I admit the idea of shadow work always scared me. The idea of it – based on what little I’d read – seemed really intimidating. Go down into the most awful parts of yourself and face them… Mostly I try and keep the awfulness locked down, under control and hidden away. I can’t bear to go there. This year I’ve had no choice.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a keen sense of my own awfulness. There are parts of me that, if they got out, or out of control, would do terrible things. It has always seemed very important to be very in control all of the time and never drop my guard to let the awfulness out. Except, when I’ve tried to face it, I struggle to find any evidence to support that.
There are things I’ve been told about the kind of person I am, that have made me afraid of myself. The idea that I’m so terrible that I can’t even see how terrible I am is not one I came up with by myself. I’ve been told if people knew what I was really like, they’d want nothing to do with me. I’ve been told, relentlessly, how difficult, unreasonable, prone to over-reacting and whatnot I am, and I’ve stayed afraid of the things in me that I must keep locked down at all costs. I’ve accepted that because I am a monster, it’s not just ok, but necessary to punish me, control me, keep me inline.
Delve into the shadows, and all I can find is the times I was told what an awful person I am. Not the bit before that when I did the awful things. There are no pets I killed, no violent assaults on anyone, no rounds of being suspended from school or taken in for police questioning. There was nothing I set on fire or deliberately broke, I did not threaten anyone with violence. I was a quiet, fearful child who could barely get a sentence out without stuttering. I was an anxious, nervous teenager trying to be more than that. I was and am flawed in so many ways, but there’s no real evidence for the dire monstrosity then, or in my twenties.
The big fear is that it exists and I can’t see it. I remember being told how aggressive I am when I’m upset, how I lash out at people and hurt them in retaliation and don’t even know that I’m doing it. And how afraid I became of what I might accidentally do if I was upset and not careful enough about how I expressed that.
I have looked into my shadow, and it is full of pain. It is full of times when I could have used some kindness and patience from others. It’s full of being knocked down and blamed, and made responsible for having been hurt. It’s an ugly mess in there, and not territory I am keen to visit, but I’ve been obliged to, repeatedly.
And so I find myself asking some really uncomfortable questions. What if how I am treated is not automatically a fair measure of what I deserve? What if I’m basically ok, certainly no worse than anyone else? What if the monsters I am afraid of aren’t real, or part of me? What if my shadow self isn’t full of appalling horror that must be kept hidden, but is just where my child self is huddled up, lost and frightened and in need of rescue.