Big Little Lies and shadows

When I was pregnant with my son I built a vegetable patch. It was in my sunny backyard and produced the most beautiful tomatoes, zucchinis and herbs. I went to hospital and had my boy and when I came home the neighbours had moved the old house off the lot and started building two high-density homes, right against the fence line. Within weeks my healthy garden was plunged into total shade and every leaf began to wither.

Shadows can kill

I had room to move to a new part of the yard and start again but 21 years later my main concern when looking for a house to buy is ‘Can someone steal my light?’

I had another shadow hanging over my pregnancy. Like most expectant mothers, I wanted a beautiful, natural pregnancy and birth but a family member who should have known better told me very early on in my pregnancy that she had been to a (well known) clairvoyant who said I wouldn’t have any children.

Yes, that’s right… This person told me, a first time mum-to-be that a very well known clairvoyant had told her I wouldn’t have any children…

Shadows are caused by trauma and that, dear readers, was bloody traumatic. She was wrong, of course, but when my happy healthy birth plan went out the window for a c-section I was terrified.

Shadows have weight.

I still carry the weight of those words because I will never trust that person again. I’d like to think those words no longer cast a shadow, that i don’t need an apology or an admission of wrong-doing (because they are two completely different beasts…) but I think both of those things would help. This post is shining a light on the shadow.

I just wonder…what was their shadow? What on earth made them say something so… I want to say callous, cruel, nasty… but I am going to go with unthinking? Maybe the clairvoyant did say it, people say all kinds of stuff, but why did someone who should have cared more about me feel the need to tell me?

I have a belief that when people intentionally inflict hurt on another human being, it’s because they’re hurting themselves in some way.

Sharon Pope on The Elephant Journal

I came late to the party, but I watched Big Little Lies last month. I don’t know if Liane Moriarty intended it but the theme of that story is Shadow. The second season took up where the book left off and without any spoilers, it became obvious to me that each character was living with the weight of their shadow. Childhood trauma, sexual assault, abuse, poverty, neglect. Each character was either trying to run from the pain or bury it but each found these buried aspects of their personality, or shadow, playing out in their lives.

If we don’t shine light on the shadow it plays out. It can’t help but play out. It craves the light.

What is the shadow?

In Jungian psychology, the “shadow”, (id, or shadow aspect/archetype) refers to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious.

In short, the shadow is the unconscious side of our personality, all the aspects we can’t see and consequently can’t own.

It’s not just manifestations of major experiences like physical abuse or childhood trauma but also the development of coping mechanisms like people-pleasing, boundary issues, addictions, and even fear around authenticity that we learn. It’s the fuel for the critical voice in our head, the narrator of our list of fuck-ups and Personal Worsts. It’s the knack of constantly finding the worst possible relationships? Promising jobs that start well then end in tears. The same dramas unfolding over and over in our lives.

In Jung’s model of the psyche, there are various personified structures that interact with one another in our inner world. Two of these, the persona and the anima/animus, are relational; the persona relates to the external world, and the anima/animus to the internal world. The ego, which is primarily body-based and may be understood as the executive part of the personality, stands alongside the shadow, and these two are to do with our identity.


What can I do about my shadow?

Dr Rick Hanson says we can’t heal the unconscious until it is forced into the light.

We all have times in our lives when it’s all just too much and we have to get help either by going to a therapist, hitting the meditation cushion, reading, talking to friends. Self-inquiry is the crucial first step…or is it the second step after the ‘breaking open‘ part?

Just like the characters in Big Little Lies eventually we’re all going to be forced to open our eyes, get real, to heal, even if it’s just to stop the chaos for a few minutes.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know why we humans seem to require multiple wallops over the head before we’re prepared to put the work in but our shadows stay hidden until we’re forced to face them. All too often we run from uncomfortable situations when getting triggered is a perfect learning opportunity.

Working through our dislikes, our frustrations, and even our grudges, is a path to self-knowledge. Personally, I am trying to sift through every aspect of my personality which is why I use the tag Learning Our Loud. I am tougher on myself that anyone will ever be – no stone left unturned. I just got to the point where I was so fed up with being unhappy, especially in my work life, repeating the same patterns over and over.

Right now in this glorious clusterfuck of a year that is 2020, we’re all facing something of a collective reckoning about the way we go through our daily lives. In many ways were being forced to examine our wants and drives, our desires and our deal-breakers. As a species we are being asked to question the way society keeps people down, the choices we make that keep us down. We must examine the inequality, the racism, the way ‘we have always done things,’

We have a tricky time ahead as nations and individuals working through our individual and collective shadows to find a way to live in this currently not-so-brave new world.


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