscious or self-aware is the cornerstone of a spiritual journey. A path that leads to the development of our authentic self, our true nature. The one who exists under all of our armor and self-protections. Or as Abraham Maslow explains, Self-Actualized.
Working on our shadow doesn’t mean you can eliminate your dark side. However, the more aware of it and its activators we become, the better able we are to choose responses rather than reactions. And choosing responses put us in charge rather than our wounds and conditioning. When our beliefs, behaviors, and decisions are made from conscious choice, we have better relationships; personal and professional and we feel less stress, shame, and anxiety.
An Opportunity for Guided Exploration
If you are at a point on your journey where you would benefit from a witness, a cheerleader, a healer, and/or an interpreter, check out my Mentoring packages. A customized program for empaths looking for better relationships, a more satisfying career, and to feel comfortable in your own skin–a more fulfilling life.
Explore this topic even deeper by reading Demystifying Shadow Work