Creating fulfilling relationships

What is The Shadow

An important part of differentiation for adults involves uncovering and reclaiming the disowned parts that were not accepted or loved by their parents. The term “shadow,” first suggested by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, is often used when referring to our disowned parts, or to the place in our psyches in which we have hidden them. If disowned parts are not uncovered and reclaimed, they are projected onto others. This will inevitably interfere with differentiation and linking.

When parts are disowned they are not just buried away. They are often condemned, loathed, even hated by the individual who harbours them. When life cracks us open and our disowned parts slip out we condemn them with judgments, contempt, shame, or we deny their existence. I remember the feeling of deep shame I experienced as an adolescent when I was not able to hold back my tears. I hated my vulnerability and worked hard to hold in my emotions. Vulnerability certainly was a disowned part of my psyche.

When those around us express themselves or behave in ways that are similar to our disowned parts, we often project our condemnation of that part onto them. In my case, this meant judging my girlfriends as being needy, as being weak, or as acting as victims when they expressed vulnerable emotions and needed more support than I wanted to give. I remember once feeling repulsed when a girlfriend was particularly vulnerable. It seemed like such an awful reaction, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.

A disowned part is any aspect of yourself that was not acceptable to express when you were a child. Disowned parts include:

  • emotions, such as anger, sadness, excitement, passion or joy
  • characteristics or traits, such as competitiveness, shyness, expressiveness, playfulness, vulnerability, beauty, boldness, introversion, or extroversion
  • needs that were not acknowledged and supported, such as acceptance, nurturing, support, intimacy, autonomy, empathy, or self-worth (you will find a more comprehensive list of needs in Appendix A)

Take some time to reflect upon which parts of yourself you may have disowned.  Were you supported to:

  • have strong emotions: sadness, anger, fear, shame, excitement, exuberance, confidence, joy? If not, then strong emotions might be in your shadow
  • be vulnerable: to cry or to be afraid and need comfort and nurturing? If not, then aspects such as vulnerable emotions, asking for help, and allowing yourself to need others might be in your shadow
  • be powerful: to have your “no” and your “yes” and experience autonomy and respect for your needs? If not, then speaking up for yourself and creating healthy boundaries might be in your shadow
  • make mistakes? If not, then exploration, experimentation, and taking risks might be in your shadow
  • figure things out on your own and receive support when you needed it? If not, self-motivation and discipline might be in your shadow
  • follow your dreams, explore, share and be appreciated for your talents? If not, then believing in and valuing yourself might be in your shadow

Disowned parts can also be aspects of our masculine or feminine sides. We all have access to masculine and feminine aspects, regardless of our sexual orientation, gender, or non-identification with gender.

Masculine aspects include:

  • protecting, accomplishing, competing, doing
  • deciding, organizing, focusing
  • building, leading, asserting yourself
  • developing intellect, mindfulness, strength, and discipline

Feminine aspects include:

  • nurturing and being nurtured, caring, relating, being
  • birthing/creating the new, opening, appreciating beauty
  • embodying, expressing emotions, being sensual and wild
  • developing intuition, compassion and empathy

When parts of us are disowned, other adaptive parts develop to keep disowned parts hidden. For example, if vulnerability is disowned, an inner perfectionist might develop, whose role is to keep vulnerability hidden by never making mistakes. Maybe an overly self-reliant and independent part develops to keep vulnerability buried through strength and toughness and pushing feelings away. Perhaps a caretaking part develops that hides vulnerability underneath looking after everyone else. In terms of our masculine and feminine sides, if either of those are hindered, judged or condemned, children adapt by over-expressing the side that was acceptable or encouraged or that they most identified with.

As children, we needed our adaptive parts to help us cope with the loss of the parts that were not loved or accepted. However, as adults, our adaptive parts tend to keep us from realizing our wholeness, expressing our full authenticity, and creating wonderful relationships.

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