As the days of darkness give way to the ever lengthening light, it is the perfect time to dig into the rich soil of our psyche and examine our alter-egos – those holders of overwhelming feelings which surprise us with their force as they emerge unbidden and raw from the dusky corners from which we have stuffed them. Jungians call this ‘shadow work’ – bringing what is hidden to the light of consciousness and in doing so, create space to make different decisions than our automatic responses.
This process can be quite deep but I have also seen it used for avoidance of real, primal, feelings. While most are happy to reveal their ‘sexy witch’ or ‘fire-breathing dragon’ doppelganger, we are less inclined to reveal the truth of much of our shadow side – a sobbing baby, screaming for warmth, food, or attention. Or a toddler, digging in her heels against parental authority during potty training. Not so sexy, perhaps, but oh so heartbreakingly real.
Many, if not most, adults still operate from interrupted stages of natural growth which have been distorted because of life situations or trauma in relation to these stages. We are left feeling incomplete, or as if there is something fundamentally wrong with us when really we are carrying the vestiges of pain we could not process as babies. We do not have memories of the cause of the pain in our brains as the frontal cortex and long term memory areas do not come online until around age 3. The body however, holds the pre-verbal memories and constructs physical defenses around the pain which felt too immense to our baby-selves.
We may not initially be able to touch into the pre-verbal material as our defenses are now solidified in the way we interact with our environment and in our relationships. We present a smiling face to the world, meanwhile holding a world of anger, shame and self-loathing below the neck or waist. “I’m fine” we say with a tight smile when asked how things are going. Others can feel our anger, discomfort and shame beneath the façade and it invokes a feeling of incongruity. The more out of touch we are with our held emotions, the more people are confused by us.
We only want what everyone wants – connection – but we see that we have a tougher time getting there than most – or pretend that we don’t need the same social touchstones as others. We act highly superior and ‘pump up’ what we present as our good qualities. Or play the ‘highly inferior’ role – the victim who hopes that someone will see our plight and rescue us from isolation. We escape into abstraction of the ‘left brain’ and beat people down with logic and wonder why they walk away. Or we talk too much, thinking that we have to keep others constantly engaged so they won’t leave us. Do you see yourself in any of these defensive strategies? I personally have used all of them at one time or another – it depends on which version of me is driving the bus of my consciousness at the moment.
The spiritual goal is to have one voice representing consciousness in control – one voice driving the bus. To do so, we must resolve the growth stages at which parts of us are stuck. So how do we get to these baby places which are not available to us through talk therapy? The answer is simple, but not taught by our culture in a way which makes true transformation possible. Cultivating body awareness and becoming conscious of what is held in those dark recesses of our fascial web is a huge piece of the puzzle to growing ourselves up and awakening to our full potential as human beings.