Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Art Therapy Exercise: Working With Our Shadow

Without awareness of our unconscious practices we have little chance of freeing ourselves from the suffering they cause.
-Cheri Huber

In therapy when we do shadow work, we are talking about working with aspects of ourselves that are hidden from us. We may have rejected or denied these parts because we are ashamed or disconnected from them. Unfortunately they do not go away but get expressed through unhealthy and distorted ways. Shadow work brings these parts of ourselves into the light of the day where we can accept, understand and integrate these hidden drives feelings, needs and potentials. They then become a part of us in a healthy whole way.

How do you know when something is a shadow part? Often the things that most disturb and upset us about others are really a reflection of our own self.  We displace our own fears and emotions onto someone else. If the threat of an emotion or situation is overwhelming, we can totally disown it and dissociate from it.
For example, I was shamed as child for having speech problems. I did everything I could as a young child to hide the fact that my parents called me “the dumb one in the family.” I got high grades in school because I thought I was hiding the fact that I was really dumb. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t have gotten those marks if I was really dumb. When someone around me did something that I felt was embarrassing or stupid, I felt deeply ashamed of them. I felt that by acting that way, somehow that was insult to me. Until I could ‘see’ this shadow aspect, heal it and embrace it, I falsely projected my fears on others. When I reclaimed my shadow I had more compassion for others who didn’t understand something and more energy for myself because I did not have to spend energy on covering up my feelings. I had new insights and it no longer felt devastating or dangerous if I did not know something.

Art Therapy Shadow Exercise:
Draw three people who you admire and write the traits that you admire beside them. Next draw and write the traits of three people who irritate you. Now write:  In me are the following traits… and copy down all the traits in the first group. Next write: In me are also the following traits…and write down all the traits in the second group.
The truth is we contain all expressions that humans are capable of. All parts of us do not have to be acted on, but they do have to be acknowledged. I may never commit acts of violence, but I can’t pretend that the capability to do so is not in me. If I didn’t, I would be creating shadows not light.

These are some of the more common examples of how shadow translates into symptom (and vice versa).
Symptom                                                  Shadow

Resentment of outside pressure                 drive
Rejection (“Nobody likes me”)                 Rejection (“I reject them”)
Guilt (“You make me feel guilty”)            Resentment (of another’s demands)
Anxiety                                                      Excitement
Self-consciousness                                     Outward focus (on others)
Fear (“they want to hurt me”)                   Hostility (“I’m angry and attacking without knowing it.”)
Sad                                                            Mad
Withdrawn                                                Rejecting
I can’t                                                    “I won’t!”
Obligation (“I have to”)                         Desire (“I want to.”)
Hatred                                                    Self-hatred
Envy (“You’re so great”)                       “I’m better than I realize.”
From: Integral Life Practice
To learn more about shadow work read  Integral Life Practice by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard & Marco Morelli.


Carole said...

Great quote! Very interesting and helpful post.
Have a great week.

Karen Wallace said...

Thanks Carole. Hugs Karen

The Creative Beast said...

This is an amazing post Karen! It is really interesting how we can find ways to overcome (over-compensate?)for disabilities (real OR perceived) we may have as children and then carry them into adulthood until we are able to see the truth of the situation. Unfortunately, we may hold onto the old patterns past the time when they no longer serve us =-(

The exercise sounds fascinating and I may have to try it out to banish the irritation I feel for some people in my life =-\

Thank you for sharing your resources also!

Ms. said...

I photograph myself and others shadows quite a bit...sometimes the shadow falls on the place I want to remember, sometimes it is elongated. i see the shadow in this case as our imprint on the land...not a negative but as the trace of our being there. The shadow side of feelings is what makes feelings so vibrant, as the shadow side of an image does. Without dark, no light-without light, no darkness. I was recently at a friends house in Utah and photographed my shadow on some of the drawings she owns (mine). But I do love the exercise you proposed here, and will give it a go in my writing/drawing work. I always think of that evocative radio show...'Who knows what darkness hides...the shadow knows!"

Karen Wallace said...

Thanks for the interesting feedback! Warmly, Karen

Sara said...

Wonderful post! I am truly enjoying all of your posts...thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences. Very inspiring!

I am definitely going to try the shadow art therapy experiential that you mentioned (first with myself, and then perhaps with a few of my clients).

Looking forward to future posts!

Anonymous said...

Where did that quote come from??

Unknown said...

Your blog is so good i really inspire to see your blog thanks for share. Shadow Work and 6 Ways This is Happening Without you even Knowing


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