Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Shadow or Self: Who’s in Charge? September 15, 2015

Unknown-1“What should I do?” I asked my husband.  “This feels like a test about choosing between courage and cowardice.  Or is it between my noble and selfish selves?” We were talking about a relationship issue that was brought to my attention by a timely and bizarre synchronicity. The odds against this coincidence occurring must have been millions to one.  Because of the wild improbability I knew there was a lesson in it for me.  But what was it?

Which part of me should I act on:  the part that could see this objectively, laugh it off and let it go, or the part that took it personally, felt betrayed, and wanted to let the other know? I couldn’t tell. My habit of suppressing my truths to avoid conflicts or hurting people was still too strong. As a child and young woman, I’d seen this as a noble trait, but I was learning that keeping my mouth shut wasn’t always the right choice. Sometimes it was merely ‘settling.’ Sometimes it was not believing enough in my basic worth to draw firm boundaries and stand up for myself. At the very least it was a lack of authenticity.

Over the years a recurring dream has addressed this issue: I’m in a social situation with a mouth full of sticky mush that I have to remove and dispose of so I can talk. No matter how much I take out, there’s always more. Having people around me is uncomfortable and embarrassing. When I finally understood this was a metaphor for being afraid to use my own voice, I became determined to heal this wound that has its roots in my earliest childhood.

I grew up believing I must protect my mother from agitation or conflict. Something told me she’d had too much pain in her life and I shouldn’t add to it;  for example, by arguing with her, or expressing my disappointment that she didn’t attend my theatrical and musical performances, or begging her to drive me anywhere, or expecting special attention or praise from her.  It was too risky.  I realize now that this is symptomatic of a mother complex.

The part of me that wanted to reclaim my voice believed that expressing my truths in the current situation was the right response. But knowing it could be hurtful to the other party held me back and caused me to question my true motivation. Was there something in me that wanted to hurt this person? The thought that there probably was made me deeply uncomfortable.  So what was I to do? Suppress my truths yet again or take the risk of exposing my secret thoughts? Beneath this was a bigger question:  Which side of my dilemma represented my shadow and which the Self?

UnknownI asked my husband to help me clarify this issue, then made my decision. But we both still had misgivings.  So I asked my daughter. I should tell you she’s a level-headed person with a doctorate in marriage and family counseling. I trusted her response to be truthful and objective. After describing the situation and how I’d decided to handle it, I immediately sensed her hesitation.  “What?”  I asked. “Is this bogus?  Am I being childish?”

“Yes,” she said smiling gently. “I think it’s coming from your mother complex. Your wounded child feels neglected and wants attention and revenge.”  The undeniable truth of this resonated, a dark cavern in my unconscious was flooded with light, and a weight I didn’t know I was carrying vanished. It explained so much about parts of my shadow I’d been struggling so long to understand. A few nights later a vivid dream confirmed the truth. In it, an intelligent and accomplished young Asian woman went to her hotel room after making an important presentation, and I heard her screaming for her absent mother in anguish and anger. The youthful, ambitious, perfectionistic achiever in me still wanted her mother’s affirmation.

“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.  [S]He speaks to us in dreams.” `Carl Jung

Carl Jung believed complexes are perfectly normal. As I recall, he once said he had 13.  No matter how hard we try to think and act wisely, everyone has clusters of attitudes, feelings and beliefs that can impersonate wisdom and shadow our judgment. And when our ego is swamped by a shadow complex, it’s very good at justifying its self-serving motives. So how can we discern the truth and make the best choice?

We can bring the True Self into the picture by asking it to observe our conflict as we follow this 7-step process:

(1) Name both sides of the conflict.

(2) Listen carefully as each side expresses itself fully.

(3) Examine the beliefs, emotions and motives of both sides with objectivity and compassion.

(4) Forgive both sides for being human.

(5) Grieve our hurt fully.

(6) Create an original work wherein our ego, shadow and Self invent their own meaningful sacred dance.

(7) Ask for help if we’re still in the dark.

Then we can choose to step toward the light. Life is too precious to waste in the shadows.

Image credits:  Google Images

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


18 Responses to “Shadow or Self: Who’s in Charge?”

  1. Hi Jeanie, In pure synchronicity I found myself reading your most excellent post today and it’s really got me thinking! Earlier today I posted a poem on my blog all about the darkness of my own abusive childhood (it’s a difficult read) and now I’m left wondering ,,, was is it the wounded Shadow child or the Self who posted? Or could both be working, and integrating on this my creative expression … could the Self be helping my wounded child?

    I recognise that the wounded child in me needs to speak, and the very act of writing ‘Once upon an Ordinary Day’ felt right and necessary in order to heal yet I’m aware that it was ‘indeed’ the wounded child who picked up the pen, feeling betrayed and wanting revenge ‘yet’ desperately wanted to share her life experiences so that others felt less alone, more understood … is this where Shadow and Self work together? I would love to hear your thoughts on this way of being. Blessings, Deborah. 🙂


    • jeanraffa Says:

      Hi Deborah, you’ve beautifully expressed the kind of dilemma I’m addressing here. Yes, the wounded child most definitely needs a voice, and giving it one is a gift of wisdom and healing from an ego that wishes to connect with the True Self. Any kind of creative work that addresses our inner lives can be a medium for healing if our ego will allow it, listen carefully to the shadow—whether it’s a hurt child, angry woman, critical bully, or any number of characters—and forgive it. Writing poetry is one of the best healing mediums i know, along with dreamwork. The shadow then becomes a point of entry wherein the ego and Self can communicate. Persisting in this process gradually lessens the toxic power of the shadow and eases the pain.

      By the way, your comment was very helpful to me. I’ve slightly rewritten the last paragraph to clarify this issue even more. Thank you.


      • Thank you so much for coming back to me Jeanie on this topic, truly appreciated. I love what you say about the Shadow becoming ‘a point of entry’ … I have never thought about that in regard to my poetry before yet I can see that it is perfectly true! Indeed it is a place where ego, self and shadow meet … oh my goddess I love that, what a dance they all have!!!

        Many thanks for sharing that poetical insight, I shall endeavour to persist breaking down more toxic power with the power of my pen! Thank you.


      • jeanraffa Says:

        You’re very welcome! And while you were writing this lovely comment, I was editing the last part of my post once again in the hope of providing more clarity and insights! Like poetry, writing my blog posts helps me as much as I hope it helps others, especially when I receive valuable input from like-minded readers! Thank you.


      • Excellent, I love, love, love number 5!!! Like-minded souls, ah! the feelings most definitely mutual, I love to visit the font of wisdom that is your blog! 🙂


      • jeanraffa Says:

        Number 5 is now number 6! 🙂 This is still a work in progress.


  2. slfuchs Says:

    Thankyou, Jean! It is remarkable. We take care of our children for so many years, and then miraculously, they take care of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. gwynnrogers Says:

    The synchronicity of this post is amazing. The other night I dreamt that I was in a room, but no matter what I did the person guarding the room wouldn’t let me out or they let me think I was in a different room. No matter whether I fought the person or tried being sneaky I could not get away from this situation. I awoke in tears with my heart palpitating. I think I have not taken charge of my life nor spoken up about my life sometimes. It is interesting to see what my mind has been processing. In my childhood I couldn’t do what I wanted, always what my parents directed. Someplace I have fallen back into this mode of operation. Taking charge of my happiness is up to me. Thanks for the reminder.


    • jeanraffa Says:

      What a marvelous insight this is. I’m so glad this post confirmed it. I see synchronicities like this as evidence of the underlying benevolence of the Mystery that governs every aspect of life. I think this may be an important crossroads awareness for you that points to a new and fuller way of thinking and being. I hope you’ll let me know if and how you take steps to enter it more fully. You didn’t ask for advice so I hope you won’t mind if I tell you that if this were my dream I’d begin with some sort of creative expression that could help me clarify and firm up my resolve….. Blessings, and thank you for writing.


      • gwynnrogers Says:

        I assumed it would be inappropriate for me to ask for advice from you… but I’d LOVE it! In fact, I have found a new opportunity to volunteer which will also give me the opportunity to meet more people. My husband is a TYPE A +++ personality and NOT social. So I am looking for more ways to make me happy and to find joy in life. I am running into more women in the same boat. I am learning to stand up for me. Thank you for your comments!!!!!


      • jeanraffa Says:

        It’s not inappropriate, but it’s very thoughtful of you to be mindful about not imposing! I appreciate that, but I don’t mind at all when someone is genuinely looking for insights related to one of my posts. Good luck with your new volunteer opportunity. I hope it brings more clarity about what you need and how to acquire it.


  4. Susan Scott Says:

    Thank you Jeanie for this … I still puzzle over a betrayal that happened in early July in a group of which I’m no longer a part – and while I think I’ve consciously let it go it still rears its ugly head. Your post addresses my issue in a very meaningful and constructive way ..


    • jeanraffa Says:

      I’m very glad to hear this, Susan. As I write this I’m in the middle of writing a new post for next week on the same topic. I hope it will bring you more insights about the psychological underpinnings of this experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. elainemansfield Says:

    Ah, those betrayals and our need to understand them. To me, the interpersonal flares that tighten my belly and nag at me in the night are puzzles where I learn more about myself (after I stop reacting). Often not what I want to know about myself, but I like the relationship dance and a deep relationship means dealing with clashes. In recent years, I disappointed a friend. She can’t or won’t be specific and refuses to explore the issues with me. I suggested talking with a third party present, a therapist friend or her therapist. She refused. In time, after many tries, I backed away and stopped trying to work it out in relationship. As I’ve dug into my side of this with my therapist, I see my friend’s mother complex running the show with full cooperation of mine. Despite giving more support than any other person outside my family, I failed to fill the hole left by a neglectful mother.


    • jeanraffa Says:

      Oh yes, indeed. This particular flare was the one that finally helped me see my mother complex in action! Since then it’s been a zillion times easier to be aware of it and handle my feelings quickly and with more grace! I’m sorry about your losing your friend. I haven’t lost this one, but she no longer carries my mother complex which means she has no more power to hurt me and I have no need to feed hers. Aren’t we lucky to be figuring these things out about ourselves at last?


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