How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.
~ C. G. Jung
Robin Barre Psychotherapy Services Serving Mukilteo, Everett, and the North Puget Sound
Confronting Our Shadow Selves
Not till we are lost, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations. ~ Henry David Thoreau I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray. ~ Dante Alighieri
Probably nothing differentiates the work of depth psychotherapy from other types of therapy work as the idea that the ultimate healing work is that of confronting the Shadow parts of our selves and not banishing them but coming into relationship with them. Internal Family Systems work holds to this concept as well. In this regard, Internal Family Systems is, indeed, a depth psychotherapeutic practice.
As a depth psychotherapist, I have implicit faith that when we encounter the paradox of finding ourselves lost in Dante's wood, where we are asked to abandon hope, we are on the very path that can lead us back home to ourselves and into the world.
Dante was able to find his way out of the inferno because he had a guide, a witness. This is what I understand the work to be of the depth psychotherapist ~ to witness and guide those who sit across from me. I work with the client to gather the tools and resources needed for the journey. We take the journey together, the client finding effective ways to proceed.
The Shadow parts often show up in childhood. Life happens and we are wounded. We are shamed or take on shame. We take on and take in the negative feedback we encounter, and these messages get relegated to the shadows. Sometimes even that which is positive gets assigned as a Shadow part. For example, we might believe that it's not okay to stand out in the crowd as someone who has unique gifts to offer.
The Shadow parts are often the parts that we are most unconscious of and get acted out in all kinds of ways - in our relationships, our work, our daily lives, our symptoms. They often get projected onto those around us. For example, perhaps you learned that relaxing and taking time off was not acceptable. Perhaps you were given the message when you were a child and daydreaming that you were "lazy." Now you judge that characteristic in others, and now you are beginning to wonder about that. This is an encounter with your Shadow.
One of the biggest reasons that the Shadow stays in the unconscious is because the confrontation with these parts can be quite painful.
It is my experience that if we walk away from or around the pain, then healing will not happen. There are many parts in us that do the work of keeping the Shadow parts in the shadows, especially if there has been trauma in your life. The therapist is a compassionate, objective witness and support system for the client as you engage in the work of coming into a healthy conscious relationship with your Shadow parts.
For this reason, it is crucial that your therapist is engaged in his or her own Shadow work. It is always okay to ask if your therapist is, indeed, "doing his or her own work." Again, especially if your presenting issues are related to trauma.