What Dealing with My ‘Shadow Thoughts’ Taught Me
I was a happy child, despite lots of hardship and instability, because I was fine in my skin. There was no self-hatred, no doubt, at least nothing conscious.
And the cursed year of 13 happened. My confidence plummeted to Marina Trench levels, I learned of acne, my pretty child self started morphing into a slobby, smelly thing that I couldn’t understand. And the thoughts started to appear: lust, depression, torn innocence, nightmares, the first feeling of being ugly.
Puberty was cruel to me, if you couldn’t tell. Outside circumstances didn’t help either, but that’s another story.
I didn’t grow up in a religious household, and I knew all the facts from my mother, whose support was invaluable during this time. No; it was an inner conflict combined with poor self care and respect. I don’t know if having more friends at this time would helped.
On one side, I had my growing feminism, need for independence, and spirituality, all of which emphasized being strong, ‘pure’ in a certain way, and sticking to your word. On the other, the ‘shadow thoughts’, which all seemed to spit at my highest aspirations and how I wanted to be. Thoughts no ‘good’ feminist/enlightened lady/female badass should have. And that’s all you need to know about their identity. Seriously. Don’t ask.
This identity crisis led me to make many changes, and I earnestly believe it turned me into a better person, but I could easily gotten stuck in my 13–15 year old self’s mindset.I used it to my advantage, and here’s how.
Here’s what 13–15 year old me had very wrong: that your thoughts are you, that you must be perfectly consistent always, and that good people have no dark side and are basically perfect angels blessing us mortals for some reason.
Let’s start with the first and probably the most difficult to comprehend. Most of us likely believe that our thoughts have something to do with our identity, and they do. But (leaving out any mysticism) we are our consciousness, our words, and our deeds. Though our thoughts come from our brain (the same place our identity originates), they are just little sparks of electricity that we translate into words and feelings. If you aren’t convinced, think of the strangest dream you ever had. Was that the real you?
The problem with being perfectly consistent is right in the name: in a universe with entropy, perfect does not exist. It is literally against the laws of physics. Therefore, it’s foolish to expect perfection, especially in ourselves.
Just as there’s no light without darkness or wet without dry, every person has a ‘good’ side and a ‘bad’ side. There’s different balances and proportions, but that is basically true. One cannot eliminate one of your halves, no matter what you do. You can only be aware and have self control.
So, how I did get there?
At first, I just went into denial and silence. But denial made the shadows more powerful, and silence made me feel more isolated than before. Combined with some extremely painful situations in my teen years and a unfortunate hormone balance, it started to send me into a depression.
When I turned 15, it became clear to me that stagnation was my worst enemy, and I took action. I started to take charge of my education and began to develop a practice, and I became more confident in myself. The shadow was still flitting in the back of my mind. My practice taught me that fear and avoidance of something often means you need to face it. I started researching, little by little. I soon discovered my shadows weren’t as frightening as I thought, but neither could I wish it away.
I had switched into the second phase of getting to know my shadow. I read all perspectives and pondered it over and over. As I did so, my fear began to lift somewhat and some of my worse habits started to fall away. Denial hides more than you think.
Slowly and with much help from my practice, I started to accept. Acceptance doesn’t mean you suddenly act completely differently or think anything genuinely bad in your shadow is good; it simply means you acknowledge it and even embrace it. To have self control, you need some self love, and you cannot love halfway.
You can apply this to any shadow of your own. Guilt and avoidance are your enemies.
Another realization: I lost so much energy, time, and happiness to fear and denial of my shadow and not realizing it wasn’t in conflict with the rest of me, that it must be just as bad for many others. It’s not worth it.