11/15/2011 08:27 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2012

It Takes One to Know One: Dancing With the Shadow Self

"What a jerk! I cannot believe they did that! What a backstabber!"

How many times have we had a charged reaction to someone's behavior? According to the Jungian psychology of the emotional shadow, any charged reaction we have to another person's behavior is really about our self.

As children we play with our shadow, fascinated with how it follows us everywhere we go; and then we learn we have another shadow that although invisible to the eyes, it colors everything we do. The shadow self embodies those aspects of our personality that are out of alignment with our ideas about who we are; and having judged these characteristics as unacceptable, ugly and bad, we unconsciously deny, hide and cover them in shame. We are born with this element of self and it is as real as we are. Accessing greater levels of personal power lies in our willingness to face these parts of our self that live repressed in our unconscious mind as shortcomings, weakness and animal instincts, so that we can integrate them and make use of their gifts.

How then do we see the shadow? We see our shadow self in others. Because our ego is so adept at hiding from us what we have judged as "bad" about ourselves, we then assign these "ugly" aspects to other people. In other words, we project our subconscious, "undesirable" traits onto other people. In this dynamic, a person who is outraged by the sexual freedom expressed by someone else is denying their own expression of sexual freedom in the past or present, or their ability to express it in the future.

When I first learned about my shadow, I began using everyone in my life as a mirror. If someone's behavior gave me an emotional charge, I assumed it pointed to an internal issue I could work on. It was painful at first, since I had so much resistance. It was difficult to accept that a person who broke my trust was reflecting to me my own "trust issues": my inability to trust myself, my intuition, my heart, my higher power, etc. Yet, in my acceptance of the opportunities to grow and evolve that my shadow offered, I began to see my habitual and erroneous interpretation of people's words and actions.

Through meditation, I learned how to tap into levels of myself beyond my ego. This allowed me the objectivity to look at myself through a new lens of honesty. Each and every time, when I gave myself permission to be safe in my own little non-judgmental silo of meditation, I would discover how the person who had annoyed, upset or outraged me was showing me the hidden aspects of myself.

Sometimes the realizations (to see with my real-eyes) were so painful, I would find myself sobbing in the face of seeing my "ugly" parts so clearly and having to admit that I had indeed attracted certain experiences to myself, so that I could learn and move on.

Of great help in beginning this process many years ago was the book "The Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav. He states:

The loss of a mate or a friend or a colleague through distrust is not a punishment for distrustfulness. It is the result of refusing to look consciously within oneself at the issue of trust. It is an experience that results from choosing repeatedly to distrust instead of to trust. A distrustful person will create unpleasant or painful experiences... but eventually, this path will lead to and through the great lesson of trust. This same dynamic applies to every personality characteristic that is not an expression of compassion and harmony.

Living in a society that shuns blatant acts of self-praise, I learned that when we admire people we are often projecting the best and beautiful parts of ourselves onto them. This is an amazing way to discover our "good" aspects that we have not yet embraced due to fear of reprisals or not wanting to make "too much of ourselves."

Bit by bit, this has been my decades-long journey to self discovery. I have mustered up the courage to delve into my shadows consciously; to take an honest look at the disharmonious aspects of myself and to make the choice to challenge my anger with understanding, my distrust with open-heartedness and so on. With this approach, my shadows have been my greatest gift. No longer do they have the power to incapacitate me with devastating experiences. Instead by embracing them, I have experienced a freedom and joy beyond description as I move toward self-mastery with earnestness and sincerity.

Using everything in my life as a mirror, I am able to commune with myself to embrace those parts of myself, I once denied, and bring my shadow issues into alignment with the higher aspects of myself that reflect beauty, harmony, truth and love. This process, which I call "Life Sculpting," allows me to live in an internal space of well-being and empowerment; for to know oneself is true power.

Learn more about Life Sculpting™ at