The Shadow

The shadow.

Psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung, as early as 1912, speaks of the “shadow” side of personality. He’d use varied expressions to describe it: “the other in us,” “the unconscious in us,” “repressed self,” “the dark side of the personality,” “the alienated self,” “one’s inferior personality.”

I can think of a family where the father is an over- controlling, abusive King Kong. He is severely wounding – physically and verbally – to all his four children, from childhood to present even when they’re already grown-ups. He insists that his rules in the house are absolute and he often would not explain them to his children. His wife is compliant and afraid to confront him –no matter how irrational and harming his behaviors have become to their children’s mental health and well being.

In therapy session with one of his adult sons, Marcus, he tells of his father’s family history. His father’s own Dad was an extremely angry and addicted personality. In his own hands, Marcus’ father suffered similar physical and verbal abuses since childhood that sent him to the hospital multiple times. It’s a well-guarded secret scandal, a “family shadow” that continues to haunt Marcus’ father’s unconscious “personal shadow,” re-living the same drama in his own family and successive generation.

Before you can know and meet your “personal shadow,” you need to stop denying its existence. Too often, we’re so good at ignoring, burying, or repressing our shadow. As a result, this component gets masked, hidden in the unconscious. And we suffer the natural harm to our well-being and relationships out of it. It’s essential, then, to acknowledge the shadow’s presence in us, as a first step
to heal.

Paychotherapist-writer Dr. R.D. Laing describes our real need to notice our shadow in this way:

“The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice
there is little we can do
to change
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

The Life of Fischer

When I was much younger, I used to play chess a lot. My eventually becoming a youth champion chess player was due to the inspiration of one man and his games on the artistic side of my mind.

He was brilliant. Clearly a child prodigy … the pride of Brooklyn … considered the greatest world chess champion who ever lived. His official name was Robert James Fischer.

He was 64 when he passed on. He was then living in isolation in Iceland and in exile from his home country, the USA. He carried a lot of unresolved personal issues, unprocessed pains, that affected him deeply. He died with a psychotherapist by his bedside, holding his hand.

By the time everyone in the world bothered to inquire, the location of his grave was already set in an obscure place. No grand flowers or candles to burn. No funeral service, no tourists to gather.

Fischer has joined the ages of eternity – forever absent from our eyes. He is gone.

Life is brief. Incredibly brief. Okay, you and I are still alive. What are we to do with the limited supply of time we have – no matter how short or how long the years appear to be? Should we spend and invest it in something good or in something bad? … in something life-giving or in something life-damaging?

As the Psalmist put it, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (90:12).

First Aid During Separation

If you have a spouse or partner who is abusive, adulterous, addicted, or violent, you may reach a point when you need to have a “healing separation” for your survival, protection, and mental/physical health.

What are your “first aid” steps in separation?

Here’s my top 13:

1. Recognize that it’s ok to have different feelings.

2. Give your self a break.

3. Don’t go through this alone.

4. Allow your self to feel the pain and grieve the loss or breakdown of the relationship.

5. Cultivate new friendships and interests.

6. Get outside psychotherapy help when you can’t manage your self or you’re drowning in pain.

7. Take care of your self. Stick to a daily routine of nurturing yourself.

8. Avoid using alcohol, drugs, or food to cope.

9. Eat well, sleep well, exercise.

10. Be honest with your self.

11. Remind yourself that you still have a future. This too shall pass.

12. Know the difference between a normal reaction and depression.

13. Important that you don’t dwell on negative feelings or over analyze what happened. Getting stuck in hurtful feelings like anger, blame, and resentment rob you of valuable energy to heal and move forward.

The Love Mechanic

Kevin is a “love mechanic.” He had picked up over 50 women so far and had sex with almost all of them. His expertise is wooing women, sweet-talking, and touching to “be close.” He talks about his feelings too and makes an effort to listen. Mechanically, he can show he loves or cares about women.

After getting what he wants from a woman, he breaks up and moves readily to the next. Immediately, with the next woman, he appears to be just as “intimate” and “loving” there. He knows the moves, the “right” places to touch a woman sexually. He works hard to make a woman feel good and loved in bed. He uses “love” language constantly. “I miss you a lot,” “I’m feeling so close to you now,” or “I want to share with you how I feel.”

The “love mechanic” is a fake. He believes his “love” is coming from inside him. However, it is actually psychologically or intellectually monitored. His “love” is mechanical, disconnected from his very core or his own feelings. Yes, he knows and does all the appealing intimate, “loving” behaviors. But his way of connecting is profoundly shallow, distanced, automatic, and therefore manipulative. His way of “love” exists apart from himself — a psychological disguise for disconnection.

Let this insight be a step towards making efforts to recognize, analyze, and heal a “love mechanic,” especially if you’re married or romantically linked to one. The ramifications of such type of “unconscious” psychological deception in relationships are enormously hurtful. I hope this realization narrows the gap between what seems to be and what is actually going on underneath psychologically.

How To Take Care Of Your Self

Self-Care is vital. You miss or neglect it, you break down. You get ill. You experience unhappiness.

There are known effective ways or strategies to maintain self-care. I’m thinking of some specifics below where we may need to actively work on to improve and maintain our self-care.

Assess and get ready to better self-care.

Physical Self-Care:

* Eat regularly (e.g. breakfast, lunch and dinner)
* Eat healthy
* Exercise
* Get regular medical care for prevention
* Get medical care when needed
* Take time off when needed
* Get massages
* Dance, swim, walk, run, play sports, sing, or do some other physical activity that is fun
* Take time to be sexual with your spouse.
* Get enough sleep
* Wear clothes you like
* Take vacations
* Take day trips or mini-vacations
* Make time away from telephones and gadgets

Psychological Self-Care:

* Make time for self-reflection
* Have your own personal psychotherapy
* Write in a journal
* Read literature that is unrelated to work
* Do something at which you are not expert or in charge
* Decrease stress in your life
* Let others know different aspects of you
* Notice your inner experience—listen to your thoughts, judgments, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings
* Engage your intelligence in a new area, e.g. go to an art museum, history exhibit, 
sports event, auction, theater performance
* Practice receiving from others
* Be curious
* Say “no” to extra responsibilities sometimes

Emotional Self-Care:

* Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
* Stay in contact with important people in your life
* Give yourself affirmations, praise yourself
* Love yourself
* Re-read favorite books, re-view favorite movies
* Identify comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, places and seek them out
* Allow yourself to cry
* Find things that make you laugh
* Express your outrage in social action, letters and donations, marches, protests
* Play with children

Spiritual Self-Care:

* Make time for reflection
* Spend time with nature
* Find a spiritual connection or community
* Be open to inspiration
* Cherish your optimism and hope
* Be aware of nonmaterial aspects of life
* Try at times not to be in charge or the expert
* Be open to not knowing
* Identify what in meaningful to you and notice its place in your life
* Meditate
* Pray
* Sing
* Spend time with children
* Have experiences of awe
* Contribute to causes in which you believe
* Read inspirational literature (talks, music, etc.)

Work Self-Care:

* Take a break during the workday (e.g. lunch)
* Take time to chat with co-workers
* Make quiet time to complete tasks
* Identify projects or tasks that are exciting and rewarding
* Set limits with your clients and colleagues
* Balance your caseload so that no one day or part of a day is “too much”
* Arrange your work space so it is comfortable and comforting
* Get regular supervision or consultation
* Negotiate for your needs (benefits, pay raise)
* Have a peer support group
* Develop a non-trauma area of professional interest
* Strive for balance within your work-life and workday
* Strive for balance among work, family, relationships, play and rest

Taming Narcissus

As a psychotherapist, the real world for me has always been the therapy hour. During this time, the challenges and wounds of fellow human beings are deeply observed and processed. It’s my arena of realistic living. Nobody in that hour long stops to celebrate my own productions for here they are all making productions of their own.

Self-seeking Narcissus often visits my real world. The old Narcissus sat by the pool to praise himself. The modern Narcissus is an activist addicted to self approval and admiration of others. Egoism can be so all-consuming that there is just so much need for affirmation. Traumatized or hurt individuals can turn the therapy hour into a pool for Narcissus.

I had a married client, Kenny, who engaged in mischief for years, visiting and spending millions for prostitutes. He was egged by friends and business associates to go ahead: “Your wife will not find out–no one would ever know. Keep it secret- enjoy.” These were major affirmations and appetites that lured him enough to go deeper into his addiction. These drives were surely narcissistic to the core.

Here, at the therapy hour with me after hitting bottom, I discovered that a most valid role I may play as a therapist for Kenny is to “tame his Narcissus.” To witness him trying to pick up his broken pieces means to give him true affirmation and create in him a sense of true worth. If I can help him see his illusions and heal his self’s wounds, or find the true meaning of his life, my own life will have served him well.

Taming Narcissus requires the habits of mental discipline and life balance. It involves a proper and realistic view of self, even when under the outpouring of personal praise. It calls for total honesty and avoidance of false channels of happiness, such as flattery or sticky compliments. It also demands letting go. Relinquish. Abandon. Narcissus is a liar. You cannot get the best things of life or reaching your highest, whole self by grasping.

As Walt Whitman said, “If you want me, look for me beneath the soles of your feet, for that is where you will find me.


It took over 40 years for Nicolas to really see what happened to him when his mother put him down. In our session, Nicolas was sharing that his mother is used to tell him he’s stupid or he will not amount to anything, like his father. On a recent visit, she criticizes or judges him again.

That time and each chance, Nicolas feels angry, confused, and helpless as though he’s 7 years old again. It’s a horrible feeling that he continues to experience till now. Therapy helps him discover his compulsive regression to a younger age whenever his mother mistreats him.

Psychotherapists call the phenomenon “age regression.” It means going back, repeating an ancient pattern of reaction. It’s autopilot reversion to an earlier survival mechanism. Often, one age regress when hurt by an authority or loved one, such as parents. During this, one becomes dysfunctional, helpless like a child, or out of one’s Real Self.

From countless individuals who see me in therapy, I hear and witness such age regression too commonly among those with shame and pain. And I’ve become convinced that one of the best ways out of this prison of the self is to tell the story of the trauma to safe, loving, supportive others.

In my work with Nicolas, I hear him tell his story and share his shame to me. By such process, his predicaments and pain are validated. He is unconditionally accepted as he is. His exposed wounded self, with all of its weaknesses and struggles, is helped to heal its shame. Doing so also helps me as a fellow traveler in the human journey.