Befriending My Shadow Self

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For most of 2019, I worked as a therapist at an inpatient facility for people with eating disorders. During my tenure there, I received the remainder of the clinical hours necessary to become fully licensed as a psychotherapist. It was also there that I received some of the greatest lessons in my life to date.

I was pregnant during this time, my belly swelling underneath layers of fabric and skin, the arrhythmic kicks of my son a reminder of my own dualitythat of a therapist facilitating individual sessions and process groups for people with eating disorders and that of a mother. Divergent roles equally vital to my sense of self and well-being and inarguably both requiring me to be open to the entirety of the human experience, to the full spectrum of emotions and feelings no matter how gritty and raw. Knowing myself completely is the greatest tool I can bring to each of these scenarios however, like so many of the people I treat, the road to self-knowledge hasn"t been easy.

It is Carl Jung who coined the term shadow self, a concept which was greatly influential in my work here. In Jungian language, the shadow self encapsulates all that we find undesirable within ourselves: all of our darker impulses, desires, fantasies and inclinations as well as our garden variety shortcomingsall the things we reject in order to preserve our sense of self. For the majority, these parts of us live in exile, regulated to the mysterious domain of the unconscious, longing to be made conscious, longing for acceptance.

It is only by integrating and embracing the darkness within that we have a chance of becoming whole.

The mostly wan, listless faces encircling the therapy room on any given day presented themselves to me in various stages of alertness. Many eyes remained averted, some were closed, only a few burned brightly back at mea stab of defiance against their owners" descent into a slow-burning mental illness that literally ate away at their flesh, leaving them cognitively hazy and physically incapacitated.

In session, one of my patients confessed to me that anger felt like an unsafe emotion for her so she refused to access it, instead projecting a forced cheer, certain she would be unlovable otherwise. Speaking of the times in her life when she had experienced anger, her hands trembled and voice quavered. When she was introduced to the concept of the shadow self, she adamantly denied she was in possession of any of those qualities; it terrified her. Much of our subsequent work together revolved around getting acquainted with her shadow and how to let anger in without fear of being engulfed. All emotions have an intelligence to them, even those we deem bad. From them we learn so much about ourselves and what we need.

For fear of painting all those with eating disorders with too broad of a stroke, let me state that the reasons that bring each patient to treatment are highly individualized and personal; stories of extreme hardship and trauma weren"t uncommon. Still, when all these distinctions are stripped away, universal commonalities remain, and it was from these commonalities that I learned the most. Our sameness resonated, despite our differing roles.

Many of our patients had an extreme aversion to sitting with difficult feelings, something that can easily be generalized to so many of us. They found safety in numbness. Most all shared a real avoidance to looking inward for fear of what might be uncovered. These defense mechanisms, while protective in nature, prevented healing, amplifying their illness. They cut them off from the sense of vitality and understanding that radical honesty with oneself provides.

Many of us don"t go to the extreme lengths that some of my patients did to conceal our shortcomings, finding avoidance of our shadow in subtler ways. As therapists, we tread cautiously with self-disclosure, but it felt appropriate for me to empathize with them. It was impossible for me to witness our patients" inability to love all of themselves just as they were without silently questioning my own ability to do so.

For most of 2019, I worked as a therapist at an inpatient facility for people with eating disorders. During my tenure there, I received the remainder of the clinical hours necessary to become fully licensed as a psychotherapist. It was also there that I received some of the greatest lessons in my life to date.
Quoted From: https://portlandtraumahealing.com/befriending-my-shadow-self/

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