Embracing the Shadow

Last night, as I was sleeping I dreamt-marvelous error! That I had a beehive Here in my heart. And the golden bees Were making white combs And sweet honey From my old failures. —Antonio Machado

The shadow is the unconscious, or hidden parts of the personality. Jung believed, “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness— or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity.”1 The shadow personifies everything we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves, yet project on others. Robert Bly talks about the shadow as “the long bag we drag behind us.” He refers to all the parts of ourselves that we have hidden away all our lives because they are unacceptable. We put those parts into that bag that we pull behind us, and rarely engage with these parts of ourselves. We also disown parts of ourselves that we want, such as personal power.

Working with the shadow helps unleash power by embracing all of who we are, not just the happy, positive parts that make us look good on the surface. Instead of operating from the storm of external factors that constantly influence us, our goal in this work is to find the stillness and clarity that comes from integrating shadow members of the internal community.

Embracing the Shadow is built on the work of multiple modalities. We are grateful for Roberto Assagioli’s development of psychosynthesis, Carl Jung’s work with Active Imagination, Fritz Perl’s Gestalt open-chair technique, Hal & Sidra Stone’s work with Voice Dialogue, Richard Schwartz’s process of Internal Family Systems and Tim Kelley’s Inner Harmony work. What all these processes share in common is the premise that healthy personalities include many sub-personalities, or parts.

Every one of us has many parts—some we identify with strongly, others we reject.

We also appreciate the way the social justice movement informs this work. The beauty of honoring all parts is that it heightens our awareness and sensitivity to power and oppression as we witness how these dynamics operate in ourselves, in our clients and in society. We cannot have a truly healthy psyche if we marginalize some parts, nor can we have a healthy society when we marginalize some groups of people, whether because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, class or other social constructs. And we’re grateful to our colleagues and students who continue to explore new ways to embrace the shadow.

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown. 

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