When I first arrived in Chiang Mai I thought living here was a breeze. Everyone told me about all the times they were homesick and how they questioned if life as an expat or nomad was the way to go. But that wasn’t something I imagined I’d go through, I’m very adaptable and not much seems to bother me. However, I still managed to enter a gloomy phase that started about a month ago - I came face to face with my shadow self. I was out one night with a group of friends and an event happened that triggered me, sending me into a tizzy of questions and deep into my psyche. At first I couldn’t get a hold on my feelings and felt myself spiralling into the darkness with no ability to get a grasp on what little light I had left within. I then realized that this is why I came here, I asked for this! I left home because I wanted to be tested, have my whole life turned on its head so that I could grow and develop further into the authentic me and now that it was here, I was having trouble facing this ominous part of myself. I was making this hard because for all of my life l trained myself to run away from the darkness and as the years went on, it became like second nature to escape and leave it in the dust. I was fearful of what it would say, fearful of who I was going to meet and fearful of it overtaking me. I found that the more I ran, the harder it would run to catch up, somehow always managing to jump in front of my path. But, as cold as it seemed, it was alive with heart and empathy waiting to be seen, heard and appreciated - this was my teacher and my greatest love.
Well what is the shadow self and shadow work?
The shadow self is the part of you that you wish to not acknowledge. It is the fragments that stay hidden away in hopes that no one notices the darkest, most grotesque parts of yourself and it often tests your ability to truly know yourself. It makes you question - why do emotions rise in certain situations? And - who is this person that arises out of nowhere? It’s the self that is aching for love, the one that has gotten pushed to the backburner as you focus your energy on the light, as that is all you’re willing to see and accept. But the secret is that the genuine light is hidden within the dark, you just have to build up the courage wander into the grim cavern to face it head on and accept the help it wants to give.
Escapism and focusing on light
Focusing on positivity is usually what’s expected in today’s society. To show weakness, anger and depression is something that is rejected and it’s expected that you deal with these problems yourself or you’re seen as deviant within society. But this isn’t true, in fact it’s far from true and embracing the darkness will actually lead you closer to light, whereas continually grasping onto light will actually repel it further away. Be welcoming and allow your shadows in.
How is the shadow self formed and what happens if you reject your shadow
The shadow self is formed in childhood usually after interactions with others that leave you to question yourself and all that you are. My favourite way to describe this I got from one of my favourite books, The Dark Side of Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. She describes ourselves as castles and at an early age we enjoy this magnificent castle we live in, constantly playing, exploring and accepting every room. As time goes by we meet new people and invite them into our castle as well as glimpsing a peek into theirs. Each castle is unique and not like the rest and we start to question - is it normal for one room to be too bold, too small, too silly or too dark? So we start locking the rooms so that no one sees these deviations as we are embarrassed by the unusual rooms. We lock them until we think we’re living in a one-bedroom apartment that needs updating, but in reality we’re a castle and have forgotten our majestic form. By denying our shadow we’re rejecting our full potential and are limiting ourselves to reap the full rewards of what we are; we must open all the rooms and give love to our whole self, no matter what our rooms look like.
Rejection, projection and affection
When you reject the shadow self, projection onto others often occurs so that the shadow can escape and be acknowledged in some way. That woman at work you detest, the neighbour that’s infuriating, the friend of a friend that constantly tests your limits are all projections of yourself in some way. What is it that you don’t like about them? Well, surprisingly, those qualities can be found within you. Yes, you might think you don’t possess all of those qualities, but we all do. The qualities may not be as pronounced as we tend to focus on certain ones that we deem appropriate or of the nature we wish to be. Often the qualities we possess are due to upbringing but the many other ones are there, just miniature and can be awakened with certain life circumstances and inner-work. It’s hard to acknowledge the fact that you could act in a certain way and have such emotions that reside deep within, but we are a whole in this existence and knowing that we hold each and everyone’s qualities within is truth. Love them all, you are me, and I am you.
Projecting, mirroring and finding light in the shadows
Projecting is something that most of us do as a way to disown certain characteristics we have, however we must love and accept these traits in order to be whole, which stops them from taking a hold on us. A great way to explore your shadow is through mirroring. Mirroring is a type of technique that lets you examine what attracts you and what you’re adverse to within others and yourself. Chose one person, maybe someone that you have a hard time getting along with. Chose three things that you like about them as well as three that you dislike. These traits are all within you to some degree, it all depends on upbringing and environment. The three traits you admire are those you hope to grow most within yourself, while the three that you dislike are those you chose not to acknowledge within yourself. Look at the traits you have an aversion to, can you think of a moment in your life you have displayed these? Try by accepting this piece of yourself and ask, what positives can come from this trait? For instance if someone is considered a bitch, it might be helpful in situations such as when someone you’ve hired is behind schedule or when you want to return an item as you will need to assert yourself. Another great example is if you try to repress your tendency to be messy or cold, does it help you to be cleaner and kinder? Often, it can shine light of the duality within leading you to become the opposite, which is beneficial. In the book, The Dark Side of Light Chasers, Debbie Ford suggests that you look within a mirror and tell yourself that you are that trait until it loses affect on you. Absorb it and welcome it completely. Remember projecting is how our shadow manages to acknowledge our own rage, jealousy and weakness within ourselves and in the darkness of awareness we become free.
Artistically express the shadow
Instead of expressing yourself through strong emotional conflicts with yourself or with others, put that energy towards creative experiences such as painting, drawing, writing, music and dance. You will get to express yourself fully without upsetting others as well as halting the spread of emotional turmoil within yourself.
Have a conversation with your shadow self as an easy way to learn from it. Sit in a quiet place, come into the moment, and then think of a question you would like to ask it and silently speak it to your mind. Listen closely and see if anything comes to your mind, maybe even a first initial thought, write that down. It’s also of great help if you can ask how the presence of your shadow helps you, does it keep you safe? Motivated? Keep on this way, and remember patience and practice will guide the way.