When shadows become a mirror

“When we find ourselves obsessed with aspects of other people’s shadows, it is only because they have touched one of our own.” ~Debbie Ford

I have become very aware in recent months just how true this is for me. As yoga continues to increase my ability to detach from situations and just observe myself, I’m realizing how very often the times that I become most obsessed with the shadow of another person are those times when their shadow is functioning as a mirror to me of my own shadow. In fact, the more I obsess over their shadow, the stronger that shadow aspect of myself turns out to be.

I’ve heard it said that we can only see in others that which is also part of ourselves. I must confess that I’ve spent much of my life being quite critical of others … okay, okay, if I’m really honest, I have had quite a tendency toward self-righteousness. (I cringe to use that word even though I know it’s accurate.) It wasn’t as if I felt that I was really superior to others—in fact, I was usually quite concerned that the opposite was true—it just seemed to me that I could so obviously see what was wrong with their lives, so why couldn’t they see it?

I’ve realized over the years that this is true of all of us. It’s always easier to see someone else’s faults and blind spots than it is to see our own. That’s why they are called blind spots, I guess. The more I realize that all the frustration and anger and obsession that I put into the way I think someone else needs to live their life is just a means of me avoiding dealing with the exact same thing in my own life, the less energy I’m willing to put into their stuff. If I’m going to expend all of that energy, I’d rather put it into cleaning up my own life than obsessing about someone else’s.

So now every time I find myself starting to obsess on another’s shadow, I immediately use it as a mirror to look for that same thing in my own shadow. And I’ve found it there every single time.

I am really not enjoying seeing just how much ugliness exists in my own shadow. Some days I despair of ever becoming the kind of person I wish to be when I see all that I’ve stuffed into my shadow. But as I am slowly learning to treat myself with compassion as I recognize just how difficult working with my shadow can be, the more I’m learning to treat others with the same kind of compassion.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have boundaries or that I will tolerate bad behavior from someone who is acting out of their shadow in ways that are harmful to me. It does mean that I no longer feel so self-righteous when I see shadows in another person because I am so very aware of the reflection of my own shadow staring back at me. I suspect it’s going to take me the rest of my life to clean up my own stuff, so that’s where my energy is going from now on.

As much as I hate seeing how much junk is in my own shadow, it’s actually quite freeing to be putting my energy into working on myself (something I do have some control over) instead of trying to pour it into other people (who I have absolutely NO control over).

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  1. Pingback: Befriending my shadow « Journey Through the Chrysalis

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