Shadow material is composed of both negative and positive qualities of ourselves that we do not want to accept as part of our self identity and personality. In other words, shadow material has to do with those aspects of our life that belong to us but that we do not recognize or wish to claim as belonging to us. Shadow material is experienced as “not self” (“I am not angry, but my husband sure is”, or “I am so impressed with him, he is the most incredible person on the planet”). This is created when we attempt to rid ourselves of a trait of our personality we find threatening. Although presumably hidden, these disowned parts show up all over the place. In fact, what we hide from ourselves may be quite obvious to everyone around us. Others can often see our shadow material… plain as day.
We project on to someone or something else, like a movie projector onto a screen, these undesirable and buried thoughts, motivations, desires, or feelings. When we do this, we have no awareness that we are doing it. In other words, these motivations, feelings, and traits appear to be outside of us. Although these qualities are now believed to be outside of us, they are actually still a part of us, although loathed. So when we see them in someone else we feel angry, critical or disdain. This is not to say that the other does not possess the qualities that we find distasteful. Sometimes a jerk is really just a jerk. But why does it bother us so? Why does it consume our thoughts? Why does it affect us so emotionally? Why do we find ourselves complaining about this person non-stop? If the negative or positive qualities of another person infuriate, disturb, or disgust us, chances are we are looking at our shadow material in the face.
Here are a few images you might find helpful in realizing and better understanding the power of Shadow Material and how it gets formed.
At 2 or 3 years of age as a child in motion you were a living sphere of energy. But one day you notice that your parents didn’t like certain parts of this radiant “ball of energy”. “Can’t you be still?” “It isn’t nice to push your brother.” So, to please your parents and retain their love, you began to stuff those parts of your being that they didn’t want into an invisible bag that you drag behind you. By the time you got to elementary school, this invisible bag was quite large.
At school, the teachers took over as you continue to learn appropriate social behavior, and a lot more went into the bag. By Adolescence and high school, this invisible bag may have been “a mile wide.” And then your peers took over. It’s no longer just grown-ups now who were to be pleased. Indeed, your parents may have watched with dismay as peer pressure caused you to stuff many wonderful parts of yourself into the bag, while they, your parents, at the same time, might have wished that they could stuff some other parts in the bag that didn’t seem quite so wonderful. At any rate, by the time you were in your 20’s you had only a slice from that original, radiant ball of energy the rest is stuffed into this very wide, invisible bag that you were dragging behind you.
Keep in mind that this Shadow material is not just the “negative” parts of ourselves – our anger, aggression, selfishness, jealousy, greed, and anti-social tendencies – it’s not just those aspects that go into the bag – but also are “positive” parts – our creativity, our exuberance, our ecstatic joy – whatever doesn’t fit into our particular cultural worldview is cut off and goes into the shadow pack. However, we will focus on the negative or dark shadow material as it mostly pertains to anger management.
To spot your Shadow Material, you can notice when another person triggers you, either because of a positive or negative quality. If you are not able to own that quality in the first person, for example, if you think, “I am not angry,” then you are likely hot on the trail of uncovering some of your Shadow material. When you push that quality away or project it onto the second person, “I am not angry, but she sure is,” you can be fairly certain that you were dealing with some shadowy aspect of yourself. If it is a quality that is threatening to your self-identity, you may push it even further away from the self, into the third person. “There is a lot of anger in the world.”