When it Comes to Finding Your True Reflection:You Can't Be Afraid of Your Own Shadow

What do you reflect to the world? Where do you find your reflection in it? Is your outward reflection an accurate representation of your inner one? Is there anything you are ‘faking,’ or that you need to let go of that doesn’t match who you are on the inside?

If so, the Dagara tribe of West Africa would say “it’s time to remove your mask” - not only in order for you to see yourself clearly, but also to be seen clearly by others as well.

The big question is: do our inner and outer reflections match? And if not how do we bring them as close together as possible? How do we remove our masks?

Why is it hard to project an accurate reflection?

The Ancient Container Where Self Was Born

When we are born, and when we die, we are closest to Spirit – closest to our original, whole, essential self. In indigenous societies as we grew, mentoring and ages old rites of passage were in place to guide our emotional and spiritual growth into adulthood.  Who we are would be nurtured and cultivated until we could learn to maintain it ourselves. We would then be initiated into the healthy adult version of our original, whole, essential self. We would accept and understand the expectations of adulthood in our community, because they would have been communicated to us, and we would understand and uphold its shared values- including a connection to Spirit. We would be a part of a system that reflected back our true nature as standard operating procedure.

The Mirror of This World

We don’t live like that anymore. We have collectively abandoned (because we have forgotten or been deprived of) the ways we have always used and valued to keep us connected to ourselves, to each other, and to Spirit. We have lost the container of shared values that built healthy civilization.

Our values are manufactured by the media- and because they are based on consumption and disposability- instead of community and Spirit- this takes us even farther away from knowing our own true nature. The nature of our society is extreme competition, which promotes the life of the individual, over the guidance of community.

When there are so few places in our external environment where we as humans see our true reflection- and where we are so busy separating ourselves from others- even just by judgment- not only do we no longer know ourselves; we don’t even know what we don’t know. It makes us confused, depressed, and self-judgmental- causing us to act out or isolate.

The Psychologist, and Human Development Counselor Dr. John Burton relates that, “in some general sense, a person’s internal conflict seems to stem from the battle for life control between the conscious and unconscious mind…during our childhood we are taught to live from our conscious mind. It seems one of the primary tasks of adulthood is to access and reclaim the connection to the infinite by learning how to use your unconscious mind.”

A purpose of rites of passage in the ancient container was to maintain the healthy balance and communication between the unconscious and the conscious mind, allowing for healthy self-reflection. When this is no longer a part of our growth and personal development, a shadow self is born.

To see our reflection in a mirror, there must be light. And it turns out that finding our true reflection is also a function of light.

Shining Light on the Shadow Self - The Blind Spot in Our Self Reflection

Dr. Burton describes the psychology of how our shadow selves are created in his article, Loving Your Shadow Into the Light. “The dynamics that create our shadow occur when some part of self that experiences judgment and rejection by a significant other person, usually in childhood, aka emotional trauma. As a result of the trauma response, we come to believe that this judged part of self actually endangers our life. Survival instinct then leads us to also reject this part our self. We separate a part or parts of self as a reaction to emotional trauma.”

“Self-defeating behavior reveals the shadow, as does our inner dialogue just before a self-defeating event. The dialogue may include self-talk about inabilities, inferiorities or pointing out personal limitations. Shadow may convince us that certain others are dangerous to us, convincing us to act out. Shadow actually devotes itself in love to keeping the larger self safe…and…understanding its devotion and love for you will aid in bringing this shadow into the light. Our reflex response to this shadow is to withhold love from the part of self that came into existence because of withheld love.” Dr. John Burton, Loving Your Shadow Back Into The Light

How Do We Love Our Shadow Back Into The Light?

Let’s look at the plot of Pixar’s Inside Out.

Riley, a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl’s world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Her emotions - which live in Headquarters the control center inside her mind, struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, and turmoil ensues in Headquarters.

Although Joy, Riley's main emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.  And when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters are Anger, Fear and Disgust.

They attempt to maintain Riley's emotional state in Joy's absence, but they accidentally cause her to distance herself from her parents, friends, and hobbies. Consequently, her personality islands crumble and fall one by one into the Memory Dump, an abyss between Headquarters and the rest of Riley's mind where faded memories are disposed and eventually forgotten. Anger eventually inserts an idea to run away to Minnesota into the control console, believing they can produce new happy memories there.

As Riley prepares to board a bus bound for Minnesota, Joy attempts to use a recall tube to return to Headquarters, but the last personality island falls and breaks the tube, sending Joy into the Memory Dump. While despairingly looking through old memories, Joy discovers a sad moment in Riley's life that becomes happy when her parents and friends come to comfort her over losing a hockey game, which causes Joy to realize Sadness's importance in creating empathy. Joy then uses various tools from Riley's imagination to reunite with Sadness and return to Headquarters, where they find that Anger's idea has disabled the control console, rendering Riley depressed and apathetic. At Joy's urging, Sadness takes control and successfully extracts the idea, restoring the console and prompting Riley to return home.

When she arrives, Riley breaks down in tears and admits to her parents that she misses her old life. As her parents comfort and reassure her, Joy and Sadness work together to create a new, amalgamated core memory that creates a new personality island. One year later, Riley has adapted to her new home, and her emotions all work together using an expanded control console to help her lead a happy and more emotionally complex life, with more new personality islands produced by new core memories that are combinations of multiple emotions.

How Do We Shine the Light In That Transforms Our Shadow Beliefs?

In the movie – there is an imaginary friend (Boing Boing) who sacrifices it to allow Joy to return to Headquarters – it vanishes – having served its purpose.


“Our shadow will remain in its shadow form and serve us from the negative side until we demonstrate the ability to rise above our conscious restrictions to access and share love within. Once demonstrating to the shadow that we are able to receive and share this Love with its very core, shadow either transforms to its original form or simply vanishes from us, its mission complete.” 

Bring in the Light of Self Compassion

"Love is the key that accesses the trapped healthy energy residing within the shadow.”  Dr. Burton, Loving Your Shadow Into the Light

Be like ‘Joy’ in the movie; create nurturing self-love through empathy for you to manifest transformation.

In her blog post, Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem, Kristin Neff reveals the scientific benefits of going easy on you.

“A study calculated the degree to which overall levels of self-compassion predicted stability in self-worth…self-compassion was clearly associated with steadier and more constant feelings of self-worth than self-esteem…which is likely to be contingent on outside factors like social approval, success in competitions, or feeling attractive. When our sense of self-worth stems from being a human being intrinsically worthy of respect—rather than being contingent on reaching certain goals—our sense of self-worth is much less easily shaken.”

This jibes with Dr. Burton’s concept of Shadow due to its place in the Primitive Brain (PB).

 “Shadow is rigid in form and function as it is a product of our Primitive Brain. PB- third dimensional thinking- lacks self-examining skills and so maintains a focus outside of self.  But here we are seeking to understand and love our shadow into freedom and Light. This shadow language requires translating. The negative message is actually a call to evolve our self.” 

Bring Back The Light And Love Of Spirit To Raise Your Vibration

Dr. Burton suggest that “we must transcend third dimensional thinking, and enter into fourth dimensional thinking where we receive Divine Love from Source and then share this with our shadow.”

Like the indigenous cultures, such as the Dagara, we can bring in the light of Spirit that we were connected to before our birth, and that was nurtured in our communities transformational ways, rites, practices and values. We can begin a practice to live consciously in daily connection to raise our vibration and consciousness until it becomes our way of being. 

“This highest Love, pure Light from Divine Source pierces the rough outer crust of the shadow, reaching the Divine Core and freeing the original part of self. Healing comes when we show that we can love, truly unconditionally love and share this with the very core of our shadow, understanding that this shadow is a teacher, a protector, and encourager in service to us.  This act is transforming.”

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