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How to resist being manipulated by the Shadow

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on April 15, 2012 at 7:00 AM


Previous posts have introduced the Shadow as the unconscious repository of negative emotion and trauma that can sabotage our relationships and careers if we are unaware of its strength. We have also seen how the powerful Shadow of one person can undermine an entire group by recruiting others to join in acting out the negative emotion or belief.

But what if you are being manipulated by someone else’s Shadow? This post will address how to tell if you are under the influence of the Shadow of another person and ways to “break the spell” and regain your autonomy.

There are certain physical and emotional signs you can watch for to detect the action of the Shadow so you must pay careful attention to how you feel, particularly in highly charged situations. Be suspicious if any of the following are present:  

  • A physical reaction such as tightening of the abdomen or chest, nausea or anxiety when you are around a certain person. This “gut reaction” is a clue that something is going on under the surface and not totally transparent to you. 
  • A feeling of mental confusion when you are with this person or when the emotional issue comes up. If you feel that you have difficulty thinking clearly about the situation you are dealing with, it may be the Shadow that is obscuring your view. 
  • An emotional reaction that seems out of place. You might find yourself feeling very strongly upset about an issue that usually would not matter to you. This is a sign that your emotions have been taken over and are being manipulated by another person’s Shadow. 
  • An exaggerated emotional response. If the level of intensity of your emotion seems much greater than the situation warrants, for example becoming irate over a parking ticket, then the Shadow might be adding extra fuel to your own emotion. 
  • Frequently changing your mind. If you feel strongly on one side of an issue when you are around the other person who is upset, but then lose that strong feeling as soon as you are apart, you might be being influenced by the Shadow rather than by the strength of your convictions.

It is common for these situations to arise in our relationships because we are often attracted to people who have similar Shadow issues to our own. If our Shadows connect on similar emotions then we can be recruited to take sides with that person fairly easily when they have conflicts. Also other people can be attracted to us because our Shadows have issues that complement one another. For example a person whose Shadow wound always perceives that she is a victim may team up with a person who tends to be a rescuer; in this case the “victim” gains power by manipulating the “rescuer” to express anger and outrage. The victim then can remain helpless and weak on the exterior but still have an outlet for the hidden rage that burns inside.

If you become aware through physical, emotional or mental symptoms that your own Shadow is being engaged and manipulated by another person, what can you do about it? First of all, achieving that awareness is the most important and difficult step so you have already made significant progress just to have that realization. Here are some other actions you can take to disentangle yourself and begin thinking clearly again:  

  • Withdraw from the other person or the situation for a short time, if possible. It will help you get your own thoughts straight if you are not being bombarded by that person’s emotions. 
  • Ask for facts. Remember that the Shadow causes distortion and exaggeration of the details of tricky situations. Make sure you personally examine the evidence for yourself. Don’t accept hearsay or claims that might be false and don’t base your own reaction on questionable information. 
  • Chart your reactions. Make a two-column list of “What I know” and “How I feel” so you can compare your reactions to the facts of the situation. If they don’t match up ask yourself why your emotional response is so strong. 
  • Consider other perspectives. Attempt to look at a problem from other points of view. How might the people on the other side of the issue be feeling? What are they thinking? What motivated their actions? Try to find out their side of the story before you make a judgment. 
  • Slow down. The Shadow often operates hastily, triggering instant responses to situations and allowing no time for thought or reflection. Make it a policy that you don’t take action or express an opinion in the heat of a conflict. Always allow yourself time to think before you say or do anything.

Living with our own Shadows can be tricky business but all our problems become amplified when we interact with other people and their wounds. The best we can do is be aware at all times of the possibility that others, even those that seem totally above-board and transparent, have hidden Shadow issues that could be acted out any time they are under stress. Stay alert and keep your own Shadow always in your sights and you will be much less likely to become a tool of another person’s Shadow.

Categories: Psychology, Relationships, Lifestyle

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Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

This website is provided for informational purposes only. This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your personal healthcare provider before using any treatment for a health problem.