The Shadow

Have you ever gotten to a point where you realized, somehow, that you were a mess?  Have you ever gone through a time where you discovered deep in yourself some dark fear, or some deep insecurity, or some profound feeling of insufficiency that scared you?  Have you ever seen something in yourself that bothered you so much that you wished you could forget it, and go back to the way it used to be, but you realize you have opened Pandora’s Box and you can never go back again?  I received an email from someone in that position today, and here is my response:

Thanks for writing.  You are encountering what Carl Jung calls the shadow, what the Apostle Paul calls the flesh, what Freud calls the ego, what Pink Floyd calls The Wall, what Billy Joel calls The Stranger, what Brennan Manning calls The Impostor, what Jesus calls the self, and what most people would call the shit.  Manning and Richard Rohr are huge on this because they teach us not to despise the impostor.  What we need to do is learn to see it clearly and to love it and have compassion for it, while we gently hold its head under water until it stops twitching (a concept Jesus called death to self) But loving it is a huge thing.  It is easy to see our shadow side and despise it, but it is really not an object of hate, so much as of pity.

The shadow is there by your own making.  You created the impostor in order to deal with pain that you otherwise could not bear at a certain time in your life, and you needed it to function.  It helped you get to where you are now, and you actually owe it some gratitude.  But its time is done, only it doesn’t realize that.  It still wants to call the shots, and your job is to push it aside and start making your own calls.  Impostors are formed in childhood, and they remain forever children.  They will always demand that you get your own way, that you be comfortable, that life be easy and fair, and they will insist that you don’t really need to know all that crap they are keeping under cover “for you.”  They really think they are helping you.  After all, that once was their role.  But they have outlived their usefulness and they must get the heave-ho.  Paul called this putting away childish things.  So you meet your shadow, you become familiar with how it thinks, how it created the life that has insulated you from reality all of these years.  You thank it for helping you and getting you this far.  You tell it that you love it and care about it, but that its time is done.

Rohr teaches that when we hate others, it is actually our own shadow that we are hating.  The truth is, I am the enemy.  I am the person holding me back.  I am the one who has contempt for myself and wants to see me fail.  No one victimizes me.  Thus when we learn to love our shadow, we automatically learn to love others.  Manning’s book Abba’s Child is specifically about coming to love the impostor.

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  • I read two other Manning books prior to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and I feel they’ve kind of prepped me for this material. The Ragamuffin Gospel and the Signature of Jesus. I think these two books focus more on spiritually healthy ways to view ourselves, things we often neglect. I’ve just started Abba’s Child and recently covered the Impostor section.

    I was watching an episode of the X-files the other night. A kid could read minds. At one point he tells Scully, “Adults are always thinking one thing, but they almost always say something totally different.” He later tells one of the more villainous characters that he’s a liar – as if it’s a blanket statement about his entire make up. It reminded me of Jesus talking about the devil in John 8:44, describing him as the father of lies.

    I’ve been thinking about that ever since. It’s a lot to wrestle with.

    • Interesting observations. I can see how the Manning books, in a way, could prepare someone for the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality journey. On the other hand, it is largely our lack of emotional health that keeps us from grasping basic but essential things to begin with, such as the fact that we are deeply loved and completely accepted. It seems to me either could prepare one for the other.