The persona is what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world. The ego is what we are and know about consciously. The shadow is that part of us we fail to see or know.
The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness. It is the despised quarter of our being. It often has an energy potential nearly as great as that of our ego.
We are all born whole but somehow the culture demands that we live out only part of our nature and refuse other parts of our inheritance. We divide the self into an ego and a shadow because our culture insists that we behave in a particular manner.
It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. Generally, the ordinary, mundane characteristics are the norm. Anything less than this goes into the shadow. But anything better also goes into the shadow! Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture.
To draw the skeletons out of the closet is relatively easy, but to own the gold in the shadow is terrifying. It is more disrupting to find that you have a profound nobility of character than to find out you are a bum. Of course you are both; but one does not discover these two elements at the same time. The gold is related to our higher calling, and this can be hard to accept at certain stages of life. Ignoring the gold can be as damaging as ignoring the dark side of the psyche, and some people may suffer a severe shock or illness before they learn how to let the gold out.
Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. This evolution, though it seems gratuitous, is worth all the pain and suffering that it costs. The only disaster would be getting lost halfway through the process and not finding our completion. Unfortunately, many Westerners are caught in just this difficult place.
To own one’s shadow is to reach a holy place—an inner center—not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life.
Robert A. Johnson — Owning Your Own Shadow (pp. 3-17)
It can be real frustrating to discover there are more parts to us than we are willing to admit. The ego has gained a wide range of acceptance in society and we are all able to admit how sometimes our precious little ego gets bruised. The shadow, on the other hand, is far-less mainstream and rarely talked about when discussing our mysterious dark sides.
We are all effected by different parts of our psyche. In some psychotherapy circles, it’s referred to as parts work, sub-personalities, ego states, internal self-states, etc. Our initial instinct is to recoil and say, “I’m all one person, I don’t have parts.” And yet, when we are talking about any number of things—important or not—we often say things like, “Part of me wants to, but there’s part of me that doesn’t want to.” When you really think about it, it’s quite obvious we all have various parts inside ourselves.
The shadow—the topic of this great book—often gets a bad rap and the assumption is it needs to be avoided at all costs. Tragically, when we repress or deny these active parts, we are shortchanging ourselves and losing out on a hidden wholeness that is available to us all. Worse yet, the repression and denial of these parts actually results in unintended negative consequences.
If we could grasp for just one moment exactly how diverse we are, how mysterious we are, what amazing creatures we are; if we could actually grasp all our potential and use our entire being for good, there’s no telling what we could accomplish.
It starts by curiously loving yourself. Start by reassuring each and every part of yourself that you will love it for who it is. You may have cast it aside to your shadow when you were younger and less-capable to handle its function, but now that you are older and wiser, let each part of you know you’re eager to learn more about it.
You’d be amazed what your parts would have to say if you ask.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,