According to Carl Jung’s theory
of the structure of the psyche, our shadow contains repressed feelings, thoughts, memories, and experiences—often dating back to childhood—that were so painful that we unconsciously buried them. That might seem like a good thing. After all, most of us do not want to suffer. Besides, we can hear the voice of a parent or a spouse or a sibling scoffing and telling us to just get over it when we bring up something painful from our childhood. But our shadow demands to be heard, demands to be reckoned with and, in my case, appears in angry outbursts and in unexpected ways that cause me to act and react in ways that seem contrary to what I think I believe or feel—and in total contradiction to how I want others to perceive me.
Anger is just one example of the countless ways in which your shadow may express itself. Trying too hard to please others or trying to control others or bullying or abusing others, or being too submissive, or allowing others to abuse you can all be manifestations of your shadow. Until we bring the contents of the shadow to consciousness and begin the healing process by integrating our shadow aspects with what is here and now, the shadow will wreak its havoc in our daily lives whether we are aware of it or not.
But how can we begin to integrate or heal something we don’t even know exists, much less identify? That’s what I wanted to know. Fortunately, in early 2015, I discovered the work of spiritual catalyst Teal Swan, who teaches various techniques in what is called “shadow work” to help us bring to the surface what lies seemingly dormant in the shadow.
One of the first techniques I learned from Teal is called “rooting out a core belief,” which revealed to me the cause of my extreme emotional pain, which had nothing to do with the fact that a coworker excluded me from lunch or tried to micromanage me when our boss was out. I was often so upset that I found myself on the verge of tears at work sometimes all day.
Why!? It’s ludicrous that I allowed something so minor to upset me to that degree. After all I did not even want to go to lunch with him and his buddies. I don’t even like fast food. Plus I brought my own lunch. Besides, even if he had invited me to go, I would have had to decline because I can’t afford to go out for lunch anyway! And when he tries to tell me what to do or how to do it, I cringe and become agitated. He smirks, adjusts his halo, and tells me that he was just trying to help.
I knew I was way overreacting to these situations—at least I thought I was until I learned from Teal that there is no such thing as overreacting. She said that we react in exact accord to our past experiences, even if we do not consciously make the associations. So in an effort to understand what was really upsetting me, to discover the core belief that was triggering these seemingly out-of-proportion emotions, I tried Teal’s technique: How to root out a core belief.
How to Root Out a Core Belief
The next time my coworker upset me, I took a timeout to write down how being upset felt in my body. I noticed that I instantly go into defense mode, in which my whole body rebels. My hair stands up on end. I feel like a cat inside, with its fur up and its back arched, ready to pounce. I am sick to my stomach and a huge lump in my throat hurts when I swallow. I can feel all the little angry cells collecting in my muscles and rising to my defense. The tension in every muscle of my body feels like poison. I want to yell at him and slam him against a wall, but of course I can’t.
I then explored my feelings by alternating these two questions: “What does that mean to you?” and “Why would that be so bad (assuming that were true)?”
Q. Why are you so upset about your coworker excluding you from lunch, and then on his way out of the door, told you what your next priority should be—as if you didn’t know?
A. It implies that he thinks I am an idiot or a slacker.
Q. Assuming that were true, why would that be so bad?
A. Because my coworker takes on this attitude like he is superior to me in my boss’s absence. Q. Assuming that were true, why would that be so bad? A.Because if he thinks he is superior to me then it stands to reason that he thinks I am inferior. Q. Assuming that were true, why would that be so bad? A. Because it pisses me off. How dare he? I am obviously smarter than him in many respects, but I have caught him rolling his eyes at me behind my back. Q. What does that mean to you? A. It insults me. But I suddenly realize that I think I am better and smarter than him. Q. What does that mean to you? A.Throughout my life I have put on airs like I am better than others, even though I have always known deep down that I’m not. Q. What does that mean to you?
A. It means that I put up a shield of superiority as a way to protect myself.