Have you dealt with your shadow?

by Tess on August 11, 2009

Warning! My blog will challenge you to be more, give more, live fearlessly, take more chances and show up in the world unstoppable, daring and bold.

What’s in your shadow?

In order to heal your relationships and accept people as they are, it is necessary to examine your shadow side. This is your dark side, the part of yourself that you are ashamed of or embarrassed about.

It is fear, judgment, perfectionism, control, resentment, regret, guilt and greed. Each of these is part of you and part of me. The reason I recognize these traits in others is because I have them in me. Instead of denying your shadow side, you can become grateful for it because it allows you to heal and grow your relationships.

Until you do this work, you will not recognize that you are projecting your issues onto others. Shadow work is very rewarding; but it is also difficult because when we do it we fell we are giving up or losing something.

Our ego resists resists shadow work. Shadow work originated with Carl Jung. He believed that we spend the first 21 years of our life carrying a bag over our shoulder and any time we don’t like a certain aspect of ourselves, we put it in the bag instead of looking at it, owning and examining it. Instead we deny, resist and forget that it is even there, that is until we see it in another person.

Anytime you are upset, irritated or at wit’s end with someone else, it is really about you. It is about what you carry in your bag. You are never finished with this work.  In order to have healthy, loving relationships, you must continue to take your shadow parts out of the bag and examine them. That is the only way you grow.

Due to our strong egos, we often have a difficult time doing this. The picture that comes to mind for me is when I am three years old. My mother has me by the hand and wants to move forward. The tighter she holds my hand, the more I pull down and resist with all my weight. Just as wehn I was three, sometimes I don’t want to move forward. I don’t want to see what I need to change in order to grow and move on to higher ground. That little three-year-old child screams, “No,” very loudly and holds back out of fear. That is, until I can’t stand it anymore.

At this point I have a choice to stay miserable in a relationship, and the relationship or do my own work.

You can take a personal inventory. Be loving and compassionate with yourself. With honesty you will be able to recognize your patterns.

When I am honest I recognize that the control, negativity and anger I notice in others are about the control, anger and negativity that I feel or have felt. I recognize it because my own past experiences with a severe case of angermania, controlitis, and negativity syndrome. In other words the person or situation upsetting me is actually mirroring what I need to heal in myself.

I have a very loud voice. When I was growing up I was called big mouth and loud mouth. I felt shame and embarrasment it. I also was one of 10 children and I believe I used my voice to be heard.

Much later in life I was told by a psychologist my loud voice was part of my ADHD.
That my natural tone is loud. I can’t tell you how human I felt. He was the first person to validate me by telling me said it wasn’t my fault. 

Once I accepted this about myself it was no longer an issue. Someone can tell me to calm down or to lower my voice and it doesn’t push my buttons.

One of the rewards of healing your shadow part is you have the opportunity to turn your greatest faults into your greatest gifts.

My voice makes me a very strong professional speaker. I often complimented on my voice by my audience. It is still sometimes hard to control especially when I’m excited.

I tell my clients, “If you spot it you got it.” We all have a shadow side. No one is immune. It is how you survived your difficult childhood. Shadow work is enlightening. It takes your relationships to a new level. 

You can read more about our shadow side in my book, “Flying By The Seat Of My Soul,” You can download it as an e-book or purchase it in paperback.

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    { 34 comments… read them below or add one }

    Caroline 08.11.09 at 6:29 pm

    Tess, this is a wonderful post. I like how you describe your shadow self as a 3 year old…yelling “NO” loudly and not wanting to let go. I am working with my shadow self more and more and it’s not easy. But very fulfilling. Finally, as I turn 40 I am learning what really pushes my buttons and how to avoid getting too emotional. I am being very patient with myself and allowing the feelings of anger/fear/worry to settle instead of over reacting. It’s all one day at a time for me though…some days may shadow is very strong.

    Keith 08.11.09 at 6:49 pm

    Hello Tess,

    Deep article you’ve written Tess. Reading it sent my mind down many avenues of thought. I’ve often thought of the darker side of myself and am keenly aware of it. I “know” myself and have learned (and am still learning) what brings my darker self out into the open.

    You know, I have worked, over recent years, to use the darker side of myself to help me. I have worked to train my mind to recognize when my darker side is surfacing. I allow unpleasant memories to flood my mind; Memories that I have purposely associated with the last time my shadow-self was allowed to take control and I feel the pain that I experienced. This process gives me the opportunity to “do it right this time” and fills me with a little bit of excitement. This is difficult to explain and I may have just confused you altogether. :-)

    Anyway, great article and it really gets the mind to working!

    Thank you

    Tess 08.11.09 at 7:07 pm

    I understand completely. I think it’s powerful work and your reward will be peace of mind and strong and healthy relationships. Like I said I’m still working on mine. It does surprise me when something that used to upset me doesn’t and it’s such a good feeling.

    Of course we project our bright or light side as well. I couldn’t see that you’re a good mom if I wasn’t a good mom myself. I couldn’t see that your wise if I wasn’t wise myself. It works both ways!

    Yes you confused me but it doesn’t matter, do what ever works for you. I know it is heavy but someone sent me the video and I just couldn’t resist!

    I just realized the other day that if there was no fear in me there wouldn’t be fear in the world. When I let it go inside me I won’t see a fearful world anymore. Big insight for me.

    Another thing that I worked on was feeling peaceful during the last presidential electionl and not placing judgment on either candidates. I wanted to remain peaceful reguardless of who won. Anything negative I saw in either candidate was my own stuff. How wild is that? In order to do this I couldn’t watch either debate or listen to the media. My ego wouldn’t have been able to handle it! Anyway I not only succeeded with my mission but I’m still peaceful today.

    Kristy 08.11.09 at 7:09 pm

    I have recently been in touch with my shadow side that I carry around with me. It has challenged me in two very special relationships. In fact, it was either lose them, two very close friends that I would do absolutely anything for, and keep my shadow as is or deal with the darkness that continues to exist in my shadow and open myself to more love, light, and positive energy. I chose to deal with some of that darkness and am happy to say that I am lighter, happier, and calmer now that I have recognized that the lesson was not theirs but mine to learn. Ironically, I learned something about myself that I realized was a major reason why two relationships that I was in for a combined 9 years did not work out. Funny, how I thought they were more of the problem. This time it only took me about 5 months to figure it out and let me my ego subside.

    Mom, you taught me early on about “you spot it, you got it!” I am grateful that you shared this book with me 10 years ago. I still need to be reminded of my shadow and find this book resourceful when I need that reminder to look at my dark side.

    Keith 08.11.09 at 7:23 pm

    Hey Tess,

    Yes, the video may have been heavy but I am glad you included it.

    Sorry I confused you! LOL That’s what I get for trying to explain the inexplicable! :-)

    Oh, I love the phrase “You spot it, you got it”

    Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord 08.12.09 at 3:13 am

    Tess, this is a beautiful and necessary post (aren’t they all, though?!). I didn’t know that Carl Jung had the 21-year old theory, or the knapsack analogy working. I’ve used that before, but not with the knowledge that he used it, as well. It’s such great imagery, though, and I know my knapsack was pretty freakin’ full up until age 25!
    It’s lighter now, but just like a really deep and dark-colored purse, no matter how many times I reach my hand down in there thinking it’s empty, I feel a couple more things rattling around. (Blast!)
    And I truly wish more people understood that what we see in others is only ever a reflection of us. I continue to be reminded of this in very subtle, wonderful ways.

    Happy Hump Day! (Make it count!)

    Kathy | Virtual Impax 08.12.09 at 3:43 am

    Tess- once again, it’s as if you have my house bugged!!! How did you know we were just discussing this issue last night?

    I’m with Megan - I didn’t know that Carl Jung created such a PERFECT word picture to illustrate this truth.

    When someone is doing something that “pushes my buttons”… I still have to catch myself and say, “Whoa! This isn’t about them. This is about me.”

    Thanks so much Tess. This is definitely worth a Tweet!

    Robin 08.12.09 at 3:55 am

    Hi Tess - it’s such a powerful thing to admit the things that “get” to us are telling us something about ourselves, isn’t it? Thanks for the reminder! Interesting there is a movie about it - the trailer has some great examples! - R

    Tess 08.12.09 at 5:10 am

    Age 25 and you were aware of this? Amazing, you are wise beyond your years.
    I absolutely love the purse analogy. What women can’t relate to that. If you ever write a book you may want to use that.

    Thanks for the tweet! If we aren’t talking about it we’re probably hiding what’s in our bag. Your light shines brighter because you are willing to catch yourself and change. Thanks for you help… making the world a shining place to be.

    Daphne @ Joyful Days 08.12.09 at 6:49 am


    This post came across as being straight from your heart - like a stream of consciousness writing that didn’t stop to edit itself but just flowed with the feelings. It was wonderful to follow you on that journey.

    Lately I’ve been struggling a little with my shadow. I notice this dark side creeping up unexpectedly - jealousy of another’s success, craving for attention, disgust with someone’s behaviour… and deep down I knew, and I’ve known for years especially after reading that Jung stuff, that it’s all me reacting to myself, as you wisely point out.

    So that’s as far as I’ve got - recognising my shadow when I see it. Next step is to take the stuff out of the 21 year old bag and throwing it away. Would you do a post to show how? Seriously.

    Evita 08.12.09 at 9:03 am

    Fascinating Tess, I LOVE being introduced to new material like this - I have to see this movie!

    I know our egos DO hold us back from so much love and light and just our own personal potentials. It is indeed amazing what can sit within us if we don’t deal with it. The part that spoke out to me the most was the idea of the ones who are most self-righteous having the biggest shadows - I have seen countless examples of that throughout life and that is why today don’t hold up anyone on a pedastool. We are all one, each along our own path of evolution, no one is better than another. We don’t have to agree with everything or with what others are doing, we just have to be sure we focus on making our own lights shine brighter.

    John 08.12.09 at 9:42 am

    Whoa, that was a powerful video. It really is eye-opening to reflect within yourself about the darkness that we all share. The more we try to suppress it, the more it pushes back against us.

    Jealousy, greed, self-loathing: these were formerly problematic for me. I’ve pretty much gotten to grips with the second two, but jealously still has a ways to go before I can deal with it.

    keynote Speaker Garrison Wynn 08.12.09 at 10:39 am

    Great post. As a professional speaker I have found, like I think most entertainers have, that to be really good, to improve, you have to face your shawdow(s). The audience is always a mirror and ego and sensitivity of most performers demands they often look inside to places they would rather not.

    Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching 08.12.09 at 10:46 am

    Hi Tess — accepting the “loud-mouthed” part of you was a great example of owning the shadow. It reminds me of a great exercise in one of Debbie’s books where she has us affirm that we are all of the stuff that we don’t want to be — saying “I am loud,” “I am irresponsible,” “I am weak,” and so on. When we do this, the emotional charge around those words starts to fade away.

    Tess 08.12.09 at 11:35 am

    Yes I can post more about shadow work. I thing jealousy is something we have to keep in check as we grow our blogs. For me it’s real important to enjoy the journey not comparing my blog to others like my Ego or smaller self wants to do. We are all reaching people in our own ways. Someone may have 100,000 subscribers and someone else 50. Neither blog is more important than the other. It’s our judgement that makes it so. And remember success is subjective as well.

    Like Evita says we only have to make our light shine (and our message in our blogging) and not worry about what anyone else is doing. When we do have our light shining bright we will be guided to do the right thing on our own path and all will fall into place.

    Twitter is a good example of egos out of control. There is no way people can follow 50,000 people. I would rather have a lower number of followers who connect with what I do and say. That’s why I check out the blog and person before I follow back.

    Daphne, I’m writing this more for myself than you. You just gave me permission to begin! Thanks for being so genuine with your comments. I appreciate that as we all learn together.

    Evita, I can’t agree with you more. It’s always a great reminder to remember we’re all playing our own part in making the world a better place to be and no one’s part is bigger or important than anothers. We are all trying to get to the same place taking different paths.

    I addressed jealousy in my comment to Daphne. See above please!

    I agree speakers have more to process because they get admired by big groups of people all at once. Plus we have to sell ourselves with our hype making it up as we go.
    I’ve been told a speaker is in trouble when a speaker believe’s his/her own hype.

    That was told to me by my first speaking mentor. She also said at the Speakers Assoc. meetings to only believe 1/2 of what other speakers tell you in reqards to how many jobs they have. It reminds me of addicts, as a counselor I was trained to double the amount of how much they say they drink or drug.

    It’s all shadow stuff/ego. Speakers brag to feel more adequate and addicts lie to feel more accepted. When in fact we all need to be honest with ourselves so we then can become honest with others.

    Chris, You are so right. Forgot about that exersize. She does that in her workshops as well. Or she used to back in the day her book first came out.

    Vered - Blogger for Hire 08.12.09 at 5:28 pm

    “When I was growing up I was called big mouth and loud mouth. I felt shame and embarrassment.” Family members, even loving family members, can hurt a child so deeply and so carelessly with their observations.

    Amanda Linehan 08.12.09 at 5:31 pm

    Hi Tess - The idea of the Shadow has interested me since I first learned about it. There are so many things that we don’t want to see or deal with. But that’s exactly the place that we need to start. Sometimes we feel that our Shadow is simply too dark for us to see anything if we go looking, but we can always bring some light with us. :)

    Davina 08.12.09 at 6:37 pm

    Hi Tess. I LOVE this part: “Anytime you are upset, irritated or at wit’s end with someone else, it is really about you. It is about what you carry in your bag.” I was just having a conversation with my brother about this VERY thing. This is what helps me to “settle”. When I realize I’m bugged about something I stop and examine what it’s about.

    Joy 08.12.09 at 6:47 pm


    Thank you for being so candid with such a thought provoking topic. I learn so much about myself when others share so frankly about their own journey. Until recently I thought my shadow was like myself buoyant and effervescent–I had no idea that my shadow was weighty and needed to be processed. My most significant relationship had huge issues and I can see now that is a direct reflection of the personal issues I had to heal. It has been extremely healing for me to acknowledge my own fears and insecurities and deal with them to move forward in life.

    Tess 08.12.09 at 8:02 pm

    It’s so true. I know that’s what forgiveness is for. I couldn’t write about it if it were still an issue. Not in the manner I did anyway.

    You’re right we need to shine the light and have gentleness, love and compassion for ourselves as we go.

    You and me both. I can’t settle if I don’t look and deal. I don’t want to waste a day of my life in denial or afraid!

    It sounds like you are well on your way and your relationships will all blossom from your work. Thanks for stopping by. Welcome!

    Positively Present 08.13.09 at 1:32 am

    Wow, this is a great post! I’ve actually never really thought much about my shadow side — well, at least, not in those terms or as a complete entity of its own — and I realize that I really should deal with it. This is one of those things that doesn’t seem pleasant to tackle, but will actually make my life a lot better if I do so. Thanks for bringing this up! So interesting and useful!

    Mark 08.13.09 at 6:19 am

    True awareness is to be aware of our shadows as well as the part of us that sees the light of day. As the old radio show used to say “The shadow knows”, very true, the shadow knows more than we are willing to admit.

    janice 08.13.09 at 8:19 am

    I’ve been a fan of Debbie Ford’s book “Dark Side of the Light Chasers” for years and got a lot of benefit from it. I’ve been doing shadow work on myself ever since. Scary but totally necessary.

    Tess 08.13.09 at 9:48 am

    The more you work with your shadow the brighter your light becomes. That is it’s biggest reward!

    Yes it does. Like an iceberg sometimes we’re only aware of what we can see.

    Well that’s what I like about you, you travel lightly. That’s where that line comes from?!?

    brandi 08.13.09 at 10:01 am

    I have a loud voice. some of it is natural, I think, some due to a hearing loss where I need to be louder to hear myself.

    thank you for this post. you are right, it is an ongoing process and sometimes that fact really, really irritates me. LOL. But as you said, it’s absolutely worthwhile.

    Carolynn 08.13.09 at 12:11 pm

    I carried this stuff around for only 21 years…? I don’t think so… *wink* I agree with a lot of what you’ve covered here. Some of my greatest growth has occurred when I’ve taken the time to look closer, dig deeper, and be willing to look under the rock in my psyche where the nasty things hang out. Being able to recognize that, when my reaction to any given situation is out of proportion to the events, it’s a clear sign that there’s something going on for ME. Some part of my experience has been triggered and is attempting to protect the long held illusions that have kept it (me) safe all these years.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced a few very significant Aha! moments by going through this process. It’s enlightening and uplifting and freeing. However, that doesn’t mean my shadow side has disappeared. The hope is that it has lost a bit of strength though.

    Great article! Thank you!

    Bunnygotblog 08.13.09 at 6:45 pm

    Hi Tess,

    I want to thank you for putting this subject in words I actually understand.
    I have had a few people tell me - I am thin skinned - over sensitive.

    It has taken getting married and having my husband point things out to me about myself.
    He spent a lot of time convincing me - he would never intentionally say or do anything to hurt me.
    I had spent a few years deciding most of my unwarranted sensitives and pity party’s had been caused by a lost in translation.
    I didn’t understand how why things were deliberately said to push my buttons.Now I know it was how I perceived statements.

    I was just on Barbara’s blog and clicked over to read your article. I wrote a comment and pushed the wrong button. lol
    If you read my comment on her blog you will find the humor in this.
    Now I will push submit :D

    Tess 08.13.09 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Bunny got blog,

    You’re not the first person who said this and I understand. I finally got this when after grad school I went to Tuscon AZ. for a workshop in experiential therapy. Of course we were had to work on our own stuff and the therapist with my group said “if you spot it you got it.” Click for me to too, never forgot it!

    Bunnygotblog 08.13.09 at 8:00 pm

    I love your blog and admire your strengths. I will be back for more !!!

    Barbara Swafford 08.14.09 at 12:07 am

    Hi Tess,

    The Shadow Side reminds me of a saying someone said (and I don’t know who to give the credit to), “when we point a finger at someone else, we have three fingers pointing back at us”. That has stuck with me and every time I begin to describe someone or complain about what irks me about them, I stop and realize I’m seeing my own traits in them and am reminded my “work” is not done. In fact, will it ever be done?

    Powerful stuff, Tess. Thank you for sharing.

    Hilary 08.14.09 at 1:51 am

    Hi Tess .. thanks for that - I’m not sure I’d of heard of it before - but it makes absolute sense .. and Barbara’s comments about one finger out , but three back is really good .. similar to the listen, rather than speak!

    I’ll be looking into it and bearing what you’ve said in mind - thanks .. something I need to address -

    all the best
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

    Tess 08.14.09 at 9:08 am

    Bunny blog,
    Thanks so much and welcome. I checked out your blog and Eleanor Roosevelt is my heroine! Was she a strong woman or what?

    Oh that is so easy to remember and it’s so true! I like to keep my words soft and sweet and put the rest in my journal!

    Giovanna Garcia 08.14.09 at 11:57 am

    Hi Tess,
    This is one of your best post! I really love this one!
    We have to look deep within the whole true about ourselves, not just what we wish we are.
    Great job, I stumbled it so more people can be inspire by the shadow work.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

    Jocelyn of I TAKE OFF THE MASK 08.15.09 at 9:28 pm

    There are many times when we can learn a lot from our shadows than from our bright sides. This is because almost all of us are already aware of our strengths whereas we all shy away from our weaknesses or traits that aren’t really clear to us. Facing them with courage enables us to really accept our whole self, not just the side we want to present to other people. In truth, by dealing with our shadows, we become more strengthened as we can turn even the traits we are afraid of into gifts. :-)

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