This month in the sacred circle we have been working on cultivating self-trust. As part of our full moon meditation journey this past weekend, we took a dive into the shadow self – the parts of ourselves that we try to high hide, deny, or repress; the parts of ourselves that we're not proud of. Yet, we have much to learn from these parts of ourselves.
How do we meet this part of ourselves if we’ve repressed it? Here’s the thing about the shadow: you cannot fully repress it. It tends to show up in your emotions. When you feel hurt, angry, frustrated, afraid, ask yourself, “What are you afraid of? Why are you hurting? Angry? Frustrated?” You might find some nuggets of wisdom in the answer to that question.
Then dive a little deeper. Where is this coming from? Sometimes it’s coming from what it appears to be coming from: something happened that made you upset. But sometimes when we dive deeper, we find clues: old patterns, thoughts, or ways of be-ing that have been with us for a long time but no longer serve.
It works like this: somewhere in your past, an incident occurred (or maybe several similar instances) that changed your way of be-ing. While you may no longer remember these instances, the pattern of be-ing they created is still there. So, as an adult, you are still operating under these same sets of rules/patterns that you developed in an earlier time in your life, often without giving thought to why you are doing what you’re doing. Sometimes that’s fine; if it’s a good habit you’ve created, there may be no need to delve into the where, why, and how it emerged. However, if you keep finding yourself getting hurt/upset/angry/frustrated over the same types of things, then it might be time to figure out if there is a pattern and where it came from.
Case in point: I’m a recovering fixer. I see something that I perceive needs to be fixed and I dive right in to help – regardless of whether my help is asked for, needed, or wanted. There have been many times in my life when I ‘helped’ someone and my help was not desired or appreciated. I would then feel hurt, not seeing that I had created my own problem. On the surface, in any one of those occasions, I could have asked myself, “Why are you upset?” and responded, “Because I feel unappreciated.” But, if I dove deeper I would find that I had created this situation myself by giving help when it wasn’t asked for. That feeling of needing to fix everyone’s problems and then feeling unappreciated was my shadow side coming forward.
What caused that to happen? Through a series of occurrences early in my life, I ended up becoming the family mediator, the voice of reason. I saw it as my job to calm tempers, make people come to the table and talk things out, and generally “fix” what needed to be fixed on both an emotional and practical level. (No wonder I got my PhD in Psychology, huh?!) As childhood turned into adulthood, and I moved away from my family home, that pattern of behavior had become so deeply rooted that I didn’t know how to not be a fixer. That’s when the problem started. I took an old habit/pattern and started applying it to new situations where it was ineffective. Because my identity was firmly entrenched in being a “fixer,” I found myself trying to fix problems that really didn’t exist. So I kept looking for problems I could fix. Occasionally, I actually found a problem and fixed it, and that felt good, familiar. As word got around at work, I became the go-to-girl for other people’s problems, and I ended up taking on their emotions and problems as my own, just so I could fix them. The issue was: 1) they weren’t my problems to fix, 2) I would end up feeling hurt when my “fixing” wasn’t wanted or appreciated, and 3) I was becoming emotionally drained from trying to fix everyone else’s problem.
As I began to dive into my behavior pattern and learned more about where it came from, I realized how this pattern that had once been so crucial to my identity (and highly effective in my family of origin) didn’t serve me anymore. I needed to stop being a fixer. So I dove in and asked myself, “Where is need to fix things coming from?” As I worked more and more with my shadow side, I understood that at the core of my need to fix things was a little girl who just wanted to be loved and appreciated for who she was. She didn’t really want to fix other people’s problems; it was just the way she felt loved and valued. “If you fix it, they will love you.” But when I give her the unconditional love and appreciation she needs, she no longer feels the need to search for and fix other people’s problems.
The shadow aspect of ourselves is usually, at its core, something very similar to this: it stems from a childhood need that wasn’t met. As a child, you likely learned how to get your need met (in my case, I felt loved and appreciated when I “fixed” things). But, there are likely other healthier ways to get this same need met. I now know that I don’t have to fix people’s problems for them to love me. I am deserving of unconditional love and affection just because – no strings attached. Once you begin to get your needs met (in my case, give myself the love and affection I need), then the shadow tendency should begin to dissolve on its own. Once you know where it came from, when it rears its head again, then you know exactly why it happened (when I don’t give myself the love and affection I need, I find myself trying to “fix” other people’s problems again) and how to address it (allow myself to get my needs met).