Gaining deliberate control

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I inspire new possibilities to deepen love, intimacy and self-expression. I mainly write articles about that, but you'll also find refrences on design, fitness and finance. More

In the film trilogy, The Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) we frequently see Sméagol talking to himself and the one who replies can be interpreted as his Shadow. We can see it’s grown so big that it’s taken him over, making him do things he later regrets, such as betraying his friends. He’s been alone for so long and gets an amazing opportunity for companionship, purpose, and even to return to his hometown. But he sabotages it simply because he won’t admit to himself he wants the magical ring. His denied desire grows until it overpowers him. It even has a name of its own because it’s no longer a part of him, it’s something else: Gollum. Sméagol also frequently follows the protagonist, Frodo like a literal Shadow. You can see Sméagol as a cautionary tale of what could happen to Frodo if he doesn't resolve his own Shadow; the part of him that also wants to keep the ring.

We don’t like admitting we’re not in control, but to the degree we have a Shadow, we’re not. Think of a “bad” habit you have, maybe one you’ve had for a long time. If you’re in control, why don’t you just stop? Why do you wake up on the kitchen floor saying you can’t believe you ate all that ice cream? Something is going on and it’s happening in your Shadow where you can’t quite understand yourself. Sometimes you’re blind to a certain behaviour you have. Other times you may be aware of the behaviour but if the root cause of it is in the Shadow and if you can’t explain your destructive behaviour you can’t control it. That’s when we typically call it an ”it”. As in, ”It made me do this” or ”Something came over me”. If you don’t know what happened, your reasons and motivations, you can’t ensure it doesn’t happen again. Or rather, that you won’t do it again. We’re always learning but often learn things that aren’t that useful or true. We make wrong conclusions or too general ones. You might get robbed by a stranger and learn that you can’t trust any strangers. That lesson can happen automatically and be put in the Shadow and control you from then on, sabotaging every new friendship.

You can’t express yourself genuinely and deliberately until you reclaim our Shadow. Otherwise, what happens is that the Shadow builds up until you lose control and it explodes in some way. Like struggling to hold a beach ball underwater; it will eventually shoot out sideways. Can you recall an unexpected, intense behaviour that was “not you”? Where did this behavior come from? It can be scary to be hijacked by your unleashed shadow.

Facing our Shadow is not pleasant, so we tend to push it aside and make other priorities. This is not surprising since your Shadow is by definition filled with things you don’t want to experience. You so badly don’t want to go there you pretend there isn’t even a there to go to. Going through the process of facing your Shadow is painful, messy work but it’s what’s required to get to the understanding at the other side and stop being controlled by your Shadow. Keep going and you’ll eventually emerge.

There are two ways the Shadow can control us, by avoidance or by fusion. Controlled through avoidance is where it has us running to the other extreme in order to get as far away as possible from what we judge negatively as. Controlled by fusion is where we lose ourselves to its drives, having no distance to it, yet not consciously realising how or why we act that way. What you’re after, in contrast to these two situations, is the self-awareness to make truly deliberate choices. Only then is your expression authentic rather than an unconscious reaction. Only then are you truly being yourself. Becoming intimate with your Shadow means to embrace all that you are, both the beautiful and ugly, the good and the bad. And with time learning to drop those labels and simply see them as the truth of who you are.


What you put in the Shadow stays there until you confront it; it’s not something that will resolve itself with time. Quite the opposite, by the time we reach old age we could have accumulated a huge Shadow. That means our Shadow will be in control a lot of the time, simply reacting, rather than us making deliberate choices. As your Shadow grows, your I-boundary moves, making your false self smaller and more false at the same time. This is equivalent to becoming less conscious.

If you, for example, place your anger in your Shadow, you will still get angry and react in whatever destructive way it will push you to, but you’ll find a way to ignore and deny it. It’s not too different from having other personalities temporarily taking over your body without you realizing you’ve been gone for periods. I knew a man who did just this, flying into a rage and frightening his wife and daughters. When it was over it was as if he forgot what had happened and and he would put on a smile and ask about something mundane such as dinner. This added confusion to his family’s fear. The way to handle those situations that trigger your anger is to reclaim your anger as a part of you. Admit your feelings. Once you own it and understand yourself you can be more deliberate in your behaviour. You can be informed by your anger as it is often pointing to something important to you that’s being threatened. Then you can express this concern in an honest and constructive way. Or you may question the premise for your anger and realise it’s silly, and decide no action is required. For example, you may be angry at your grandmother for dying. You can’t confront her about it, but you can realise that she didn’t die to deliberately hurt you, and you can admit what you’re feeling instead of pushing it down and having it explode on someone else. Admitting it could even take the form of imagining your grandmother in front of you and telling her all the angry thoughts that cross your mind. You can work yourself into feeling better about the situation, which is of course very different from ignoring the problem and pretending you’re not feeling what you are.


In fusion with your Shadow you’re controlled by it, making you do what you resist doing. In avoidance you’re driven by fear, wanting to get away from that which you judge negatively so much that you swing to the opposite extreme. Just the same, you’re not making a deliberate choice. We act like robots reacting predictably to stimuli. When you only allow one of two options you have no choice. You can make snails go exactly where you want by putting salt in their path. Our fears and Shadow are like salt we put in our own way that mislead and distract us from what we want in life. We tell ourselves we can’t go there or anywhere near there, which leaves us with fewer options. When we avoid pain we avoid growth and it leaves us just as susceptible to suffering. The more pain we go through, the more capable and resilient we become. There will be more things in life we can handle and experience with peace. When we refuse to not enjoy life there will be less that hurts us. Even in times of difficulty and pain you won’t be making it worse by adding the suffering we feel when we resist and reject. When we take the easy way it usually doesn’t lead anywhere worth going. The easy way usually becomes hard and the hard way usually becomes easy.

Imagine a man who experiences homosexual feeling one day. If he has strong negative judgments about it in his Shadow, instead of facing it he may run the other way and marry his abusive ex-girlfriend. This is an example of how the Shadow makes us react and do things we wouldn’t do if we faced the truth, accepted it, and responded appropriately. Conversely, a fusion reaction would be driven by accumulated suppressed homosexual feelings to do some homosexual acts, perhaps cheating on current partner, ruining that relationship and getting AIDS all in one day.

Fear isn’t just panic when encountering a shark while swimming, it’s a refusal to experience something. With this broader definition we can also identify calmer feelings as fear. It is a feeling of resistance inside you. A pushing away. A refusal to consider a situation or option. We need to learn that we can have a preference without being fearful of the alternatives. We need to learn this because often we won’t experience our preference and that’s life’s way of forcing us to accept it or stay in suffering. Don’t become obsessed with avoiding, fighting and destroying what you judge. Some go so far as to convince others to hate so they’ll join forces and give moral support. This wastes a lot of energy. We can take that energy we spend on avoiding and put it towards deliberately moving forward and expressing ourselves genuinely.

‘A man who is possessed by his Shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps … living below his own level’ ­— Jung

Last updated 20 October, 2019


I inspire new possibilities to deepen love, intimacy and self-expression. I mainly write articles about that, but you'll also find refrences on design, fitness and finance. More

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