Giving light to our shadows

Giving light to our shadows

Shadow - a part of yourself that one tries to; hide, repress, deny or ignore.  Try all you might the only way you can set both yourself and your shadows free is to give them light...

The Punisher (Part 1)

The concept of ‘Shadows’ (from Jungian Psychotherapy) is something that has resonated with me since the first time I learned about it.  Over the years I’ve read about them and explored some of my own personal shadows (parts of my psychological make up that I hide, ignore, repress or deny). Each time I’ve done this I’ve been given an insight that I’ve valued. I believe that it helped me to understand another side of myself or reasons why I behave in a certain way or do certain things.

Just like before I’d become aware of another shadow, I’d begun noticing that the way in which I; thought, behaved or responded to certain events and people was letting me know that there was a part of me that wanted to have its say.

In retrospect, I believe that I’d developed a sense of complacency and acceptance about myself.  Surely, I knew all there was to know about myself I reasoned, what was left couldn’t be that frightening or intimidating. However, I was about to be shown the error of my thinking, the sense of something not being right lasted a lot longer and there didn’t seem to be any clues to what was going on or why I felt the way I did. 

A part of me relished the sense of frustration as I imagined it would lead to another insight.  However, there was another part that became increasingly exasperated. Whenever I tried to look at what was going on I’d find myself becoming more and distracted. I wondered what could be going on, what could be so difficult for me to face and acknowledge.

Once again, I found a level of comfort in displacement activities, a part of me didn’t want to face this shadow whereas another part of me couldn’t let it go. The avoidance killed two birds with one stone.

Eventually at a loss for anything else to do, I went back to a familiar exercise where I visualise myself walking in a forest and become aware of someone walking next to me and listen to what they have to share. This didn’t help and I then went to an even earlier exercise where I imagine myself on a bus and one of my shadows comes to sit next to me.

The need to avoid both of these was so strong that I would find myself dosing or getting drowsy. Finally, I fell asleep and when I awoke, there he was in the half-asleep place, a presence that was so intense I felt intimidated.  Afterwards I named the shadow I was facing ‘the Punisher’. ‚ÄčAt the time I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. It would take more work to bring him to my conscious mind.

In some ways it was obvious, he was the one who punished me when things went wrong; the judgemental voice that said in a variety of ways things like; “see I told you”, ‘well that was stupid’ and a range of other negative and derisory things. He was the one who filled me with self-doubt, fear and at times loathing.

After some time, I saw that it went a lot farther than I had first expected. Not only was he there when things went wrong. He was also present when things went right or I was feeling positive. I could see how with support from one of my other shadows the trickster, he caused me to self-sabotage and doubt myself in so many ways. This was uncomfortable but familiar territory. Getting to know and understand ‘the trickster’ shadow had helped me to become familiar with that part of myself. However this shadow brought something deeper with him. I’d been able to dismiss some of the tricksters’ activities as ill-considered or poorly thought out. However some of the things ‘the Punisher’ was responsible for felt as if they had been intended to hurt me or make me feel ‘less than’. He felt I should be punished for something regardless if it had been a good or bad thing to do.

One of the challenges of this process was understanding why, whenever I visualised him I got a sense of sadness. However, I judged this wasn’t reflected in his actions. How could this shadow treat me in such a way and then expect me to acknowledge his sadness.

The answer came from my counsellor (at the time) and a book I had read in the past. In his book “Man’s search for meaning” Viktor Frankl talks about ‘Kapos’. Kapos were prisoners in concentration camps who would supervise the work of others. I had read about them with distaste and the realisation that there was on in my life wasn’t a pleasant one. The Punisher was my own personal Kapo ‘keeping me in line’ by punishing me for any transgressions that made him look bad. These could be ones where I’d; made a mistake, done something wrong or where something had gone well and I was feeling good about myself. It felt that the Punisher dealt with these changes in the status quo by making me feel bad about myself.

It was only when I could see that the Punisher (like the Kapo) was as much as prisoner of circumstances as I that I could begin to move on. Back in the mists of time I had been told (repeatedly) by those I trusted and saw as authority figures that “I wasn’t good enough” and that I didn’t deserve the right to celebrate my successes or mourn my failures. This had led to the creation of the Punisher to keep the boy in line even when the ‘grown-ups weren’t there. And he, not realising he had a choice had accepted the task as if his survival depended on it.

This realisation helped me to understand the sadness in the Punisher’s eyes. Regardless of how he’d been created he no longer wanted to be doing what he was, but the compulsion to ‘be a good boy and do as he was told’ still drove him in ways that it perhaps didn’t drive the rest of me. I saw that the first step to set us both free was to forgive him and the part of me that had needed him.

This hasn’t been an easy task and is one that I had much resistance to. Perhaps the hardest part has been that as someone who is empathic, caring and wants to help and support others there is also a part of me that wants to hurt and shame.

I still don’t know if I should weep for myself or the part of me that became the Punisher or that circumstances led to his creation. 

As they say in my men’s group “…and the journey continues.