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How well do you know yourself? Do you ever have negative thoughts you want to avoid? And is your avoidance of your shadow harming you?

I want to talk about something I think could help a lot of people.

I recently did a course called ‘Shadow Mastery’ for my counselling profession, but found it extremely useful for myself also.  Our ‘shadow’ is a name for the side of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge, we want to avoid or we do not like. It could be thoughts, feelings or behaviours. We can be in denial of these parts, we can create personas to cover up these parts from others, or we can just keep them as secrets. Shadow mastery work is the therapy used to work on these parts, which is not what I want to talk about and is not a pure therapy I would use. I just want to bring to attention how avoiding parts of ourselves can create problems and if we can accept ourselves it can give us freedom.

I want to look at our thoughts and feelings.

Before I do, I want to say that by ‘thoughts and feelings’ I mean fleeting ones. If the thoughts and feelings become repetitive or you want to action them, then please seek the necessary help, as I am not condoning actual negative wishes or acting upon them.

A few things to ponder on:

Have you ever had a dark thought that has scared you? 

Have you wondered how you could possibly think of something so bad or unusual or unlike your ‘normal’ self?

Have you felt a certain way which made you feel bad? Negative thoughts about other people? 

How have these thoughts made you feel?

Have you ever changed your behaviour, told lies, made up a persona to cover up what you feel is bad about yourself?

Do you have secrets about how you have thought, felt or behaved, that you keep because you don’t want to acknowledge them or let anyone else know about them?

And lastly, are there any negative thoughts or feelings that are actually hidden inside of you because you don’t even want to acknowledge them to yourself?

I have no statistics for you, but I do know that most people could answer yes to at least one of the above. 

I have heard lots of inner thoughts over the years, from standing, knife in hand, having a split second thought about stabbing someone, to wishing someone dead, sexual thoughts that do not fit with the person, to mother’s wanting to walk out of the door on their child and never go back and many more. A thought is a thought, a feeling is a feeling, but in the majority of cases, these things are not carried out and they are very short lived thoughts. They may be very unpleasant thoughts or feelings, but we are human and we are not perfect.

The persona is a false self that we portray to others, so that we may fit in better, impress others’, be socially accepted etc. The persona can portray different morals, personality traits and actions to the persons real and actual ones. This is a kind of act and based upon what the person feels other people want, rather than their own true traits. Our persona can help us to fit into society better or get along better with people.

Personal honesty is somewhat of a challenge for everyone. Most people are not completely honest with themselves about their traits, agendas, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is a hard task to master and comes with its own difficulties as we sometimes do not want to own them. We may have issues with getting angry or impatient, but we don’t want to own those things so we deny we do them. We may have agendas but don’t want to own them if we feel they may be viewed as selfish for example. We may have dark thoughts and cannot bear the idea that they came from our own head, so we dismiss them. We may have feelings that make us feel bad so we try to crush them or mask them. We may be in denial of certain behaviours, such as drinking too much or being argumentative. But, if we can accept these things within ourselves, whether they come from our conscious or unconscious we will be more at peace with ourselves and more accepting of self and we will know ourselves better. We can then use personas, masks or blame of others’ less as a result. But, if we become appalled by them, create fear around them, overthink them, or try to avoid them they can become a problem in varied ways…

If we do not like something about ourselves and try to avoid that part, it is not uncommon to ‘project’ this trait onto another person. How often have you heard someone say something negative about you or someone else and you have thought ‘You need to look in the mirror’ as they are actually describing themselves. We can all do that, and most likely all have, but we are better off acknowledging and working on our own issues than trying to transfer them to someone else as this is just trying to pass on the responsibility.

It can affect our relationships. If we cannot accept a part of ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to accept us? And will we make assumptions of them based on our own secrets?

A sense of chaos, depression, confusion, questioning all beliefs, morals and assumptions, questioning the way you think and make decisions every day, and it may also cause us to behave in morally dubious ways.

We can also get into a state of overthinking and enter a cycle of negativity. It could look something like this triangle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours… 

How could I think such an awful thing (thought)

I feel awful about it (feeling)

Going quiet in thought (behaviour)

I feel alone, no-one else would think such a bad thing (back to ‘thought’)

I feel isolated and sick (feeling)

Avoiding others (behaviour)

And the thoughts go round and round, which could create anxiety, low mood and more.

Tips

Talk – Can you talk to your friend, partner, parents, or anyone else you trust? Have they ever had negative thoughts that didn’t concur with their morals or ethics? Sharing is key to understanding that we are not alone.

Relax

1. Sit comfortably, and tense each set of muscles in the body for a few seconds, then let go. Feel every part and concentrate. Take around 15 minutes on this daily.

2. Imagine a string running down the middle of your body, imagine energy flowing in and out through it. This is a grounding method.

3. Basic mindfulness meditation. Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing. Allow thoughts to come and go. Do not judge the thoughts, just bring your focus back to your breath or mantra.

Pay attention. Notice what comes and goes in your mind, whether it’s sensations via the senses, thoughts about the past or future, ideas or emotions. Discover what make you feel good or bad, positive or negative.

Notice subtle body sensations and emotions and name them without judgement and let them pass. It could be ‘a sound’ (ie a bird singing outside), ‘a feeling’ (ie a bodily ache), ‘sad’ (an emotion) etc. Once you have acknowledged what they are and named them, do not judge them and let them go.

Stay with it. Even if you find it hard to relax or notice a lot of thoughts or feelings coming and going, stick with it, and do not judge them or yourself. Just let them go. You will find it easier with practise and will find many benefits and relaxation from the process.

Go with the flow of how your thoughts and feelings arise and how they pass.

Distract – I don’t always suggest distraction as it can be an avoidance technique, but in this situation, distraction can be a good thing, so you can take your mind away from the thoughts. Do something nice for yourself or others. Go out, do a hobby, take a walk, have a massage, chat to someone…

If the thought comes back – Try to accept it as being yours. OK, this thought has entered my head but I am not going to give it any more time. It is just a thought or feeling.

If a physical feeling has occurred due to the over thinking – Work to tackle it. If it is a sick feeling, have a hot water bottle or drink plenty of water. If it is a feeling of isolation, call someone up or go out. Fight it. 

All the best and take care 🙂 

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