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Sally Forman psychotherapist wellington

Embrace the Gifts of Your Shadow

by Sally Forman

Who is the person you would rather not be? We can spend large amounts of time and energy trying to keep down, hide or deny parts of us. As adults we have the opportunity to stop hiding from ourselves and learn to embrace and own all of who we are, warts and all. By so doing we open our hearts to the richness of our own dark and light, good and bad, weak and strong, and to all of humanity.
'It is the shadow that holds the clues.'  Lazaris, spiritual teacher and author.
How much time and energy can we spend attempting to keep down, hide or deny parts of us? Those parts of us we might call our shadow, our gremlins, or our negative self. ‘Don’t be!’ is a message we internalize growing up. ‘Don’t be…mean, greedy, selfish, angry’.

We can begin to believe that we are a bad person because sometimes we are mean, sometimes we want the whole packet of biscuits and sometimes we get angry.  As children we then learn to put every aspect of ourselves that is not acceptable to our family and friends in an invisible bag that we then carry with us. It can get to be a really heavy bag! Trying to be perfect is costly. It can eat away at us physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Sadly at the same time as pushing down our so called bad qualities we can end up pushing back all their positive opposites. We learn not to see our beauty because we spend so much time trying to hide our ugliness. Make a list of all the parts of yourself you don’t like. Go on, be curious, and give yourself a few minutes to explore your shadow. You will learn something interesting. And then read on…
'Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.'
Junichiro Tanizaki

What is possible when we learn to embrace our shadow? Using the list you wrote earlier ask yourself what the gift is of that part of yourself? What does it give you? Every aspect of us has a gift. Every part of ourselves can teach us something important if we give it permission to do so. Get curious. It may help to think of someone who inspires you and ask them to tell you what the gift of that part of you is. One of my favourite people to ask is Gandhi. Who will you ask?

The metaphor of 'who is on, or driving, your bus' can be useful to explore the bits of yourself you don't like. The 'bus' is the bus of your life. Imagine getting onto a big red bus, and on the bus are all the bits of yourself you don't like very much, (as well as those bits that you do like). As you wander around the bus sit and have a chat with one of the parts you don't like. You might want to ask his or her name? Notice what they are wearing? What they look like? Their mood? And then ask them, 'What is your gift to me?' Take some time to be with their response. You might want to acknowledge them, and journal on what you discover. If you embrace this part of you, what new energy, conviction, and purpose might come into your life?

At any time we can ask ourselves, 'Who is driving my bus in this moment?' It can guide us to consciously choose who we want to be driving the bus of our life.  Reflect on this story, taken from Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers (1998),
“One day, twin boys went off with their grandfather on an outing. They walked through the woods until they came upon an old barn. When the boys and their grandfather stepped inside to explore, one of the boys immediately started complaining: “Grandpa, let’s get out of here. This old barn stinks like horse manure.” The boy stood near the door, angry because he now had manure on his new shoes. Before the old man could respond he saw his other grandson running happily through the barn’s many stalls. “What are you looking for?” he asked the second little boy. “Why are you so happy?” The boy looked up and said, “With all that horse manure in here there must be a pony somewhere.”
Debbie Ford. 1998. The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. 
Article posted 24 July 2014

Sally Forman is a Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Life Coach and Speaking Circles Facilitator with a private practice in Wellington   arrow-10find out more