Embracing the Shadow

As a kid, I was scared of the dark. To be more exact, I was terrified of the dark. I could not walk through my childhood home without turning on lights. At 33, with three children under 4 and separation papers ready to serve my husband, I cried one night and asked the Divine how would I ever survive, a woman who could not even walk through her house at night without turning on the lights. No one knew I was scared of the dark. I barely admitted it to myself. But that night, reality was unavoidable and I cried out in my need. The Inner Voice spoke “I will be with you and you won’t be scared anymore.”

It was a miraculous intervention, the fear simply lifted and has never returned.  That night was the beginning of my love affair with the dark, and with shadow. Soon after, through group work, therapy and prayer, I embarked on my personal shadow work, reconnecting with all those parts of myself that I had named unwanted and unlovable. My neediness, my hatred, my anger, my vulnerability, my longing for intimacy, my memories, my aggression, and yes, my light, my talents, my love, my longing to belong, and my longing to make an impact.

Starting to notice how I projected many of what I had named negative emotions onto others,  and noticing what in another person would cause me to choose contempt or jealousy was part of the uncovering and reclaiming. Projections became clues and, at my best, led to curiosity instead of blame, shame, and othering.  I found, in group work, this awareness was heightened. The work was easier (well, more accessible).

This inner work was a fertile place, where there was a heightened sweetness of Holy Presence, and renewed creativity. In the pool one day, the Inner Voice reminded me of how much effort it took to submerge and keep a ball underwater, and illuminated to me how much effort it took for me to keep my shadow submerged. That renewed creativity was simply energy reclaimed and integrated into my consciousness. This inner work was also lonely, and painful, and, at times, all consuming. But the Inner Voice was almost always there, letting me know that I was not alone, that I was accompanied. And that the work was important for me, and also for the world.  The Inner Light spoke to my condition and led me into my shadow, and I am grateful.

Fanny Brewster, an African-American Jungian analyst, reminds us that Jung states “No matter how obvious it may be to the neutral observer that it is a matter of projections, there is little hope that the subject will perceive this himself. He must be convinced that he throws a long shadow before he is willing to withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object.” Friends know that the Inner Light is a convincer of when we are caught in this projective state. Brewster continues “ I believe that it is possible to influence the collective – the archetypal. This appears to be one of only a few ways to create major change in a society, the process begins at the personal, individual level.”  Early Friends knew that “they were transformed people themselves before they tried to transform others.” This inner work, what Jungians would call individuation, is about leading us, with wholeness, back into the collective and changing it.

Brewster also explores Jung’s own racial shadow, and after reading her work which I hope will be a piece of our reading for this program, she has convinced me of the need for shadow work, individually and collectively, to be a part of anti-racism work.

We live in a time where both our collective and personal shadows are being revealed. It is one of the few gifts of being tied to a narcissist such as our President; the shadow comes forth. In our work in PIGP, we will be taking advantage of the exposure of our national shadow and using it for wholeness’ sake, exploring both personal and collective shadow.

I’ve come a long way from being that kid who was scared of the dark.  I pray that, during our time in PIGP, we can all experience the dark and the inner work of the shadow as Light and fertile ground. Because that is the truth.  

- Angi

Brewster, F. (2017) African Americans and Jungian Psychology: leaving the shadows. Routledge: New York, NY


4 thoughts on “Embracing the Shadow”

  1. Angela, this was so helpful. I am eager to read the book. I have had the good fortune to stumble across two other pieces that I also found helpful. I hope it’s not inappropriate to share them here. One is Brene Brown speaking on vulnerability (on Netflix!) and the other is Richard Rohr speaking about vulnerability in an interview with Krista Tippit in On Being. (Actually, the interview is titled “On Growing Up Men” but most of the interview was of great value to me as a woman!)

    Thanks for sharing your experience, I am so eager to participate in this program!

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