When you take the repressed parts of yourself out of shadow, you begin to change: to grow, to mature. In fact, this is one of the best ways of working on your personal growth and development. (People have a variety of names for this: shadow work, archetypal coaching, archetypal counselling, emotional process work, emotional healing, and healing the shadow.)
As you do this work, you’ll find you’re much less likely to be emotionally “triggered” by others. And the more work on your shadow you do, the less triggered you’ll be. You’ll regain your natural personality. You’ll get much more conscious control over your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Above all, you can take back control of your life and stand in your power and potency, knowing what’s true for you, and knowing that you have a right to exist just the way you are, a right to occupy the space you stand in, and a right to consciously choose who and what you are in the world.
Now, as you can imagine, this is very likely to help you get a girlfriend. Who knows? It might even mean you don’t have to try and get your ex back!!!
After all, if you split up because you were being triggered by her all the time, or she was being triggered by you, nothing much is likely to change until you work on the issues which were triggering for you both – and this is where shadow work comes in handy.
Video – shadow work
Sadly, most people seem to keep their shadow bag slung over their shoulders, dragging it around for the rest of their lives. Thing is, though, the energy of what’s repressed into shadow doesn’t go away. In fact it actually grows because, after all, it hasn’t got anywhere much to go. But whenever a slight opening appears in the top of the bag, the energy of your shadow emerges. What emerges can be powerful and frightening, twisted and warped, even monstrous; certainly it can look very different to the way it did when it went into the bag all those years before.
Another possibility: sooner or later, the weight of the bag becomes so heavy that you decide something needs to be done. It’s wearing you out. Life isn’t going the way you want. You struggle. You know life should be easier than this. You can’t seem to change things. Your relationships fail. You’re addicted. You can’t keep boundaries. So you open the bag, peer inside, and embark on what can be (if you so choose) a lifelong process of pulling things out of the bag, claiming them as your own, and reintegrating them into your personality.
Just one thing, though. When you pull things out of the bag, they don’t look quite like they did when they went in. They seem different. In Robert Bly’s words, they have “de-evolved towards barbarism”, and that’s really why they need to come out. In my view, they don’t so much de-evolve as gradually build up a level of energy which can transform them into an all-too-powerful shadow version of themselves.
Among other things, children may bag up their anger, fear, grief, their natural sexuality, their wildness, their impulsive nature, their spontaneity, their creativity, their appreciation of themselves, and their sense of self-worth. For good measure, most boys also bag up their feminine side – the Anima, as Carl Jung called it – to a greater or lesser degree. That’s what we expect in our culture: most men want “manly” or “masculine” boys. And with that weight of expectation, what else is a boy to do?
Anyhow, life goes on, at least for a while, with greater or lesser ease. It takes a lot of energy to hold all these things in the bag, and so they leak out now and again, often unhelpfully, but even so life looks more-or-less OK. At least the owner of the bag can survive with it. Heavy though his bag is, the energy of the man’s Hero archetype keeps him going. (See the Warrior chapter for an explanation of the Hero archetype.)
Sooner or later though, things change. The bag’s being topped up all the time. It gets heavier. Even Heroes get tired. And if a man hasn’t opened his shadow bag by the time he’s forty or fifty – and sometimes much sooner – the energy inside will be ready to find its own way out, disrupting his life, causing problems, even creating misery.
Much better, then, that a man finds a place where he can open his shadow bag with support. A safe enough space, like an emotional process workshop run by facilitators skilled in the arts of emotional healing. Why a workshop? Well, when a man decides to open the bag because something just isn’t right in his life, there may be trouble ahead. Better to be surrounded by support when you open your bag!
He can’t have good sexual relationships, maybe, so he opens the bag and finds a hurt child inside who’s raging at woman. Maybe he explodes with anger all the time at the least provocation, so he opens the bag, to find a very angry and hurt little boy raging at him. Perhaps he feels meek and mild, like a man without boundaries, so he opens the bag, only to find a victimising bully who wants to destroy everything around him.
He can’t run his own life, or accept the responsibility of leadership, so he opens the bag, only to find a raging tyrant or an abdicating King living inside. He already knows, most likely, about the addict in the bag without even looking inside. That one really frightens him, because he seems to have no control over it at all!
And finally, when his relationships with women break down, he may open the bag, only to find his own feminine energy and the sexual desires he put in there have taken on a very different appearance: they’ve become hostile to him.
So Robert Bly believed that when we put our shadow into the bag, it de-evolves, it becomes hostile to us, and it’s then reflected back at us in life. His principle was: the outside becomes like the inside. We’ll look at this again in another post.