As promised from my last post I wanted to explore the TYPES of things that we put in our shadow box.
The truth of it is that it can be ANYTHING. But one thing that all residents of the box have in common is that they are a result of feeling shamed. Which is how they ended up in the shadow box to begin with.
There isn’t one darn quality, trait, attribute or way of being that can’t be tagged as something to be ashamed of and when that shaming happens we will do our utmost to keep that shameful thing hidden.
Shame is the excruciatingly painful belief that there is something wrong with you on a core and essential level.
It’s getting the message that who you ARE is flawed and broken beyond repair. Which means it’s not something that you CAN fix or change because it’s such a deeply intrinsic part of your nature.
So all you can do is to pretend to be something that you’re not. While living in fear that someday this horrible and hideous part of you will emerge. And when that defect is finally and inevitably revealed you will lose any love or acceptance that you were able to find. And be shamed all over again.
It’s a terrible way to live. But one that is all too common when people have been abused or criticized or rejected as children.
When I was about 12 years old I went on a family vacation with my parents and my six other siblings. Accompanying us was another family that had the same number of kids who were all roughly the same ages.
We went to a resort in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania and one day the two fathers decided to give the moms a break by hiring a local nature guide to take them and most of us kids on a walking tour of the the surrounding forest. The whole point of hiring the guide was to keep us from getting lost in the woods.
But it didn’t work. We DID get lost. Which meant that we were hiking WAY longer than originally intended. And that led to a lot of tired and cranky kids, three VERY stressed adults and a general feeling of anxiety in the air.
At a certain point, I began to cry because I was scared and freaked out and picking up on everyone else’s scared and freaked out feelings. My crying upset my dad and he got angry with me, telling me to snap out of it and humiliating me in front of everyone in both families as well as the tour guide.
And adding insult to injury, once we got back home, he bought my youngest sister a doll as a reward for the fact that she DIDN’T cry.
That day I learned a very hard and painful lesson. My needs and my vulnerability were completely unacceptable. I was too sensitive. Too emotional. And made to feel that I was essentially unloveable when I was in that state.
So crying went into the shadow box. As well as any feelings associated with helplessness or overwhelm or weakness.
I learned to present myself as always strong and calm and unruffled by external events. This didn’t work out as well as I would have hoped. There were no kudos from my family for hiding my feelings. I never got that doll. But at least there was no more shaming.
This is how the shadow process works. We get told … often over and over again… that something about us is terribly wrong. We believe this to be true and internalize this message of wrongness as an unassailable reality. And we live our lives based on a totally erroneous conclusion, often hiding our BEST and most sacred qualities in the shadow box.
The irony is that I was also shamed in various ways for being TOO strong. I was told that I was bossy and criticized for having a mind and opinions of my own that were diametrically opposed to my families ideas about how the world operated.
So I eventually learned that I couldn’t win and that being myself was just not going to work in my family. Which is one of the main reasons that I high-tailed it out of there when I was 24 years old and moved permanently to California where I began the long and often grueling process of learning to love and accept myself again.
Many years later when I got together with my amazing husband Tim, I told him this story about the doll and the mountains. He listened to me with great compassion and held me while I cried and allowed myself to express all of those forbidden emotions of overwhelm and fear that I had felt during that time of being lost in the woods.
And then he did the most incredibly healing thing. He took me to a toy store where I picked out a doll that spoke to my heart. And he bought her for me. And not only did he give me the doll I had been secretly longing for my whole life, he told me that the reason I got the doll was BECAUSE I had cried and was afraid.
In performing this simple act of loving kindness and radical acceptance he turned the story around and gave me the message that my TRUE self was what was precious. He allowed me to feel GOOD about those qualities of emotionality and sensitivity and to reclaim them for myself as valuable and something to be cherished.
And in reclaiming them I was able to express myself more fully and authentically.
One of the ways that shows up in my creative life is the realization that my sensitivity IS my creativity. They are actually one and the same thing. And without my sensitivity there IS no true creative expression.
At this point I’m no longer AS afraid to reveal my vulnerability creatively through my art and my writing.
Although I still get a twinge of fear whenever I am taking the risk to expose yet a NEW level of my tender heart.
Which is happening right now as I share this story with you.
But when that fear arises one thing I need to do is to go and get my special doll. And take her in my arms… as she is a physical representation of that little girl inside of me… and remember that I am loved for who I truly am. That crying is a good thing. That a huge open heart is a gift to the world.
That those ancient stories of shame and unworthiness are not and never were anywhere NEAR the truth. That who I really am is an ordinary, luminous, complicated, creative human being with hungers and gifts and a deep desire to be seen and valued and loved. And a deep desire to give that love in return.
And that the same is true for you.
My dear friend Andrea Schroeder and I are going to be offering a one day online workshop on December 4th called Gifts Of The Shadow. Wild Creative Momentum.
During this class we help you to begin to heal your relationship to your shadow self and free yourself to become even MORE creative.
So stay tuned… and check out the link to the upcoming workshop below.