Every night I walk my puppy, Rocky, before he goes to sleep. For the most part our walks are uneventful save for the occasional run-in with someone else and their dog or Rocky’s discovery of what appears to be a cow patty, but is actually a dried mud pile in the shape of a pancake. His excitement for such a thing is the equivalent of a child’s delight on Christmas morning. And, as the admiring mom of this little fur ball, I probably light up with the same glow as parents of human babies do when they see their children at their happiest. Recently, though, our walks have taken on a different vibe. All of a sudden, Rocky’s steps are more reticent. He stops abruptly, extends his neck out, sniffs the air intensely, lets out a grimace, and then scurries past me only to find himself in the same panicked state a few more feet down the way. Some of his behavior is in reaction to Halloween themed yard and porch displays intended to spook passersby, but Halloween or not, Rocky is most afraid of his own shadow.
Rocky’s shadow dance is endearing because it’s funny, cute, and inconsequential to his, my, or anyone else’s well-being. In the human world, the opposite is true; when we try to run away from ourselves we make a mess. Psychologiclly speaking, the “shadow” side of our personality is our unconscious. Think of it as a storage unit for repressed feelings (i.e. shame) and aspects of ourselves we’d prefer not to own (i.e. selfishness). We go about our lives engaging with the world thinking not much about anything in particular and, sooner or later, negative patterns emerge in the way we deal with fear, pain, stress, etc. More than likely, others observe and/or find themselves on the receiving end of the very real and problematic results of these patterns before we do. When I talk to clients about their blind spots, I’m referring to the lack of awareness around ways in which they compromise a healthy relationship with themselves and others (i.e. addiction, perfectionism, codependency). Most people don’t want to hear the truth about their own disfunction, but, interestingly, those same people want to feel loved, wanted, and accepted. The trickiest part about all of this is that you can’t be aware of how your shadow shows up until you investigate how you show up.
A dog’s shadow is just a shadow. Ours is a burial ground for vulnerability. Refusing to explore, acknowledge, and better understand what you’ve unknowingly put in the grave will cost you opportunities for true, meaningful connection. You can remain blind to the potency of your shadow’s presence, but doing so is a choice to live as a real life zombie in a house haunted by heartache, disappointment, and resentment. You’re tricking yourself if you think that sounds like a treat.