January is a month of hope. With the sense of renewal that comes with a fresh year, we often catch ourselves dreaming of a smarter, fitter, more successful version of our little old selves. And so, with a list of resolutions as long as the ride back home from our New Year’s celebrations, we start the painful process of “bettering” ourselves.
It’s a lot of pressure to endure during winter, while the looming shadows of seasonal affective disorder and the post-holiday blues threaten even the most motivated among us. Rumor has it, most resolutions end up being dropped on the third Tuesday of January.
The most radical New Year’s resolutions don’t always reflect the healthiest of mindsets. There’s no denying that bettering yourself is a noble goal. However, there’s a difference between improving and aiming to change yourself entirely to attain an unreachable ideal.
Being human means embracing both light and darkness. That’s where the concept of “shadow self” comes in. Despite it being an intrinsic part of our psyche, we strive to destroy it. But what if we embraced it instead? Our shadow selves can teach us a lot – about love, acceptance, and growth.
So this year, instead of changing yourself, why don’t you try changing your perception?
What’s your shadow self?
The concept of shadow self was defined by Carl Jung to describe the parts of ourselves we’re ashamed of. Envy, pride, sloth… Each and every one of the so-called deadly sins could feature on the list of things we often try to hide about ourselves.
This darker side is made of the unconscious parts of us we tend to repress and reject. It’s the feelings and emotions we learned to perceive as bad or even “evil” through our upbringing and socialization. For example, jealousy is seen as a negative trait and is therefore something we’ll attempt to hide and might feel guilty about.
Shadow versus persona
Jung developed the idea of the shadow self as part of his Archetypes and as opposed to the “persona”. While our persona is the person we’re striving to become and the face we’re showing to the outside world, our shadow self is the other side of the coin. Our persona is what we’ve learned to be good and acceptable; it’s our part of light. Our shadow, on the other hand, is where our basic instincts lie.
Is it bad?
There’s no light without shadow. Your shadow self is not inherently "bad" or "shameful". It’s not something to be healed or fixed. It’s an intrinsic part of yourself and simply needs to be handled right.
If denied and repressed, it can become a real problem and push you to extremes. However, when you acknowledge and accept the existence of your shadow self, it can help you grow and be yourself fully.
Your shadow can help you grow
Embracing your shadow self can help you grow as a person and be more at peace with yourself as a whole. It’s all about listening to yourself and finding the right balance to reconcile the light and darkness within yourself.
How can your shadow self help you? Handled well, feelings we deem bad such as sadness or anger can help us find ourselves. For example:
Anger can help us set boundaries
Sadness can help us acknowledge grief and let go
Envy can help us admit desires and goals
Laziness can help us identify our real needs and better focus our energy
Knowing yourself better, flaws and all, leads to personal empowerment. It helps you find your triggers, acknowledge your feelings, and feel whole. When you come to terms with the “darker” parts of your psyche, it’s also a way to develop empathy and better understand and accept others.
How to embrace your shadow self
Many of us tend to compartmentalize and deny the existence of our shadow self. That’s why it can be difficult to “find” it. Reconciling both parts of yourself implies finding this less shiny side of you and taking ownership and responsibility for it. Here’s how to better understand the parts of yourself that you don't deem worthy.
Follow the blame
Is there a particular flaw that you always see in others and particularly dislike? Think about the things you tend to blame people for, and ask yourself whether this is something you can find in your own character. This exercise can be challenging but can be a great help in identifying your weaknesses and “darker” tendencies.
Caught yourself in a textbook example of social media envy? Just burst into a blind rage after you accidentally broke your shoelace? Trace this feeling back to the root and question your reaction. What’s the source of this feeling? Better understanding your dark side will help you better manage it and work on the issue itself rather than trying to repress the symptoms.
Journaling can be an effective way to access buried feelings and emotions. Introspection is like a muscle, and this exercise can help you get more in touch with yourself, uncovering the hidden aspects of your personality.
Talk it out
Whether it’s therapy, a close friend, or the TalkLife community, talking is a way to let things out but also to put them in perspective. Everyone has a shadow. You’re not alone in struggling with the darkest parts of yourself. Expressing yourself will help you accept and embrace them to feel whole and more at peace with yourself.
Be your real self and connect with a supportive community on TalkLife.