Afraid of Our Own Shadow

Boys don’t cry. Don’t be a wimp. Stop being selfish. Be a man about it. You’re not good enough.

Sound familiar?

“We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.” – Robert Bly

Most of us are carrying around a ton of emotional and mental baggage.

Everything within us which has been repressed due to societal and parental expectations, everything which doesn’t fit into the image of a good boy (or girl), and everything we’re afraid to show to others (and to ourselves) gets pushed down to make room for the acceptable, the ‘normal’, the desirable traits of a human, as defined by our community.

And we think that because we don’t let it show, that it’s not affecting our life, our relationships, our careers, or our health.

I beg to differ. I think that we’re just afraid of our own shadow.

When we fail to address and accept the shadow side of ourselves, we end up as only half a man (or less). We’re unable to fully participate in our marriage, in our friendships, and to be responsible for our own health.

We’re unable to make the changes in our life that we need to, because we only want to see what we want to see. And who has the courage to see ourselves as only half a man? Not many of us.

In my short 42 years here on the planet, I’ve done a lot of bag-stuffing. And it has greatly influenced how I see the world, how I see my wife, how I relate to my parents, and how I interact with the people around me, including my children.

“I maintain that out of a round globe of energy [which we start with as a child] the twenty-year-old ends up with a slice. We’ll imagine a man who has a thin slice left—the rest is in the bag—and we’ll imagine that he meets a woman; let’s say they are both twenty-four. She has a thin, elegant slice left. They join each other in a ceremony, and this union of two slices is called marriage. Even together the two do not make up one person!” – Bly

Fortunately, in the last decade or so, I’ve also experienced a few traumatic events, which have forced me to open my eyes and to look a lot closer at my shadow.

I can’t say that I’m a perfect husband or father or friend because of it. In fact, I’m probably failing miserably. But I’d rather have my eyes wide open when I fail, than to be blind to my own weaknesses.

“Suppose a young man seals a bag at twenty and then waits fifteen or twenty years before he opens it again. What will he find? Sadly, the sexuality, the wildness, the impulsiveness, the anger, the freedom he put in have all regressed; they are not only primitive in mood, they are hostile to the person who opens the bag. The man who opens his bag at forty-five or the woman who opens her bag rightly feels fear. She glances up and sees the shadow of an ape passing along the alley wall; anyone seeing that would be frightened.” – Bly

I’m finding out that the things which bug me about other people are often reflections of the work I need to do with my shadow. And it’s not easy. In fact, it’s scary as hell. But I don’t think any of us want to continue to be only half a human.

We all want to live up to our highest potential, and I’m convinced that without diving deep into our own shadow, we’re going to remain just a slice. Being brutally honest about all of ourselves, both the shadow and the light, is the first step to becoming fully human.

Don’t wait until circumstances force you to examine your shadow. Step up and embrace it.

[The quotes from Robert Bly come from a great book of his, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, which I highly recommend.]

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

2 thoughts on “Afraid of Our Own Shadow

  • I’ve been trying to confront and transform my “good little girl” personality. It’s actually going really well.

  • This post strongly brought to mind ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ to me. You’ve got to accept all parts of yourself, even if you don’t like all of them, because denying/hiding/ignoring the bad parts instead of dealing with them doesn’t work; they’ll break out one day and they’ll be harder to control.

    I’ve reached a place where I’m happy with myself. There are some traits I’m still working on, but I don’t feel that I have much of me left in the bag.

    Great post! I like being made to think on a Saturday morning.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *