By Jennifer McCartney
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Our shadows, whether we realize it or not, dictate the quality of our lives, impacting our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions, inactions and choices. They determine the amount of success, love, joy, abundance and confidence we will or will not realize. When we deny our shadows and hide the parts of ourselves that we deem inappropriate or do not like or want to be, we whittle away at our full self-expression.
Kelley Kosow, life coach and chief creative officer and faculty member at The Ford Institute for Transformational Training, founded by New York Times bestselling author Debbie Ford, joined Tammy Mastroberte, founder of Elevated Existence Magazine for the “Living an Elevated Existence Mind, Body & Soul Summit Season 2,” to explain how we can bring the light of awareness and compassion to our shadow selves and improve all areas of our lives.
“The shadow is the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to be, that we try to hide, that we deem inappropriate,” Kosow told listeners. “Little by little, we begin to whittle away parts of ourselves. Our concept is based on wholeness—it’s about being able to live to the full expression and the full range of who you are.”
So how do we develop these shadows, and where do they come from? Kosow explained our shadows are often something we develop very young. When we’re upset, or we don’t know how to handle an event, we blame it on ourselves and become shameful. We unconsciously choose to hide those parts of ourselves away. For example, if a child stutters in school, they might come to believe they are stupid, and then they try and hide that they are stupid for everyone around them. Or, it could be as a child, if our parents are divorced and we never see our father. Our shadow self tells us we are unlovable. Then as we grow up we keep attracting events, people and situations to ourselves to prove this point right.
“It creates self-sabotage,” she said. “So it’s the seven-year-old that’s running your life, not the mature adult because you’re going back to that place when the shadow belief was created.” So even though our shadows are living in the outskirts of our conscious mind, they’re actually running the operating system of our conscious mind. “It’s there even though you don’t realize it, impacting every aspect of your daily life,” she explained.
These shadow selves we refuse to own can manifest themselves in many ways in our adult lives, sabotaging us and popping up at the worst time and in the worst way. Kosow shared an example of a public figure with a shadow — Elliott Spitzer, the governor of New York.
“My favorite all time example is Elliot Spitzer who went around trying to rid New York City of prostitution . . . and then was caught with a prostitute. So that’s a perfect example of a shadow quality.”
We often create an opposite persona of our shadow to cover it up, she explained. “We put so much energy in the denial of it,” she said. But we are not healing that wound until we learn to embrace the shadow and find the gift hidden within it. “Every quality has a gift to it,” she told listeners, even those we believe are negative or undesirable. And we possess all of them — all the qualities we don’t like in others exist within us, and we want to develop a loving relationship with them so they can’t sabotage or hinder us.
We might think we don’t want to be nasty, angry or a failure, but there is a gift in all of these qualities. If we let go and embrace these qualities, we can be more whole and authentic. If we let go and embrace failure, for example, we can see failure allows us to leave a bad marriage or allows us to leave a job we don’t want—both which offer positive outcomes.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to evolve,” Kosow explained. “The shadow is here to show you you so you can be who you are and live a fuller life and an authentic life.”
Kosow shared three steps to finding and embracing our shadow selves:
1. Unconceal — We have to know what our shadows are so the first step is to unconceal them. “I love when I find a shadow because I know on the other side of that shadow is freedom,” said Kosow.
We can look to the outside world to see what our triggers might be. What aggravates us about someone? The world is our mirror and is there to teach us, and because we can’t see ourselves we need other people to show us. If we are triggered by someone, we are reacting to a part of ourselves. “Anything you judge in others is is probably something you have yourself,” she said.
2. Own It — Say, “I am that.” So if we see someone that’s abusive—verbally or physically, we should examine our own actions. We may not be physically or emotionally abusive, but it may manifest itself differently. We may be self-abusive. “Every time I had a cookie when I was on a diet, or beat myself up for not being perfect, that’s abusive,” said Kosow. The quality may manifest itself very differently than the trait we see in another person. We may not be a “cheater” in the sense that we are unfaithful in your marriage, but we may cheat ourselves
3. Embrace It — Here is where we embrace and find the gift within the shadow. How does that quality actually serve you? For example, maybe not wanting to be a cheater may make you brutally honest. Or it may make you incredibly loyal. If you’re judgmental that shadow quality may make you a more discerning person and help you from being taken advantage of in life. If you feel unlovable, you may go to the other extreme and prove how lovable you are, and the gift in that is you’re helping other people, you have a lot of compassion for people, or you’ll have really good friends. “That’s what we call embracing the gift,” she said.
The outer world is a reflection of our own world, Kelley concluded. “If you only own 50 percent of yourself you’re only manifesting 50 percent of the real world. If you can own all of who you are, that’s when you’re open to manifesting everything,” she said. Once we have embraced 100 percent of our own potential, that’s what we will be able to create in the outer world. “
You can say to me, ‘Kelley you’re a bitch.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I know,’” she said. “There’s a gift in everything and owning those shadows can only make us more whole.”