5 Pillars of Gentle Shadow Integration

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As we do shadow integration work, it's so easy to get stuck when we come upon aspects of self and humanity that can be tough to accept. Sometimes shadow integration can be pretty hardcore, but I invite people to take a more gentle approach to the integration of our shadow, one based in self-love and compassion. 

Here are the 5 Pillars of Gentle Shadow Integration:

Pillar 1: Self-Compassion

I like to think of it like this - how can I blame myself for what my ego did to protect me? How can I blame myself for that which was in my unconscious, therefore I literally did not have the awareness that it was there? 

Instead, I smile and feel gratitude that now I know. That now I see. And that because I am now aware, I can do better. I can make better choices. And I can have greater compassion for others and their unconscious ways. And for all the ways that I will continue to act unconsciously. I feel grateful that now I know how to make the unconscious conscious. 

So, rather than being tough on yourself, give yourself a little credit for bravely doing this work!

Offer yourself grace, space to process and a lot of self-care. What are/were the underlying feelings, fears and needs? As you accept this within yourself, remind yourself that you're human, humans are messy and that when we know better, we do better. Consider the thought "look at me, I'm an imperfect human!" 

Pillar 2: Take your time

Your nervous system needs to acclimate to your expansion in consciousness. Trust yourself and don't move too fast. There is no rush here. This is a journey and it's been said that we will never be able to fully integrate our shadow. A gentle approach will be less likely to cause your ego to have a counter-response and wreak havoc in your life.  

Pillar 3: Get honest with yourself and lighten up

People always say to me "but I WANT to be good. I want to be kind. Why would I ever want to accept meanness, selfishness, jealousy, etc.?" And yet, the reality is, when we dig deep, very few people can say that they have never acted in those shadowy ways. Despite our best intentions to be good and kind, these other shadows sneak out because they exist in our unconscious. The process of shining a light on them is our only chance to NOT have them show up in these sneaky ways. Our shadows DO exist. So trying to reject that, is arguing with reality. When we explore our shadows and integrate them, we become consciously aware of them, which means we can CHOOSE how we act in the world. When we turn away and keep them in the darkness, they haunt us and come out in the most surprising ways. 

Here's a little mental exercise:

So often we look at the shadow in extremes or black and white. We also often don't really look at the true shadow side of something. It's important to talk it over with someone and contemplate what the real shadow is. 

And perhaps it can be helpful to consider just a "drop" of the behavior or trait that you're grappling with accepting.

For example, if you're exploring "disrespect" as a shadow. Most would say that the flip side of disrespectful is respectful. But in order to be radically respectful, you'd have to abandon yourself - choose to respect the other over yourself. And in order to be radically disrespectful, we have to choose to respect ourselves over another.

Rarely are any of us in the extremes––more often it depends on the situation and we're acting on a continuum.

If you think of yourself as a respectful person, ask yourself - do you show respect for people at the expense of your true feelings? Do you abandon yourself in order to show respect for authority or others? 

What if you were to bring in just one DROP of disrespect - might you feel like you have more of a balanced way of being? One where you can respect another without having to disrespect yourself?

If we can loosen our attachment to the extremes of shadows, we can often find a little more room to lighten up and see the shades of grey that are available. And perhaps to consider that there are times when there may be some value in expressing a so called "negative behavior". 

It's fun to contemplate the energy behind the actual behavior or trait. And to question the belief systems that uphold the cultural ideas of right and wrong. And to open up to the possibility that a shadow may not be all bad.  

Pillar 4: Think of your shadow parts as inner children

There are so many parts within us that our ego disowned in order to keep us safe. As children, no one was there to help us to make sense of the impulses we had, the behaviors that others deemed unacceptable, and the feelings that we didn't know how to express. Instead, we were given the message that some parts of us are okay and others are not. So, we exiled and disowned those parts. 

Each of those parts represents a young part of us. It sometimes feels scary to meet these shadow parts. But if we can think them as young parts that just want to be seen and understood, perhaps we could feel less afraid. They have a purpose and would like for you to listen to them. When you come into relationship with each of these parts––like a parent to a child––you can love them and still have boundaries around their behaviors.  

Pillar 5: Be curious  

As you inquire into these shadows and grapple with integrating them into the wholeness that is you, here are some things to get curious about:

  • Since you're part of the Universe, a microcosm of the macrocosm, then you would have to be part of "everything" and therefore have everything in you.
  • If you believe in previous lifetimes, consider that perhaps you exhibited these behaviors at some point in a prior life.
  • Think about a situation where you could see yourself doing this - perhaps to protect your child, to protect yourself in a dangerous situation or if you were in other extreme conditions.
  • Think of someone who you know does exhibit this behavior or trait - if you grew up with their life, their circumstances, their parents, their belief systems, their wounding - might you act the same? Is it possible that you were lucky that you didn't need to defend yourself in this way?
  • Consider that you may not exhibit this in an extreme way. Rather, you do it in subtle ways. Or toward yourself. Or only with one person. Or in the privacy of your home. Or you used to do it but no longer do.
  • Think of this as more of an impulse rather than a trait or behavior. Can you see where you feel the impulse to do this even if you never act on the impulse.
  • Is it possible that in another culture or time in the past that this behavior or trait would be considered acceptable?

What would you add? What has your experience been in gently integrating your shadows? Please share below in the comments!

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