Shadow and the Embodied Unconscious

Definition: “Shadow” is those parts of ourselves we repress and deny, and may actively project as a result. It is not easy to uncover as it’s by definition not just unconscious, but actively kept that way. It’s when we say, “that isn’t me!!! It’s them!!!!”. It relates to our deepest embodied patterns and habitual embodied roles (remember voice dialogue). It can however be revealed, usually by three things:

Dark shadow
When we are annoyed and triggered by others in an “over the top” way, that seems reasonable or atypical, we may be projecting our own shadow. We will usually project on appropriate targets however if they are available. E.g. the weakest, meanest, or whatever person that’s around. There is a quality of uncentred aggressive finger pointing and blaming to dark shadow projection that is quite unpleasant and not just healthy boundary setting.

Reflection questions: What kinds of people tend to trigger you? What do your friends tell you to calm down about? Who did you dislike on meeting for no good reason?

Golden shadow
People can also project denied positive parts of themself onto others, in a manner typical of teenagers in love, but also present in the majority of romantic relationships to some extent, and in other strong uncentred grasping too. Golden shadow can also express as unrealistic idealisation, e.g. of teachers, certain cultures, children, animals etc. It sounds like, “wow, you are sooooooo kind/strong/smart/etc, I could never be like you (denial of self potential)!!!”. Golden shadow can also express as strange infatuations, obsessions and addictions, as we try and do in the outside world what we don’t “own” in ourselves.

Reflection questions: what kinds of people do you tend to fall in love with? Who do you admire deeply but could never be like? What are your obsessions? Who did you immediately like on meeting for no good reason?

Blind spots
Shadow can also express as things we just cannot see, that are obvious to everyone else, in ourselves (actually this is another definition of shadow) and also things we are blind to in the outside world. Shadow is suggested by what we habitually ignore that others might find interesting (e.g. money, power or sex), mistakes we keep making, and feedback we’re given consistently that confuses us.

Reflection questions: what feedback do you get that you really dont understand? What is harder than average to concentrate on? What do others tell you that you are blind to? What mistakes do you just keep making?

How shadow causes problems
The reason we address shadow on the course is that it causes major life and facilitation problems. What we don’t know can’t hurt us and others. Shadow can sabotage leadership, facilitation/coaching and communication and relationships generally, by:

–   making us misperceive

–   making us less centred (and regular centring close to useless), less reasonable and making us and over, or under, react

–   forcing us into habitual embodied roles and stories, limiting our actions and meaning that we are not responding to reality NOW, but reacting from the past and with past patterns that may well be outdated

–    stopping us empathising

–    stopping us learning

Shadow reowning practices
Working with shadow has typically been the domain of psychodynamic talking therapies (It’s actually a Jungian term but aligned with Freud too) which are sadly expensive and time consuming. Gestalt also considers it and has an accessible technique called the 3-2-1 process which is worth a google. Because the body IS the unconscious, and how patterns are held, the body is a very powerful tool for accessing shadow. Several other kinds of embodied practice (e.g. Focusing or dance movement therapy), embodied dream work, systemic work, and forms of free movement practice like 5Rythms can also help reveal shadow.

Embodied Simple – Think of a person place or thing, that you suspect you may have shadow around. Notice what becomes tense. Relax this area as you keep thinking about them/it.

Main Embodied Shadow Practice – Think of a person place or thing, that you suspect you may have shadow around, and take on this way of being/moving in the body. Stay in this embodiment long enough that initial triggering passes (this can be strong and require some time and centring to pass) and you actually start to see the world from this point of view. Then find a way of integrating this postural and movement pattern with your own so it becomes an option. This exercise can also be used as an empathy builder.

This exercise can be at first surprising even disturbing and produce emotional and psychosomatic reactions of various kinds, though if it’s worked through can also produce tranquility. In a workshop for example in Israel, when people chose to do this with Nazis and Palestinians many people cried or screamed and of the two facilitators one became sick and the other dizzy, though many also said it was a profound course highlight.

A note of Caution: Shadow work is best done when well resourced emotionally and socially supported. It is also one of the things on the EFC course like voice dialogue and The Samurai Game that are for your personal learning and not to be readily replicated, unless you have other relevant qualifications – e.g. you are a therapist, even then beware how quickly the body can open things up! It is by definition both difficult to reveal and triggering once revealed.