QUESTION: How do we reckon with our shadow self? I feel this looming darkness, sadness, inner decaying. My whole being is contracting. My teeth are grinding and my jaw is on lockdown. I am over-exhausted. I’m being shaken to the core. I feel these unconscious holding patterns and programs more than ever, like I can’t shake these things off, these limitations that say I’m not enough, I can’t give to myself, I am unworthy... I am at point where I’m no longer willing to endure certain people, conversations, or situations where I am given the role of caretaker. My threshold is so thin that I can’t do things the way I used to.

I am coming to the realization that certain caretaking patterns that are affecting me today came from my early development. It seems like something of a survival mechanism of a child, that finding ways to connect to family have created subconscious patterns of constantly attracting situations where I am being corded into and latched onto. I often wonder what kind of work it would take to shift this whole energy pattern, and at this point I ask, will I ever be comfortable in myself, with myself, proud of myself, will I ever feel worthy of feeling safe in here?

ANSWER: You are answering your own question. Attention and self-awareness are the keys to the healing process. You are actively practicing both. It is not that we “reckon with our shadow self” as much as we learn to become aware of and then heal by integrating those aspects.

Shadow work has become a common catchphrase these days. Investigate deeply to understand what one means by saying it. All healing, on some level, involves integrating the repressed aspects of ourselves and releasing behaviors that no longer serve us. That can happen through psychotherapy, bodywork, or any of the many spiritual practices that are available. The truth is that many of us, initially, might unconsciously approach these practices as another form of shadow repression. We can start these programs as another window dressing to quench the stink of a part of ourselves that is dying under these heavy masks we all wear. As I always remind everyone, this is a process not an event. No matter what we are told and sold, this whole healing is a process that can take many, many years. Not a sexy thing we want to hear, but that is how it is.

The fact that you “feel these unconscious holding patterns and programs more than ever” is a big deal. That means that your psyche is now strong enough to examine what is going on underneath the surface. Do not underestimate the power of this awareness. The fact that you are “no longer willing to endure certain people” or that your “threshold is so thin” is wonderful. It means you no longer are willing to tap dance for your dinner/love. This is powerful business as well as being terrifying. The old does not work, and the new has not yet revealed itself. But it will reveal itself, step by step. You are now in the step of seeing clearly that what served your young survival is now killing you. Keep looking at as well as sitting with this.

You are correct in your assertion that “certain caretaking patterns that are affecting me today came from my early development”. That is the helpless child doing her best to survive. It always has to be remembered: the abject terror of a young child in the face of not being seen. I will add that whether it is a perceived threat or a real threat does not matter, since the child takes it as real.

So now start reprogramming yourself. You know what is poison. Start staying away from that. You might not fully know what nourishes you yet, although that will also reveal itself. Just begin where you are by taking care of yourself in the ways that are shown in this moment. You are in no contract to do things that you do not want to do nor be with people that feel off to you. With all the compassion you can muster, step back from the people and behaviors that do not feel right anymore. You are in the midst of the “kind of work… to shift this whole energy pattern”. Learn to tolerate the discomfort of letting go as well as not knowing what is next. Your emotions are your compass: feel your way into your new life. Let it guide you with what needs to go, stay, or be welcomed in. It is through this process of radical honesty that we start to integrate our shadow aspects.