We all have a shadow side. It’s not necessarily bad; it’s just hidden. The shadow side consists of those parts of ourselves we keep hidden from ourselves and others. For example, I was taught that being angry was bad, so I suppress anger and become depressed instead. I picked up the message “big boys don’t cry,” so I have had to work at being vulnerable.
Churches sometimes reinforce shadows. They might teach us that it is sinful to have sexual feelings, so we repress them, deny them, and lose touch with who we were created to be.
You might ask, why we should bother bringing the shadow into the light. Isn’t it better to leave well enough alone? Let sleeping dogs lie? Sometimes it is better not to dig in too deeply too fast. People who have experienced extreme trauma in early childhood have had to suppress the memory to survive. It’s too overwhelming. That’s why it’s best to explore shadow work with a professional counselor.
But keeping the shadow in the shadows is also unhealthy. Those hidden feelings don’t go away. Repressing them may lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol, excessive negative self-talk, high stress, poor relationships, or struggles with anxiety or depression. Health and wholeness occur in the light. Truth sets us free.
The goal of shadow work is not to get rid of the shadow; conversely, it is to integrate the unconscious parts of ourselves with the conscious parts. The goal is be whole.
With some of my clients, I seek to help them be reparented by Abba. Abba is an endearing Aramaic word for “father.”[*] Perhaps “daddy” or “papa” or “pops” would get closer to the meaning. It’s a warm term of caring. Contrary to what many religions teach or imply, God is our Abba – tender, caring, affectionate, warm, protective, always concerned with what is best for us. Being reparented by Abba involves exploring our earliest memories (especially the repressed painful ones) and imaginatively bringing Abba Father into the situation. Little by little, the ancient wounds are healed.
In addition to the wounds we personally experienced as little children, we all carry intergenerational wounds. There’s even some genetic evidence that trauma is passed down through generations. Ancestral wounds run deep. If your ancestors were slaves, victims of genocide, or considered pariahs, you carry some deep scars.
Nations also have shadow sides. The United States, for instance, would like to see itself as the land of the free and the home of the brave and forget all about the genocide of natives and the enslavement of Africans.
· For a person to be healthy, she must integrate her shadow into the light.
· For a clan to be healthy, its members need to deal with the traumas of the past.
· For a nation to be healthy, it needs to face its shadow side and integrate it into the present.
· A healthy world will occur when all nations walk in the light. That’s what the Parousia[†] is all about.
Begin by taking note of times when you have strong emotional reactions. They may be positive or negative. Elation and joy or anger and irritation. Any strong emotional response. See if you can pinpoint what was going on when you felt that strong emotional surge. What triggered it? Keep a journal and record the emotion and the trigger.
Commit yourself to a long-term counseling relationship. Deep wounds take a long time to heal. Imagine a long rehab during which an accident victim has to relearn how to stand, walk, and so on. We rightly admire their tenacity over the long-haul. Emotional wounds also take a long time to heal. It takes a long time to discover what is hidden in the shadows, gradually bring it to light, and integrate it so we can whole and healthy, the way God created us to be.
It is a long journey, but it is a beautiful, enriching, fulfilling journey into health and wholeness.