The Shadow: What you don't know about yourself can destroy you

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on February 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Have you ever experienced behaving in a way that just didn’t seem like yourself? Have you ever blown up at someone or broken something in a fit of rage and later could not believe that you had done it? That kind of spontaneous, destructive behavior often arises from the unconscious part of your mind and the reason you are surprised to see yourself doing those things is because you don’t really know what is hidden in your Shadow.

As mentioned in an earlier post the Shadow is the name given to that part of your unconscious that houses all the aspects of yourself that you cannot tolerate or face. The Shadow becomes a repository for a host of negative emotions such as jealousy, anger, greed, lust and vengeance. The more you are invested in being a nice person who doesn’t have any of these negative traits, the more likely you are to repress them and hide them away in your unconscious.

The problem is that these Shadow emotions tend to burst out when you are under stress or dealing with difficult problems, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol and they can seriously sabotage your life. Because they have been hidden away, you operate without being aware that these negative emotions are brewing and boiling inside you, barely contained within the Shadow. 

Then when the right conditions occur, such as someone saying a certain word to you or treating you in a certain way, the lid comes off and these dark emotions spew out all at once in an uncontrollable explosion. You cannot stop this eruption or change it while it is happening and, in fact, you might feel like you are under some sort of spell during this time.

After this event you return to your normal state of consciousness and feel confused about what just happened. You wonder how you possibly could have behaved that way. And you question where those ugly emotions came from because they are just not you.

For most people the Shadow emotions are disturbing and upsetting but for some of us the hidden parts of ourselves are deadly. Some people lose jobs, ruin relationships, destroy property and hurt themselves because of the intensity of their Shadow emotions. And some people, who might seem to be just “normal folks,” can commit murder when the Shadow is unleashed.

Just this past week UVA lacrosse player George Huguely was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend, Yeardley Love. The details of the case suggest that Huguely had anger issues that seemed to erupt when he was drinking, and his attack on Love came in a fit of jealous rage that he could not stop or control.

Of course, without an in-depth psychological evaluation it is impossible to know whether or not Huguely’s attack was driven by his Shadow emotions or was totally conscious behavior. But the point to be made is that the Shadow can be dangerous and each of us is responsible for the contents of our unconscious mind and the actions that derive from that part of ourselves.

So what can we do with our own Shadow emotions and how do we prevent them from destroying our lives? The first step is to admit that you probably have a Shadow side to your personality, even if you rarely see it or experience negative emotions. Be open to new information about yourself and willing to take a deeper look within.

There are some things you can do to uncover your own Shadow emotions, learn how they arose and then gradually reincorporate them into your consciousness, so that they can no longer take you by surprise. Stay tuned for future Sunday posts that will shed light on the Shadow. Meanwhile, keep track in your journal of any behaviors that are just “not you” so you can take a deeper look at them as we proceed.

Categories: Psychology, Relationships, Spiritual Practice

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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