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All of us have essential aspects of our personality that we have learned to hide or suppress in order to protect ourselves. When we claim these “shadow” parts, we dramatically increase our capacity for love, and we find access to a tremendous sense of personal power.
This reflects the most profound and meaningful paradox I’ve encountered in my decades of practice as a psychotherapist:
The parts of ourselves we fear will scare love away are the missing link to finding that love!
The following question will help you find your own “intimacy-shadow.” On the surface, it appears innocuously simple. Tackled honestly, it points to perhaps the most exhilarating challenge of your life.
What aspects of yourself are you most uncomfortable, hesitant or timid to reveal in your relationships?
Each of us has parts of ourselves where we feel things more strongly than most people. Life affects us more deeply around these attributes, which I call Core Gifts. We feel both pain and joy most intensely at these points—and the intensity of our experience often makes us feel uncomfortable, somehow different from the people around us.
Here are some examples of Core Gifts:
- An unrelenting desire for connection
- Passion so intense it feels aggressive
- A generosity of spirit so powerful that it hurts
- A quietness and softness of nature that feels weak
- A passion for truth which gets you in trouble again and again
- A sensitivity so strong that sometimes that seemingly small experiences knock you down at the knees
- Gusts of emotion so strong they embarrass or bewilder you
Often those aspects of ourselves are taken advantage of or abused because they’re so unique, so vulnerable. People “milk” these qualities in us instead of honoring them. Often these characteristics are neglected, misunderstood or ignored. In addition, like all special talents, these parts of ourselves demand inordinate amounts of maturity and wisdom—and training which most of us never receive. As a result, they become the repositories of our deepest insecurities.
They also hold the key to understanding why love evades us.
Carl Jung explains why this is so through his seminal concept of “the shadow.” According to Jung, the shadow is our disowned self—the parts we think are unlovable, unworthy, unacceptable. These are the parts of ourselves that spawn our deepest insecurities. Yet they are also the parts of ourselves that hold our deepest gifts. Ultimately suppressing those aspects of ourselves protects us from immediate pain, but keeps deeper love forever at arms length.
To protect our Core Gifts, we create immature, self-sabotaging defenses that push away the very love we desire. We become drawn to people who can’t love us for who we are. Or we find that we cant sustain the dynamic joy of true intimacy in our love relationships. This is because hiding these parts of ourselves is more than simple avoidance—it is an act of quiet violence against our very nature. It creates a terrible vacuum where our authenticity should be—and in the long run, that vacuum ends up being filled by relationships and situations that end up hurting and diminishing us.
According to Jung, “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.”
In my work as a psychotherapist, my most essential task is to help my clients discover that the very parts of themselves they feel most hesitant to reveal represent their own life-genius; a genius the world may have never taught them to cultivate, channel and express in positive ways.
The act of discovering the tremendous worth of these orphaned parts of ourselves creates an absolute sea change in our lives. As we learn to perceive these parts of ourselves as gifts and not simply as liabilities, life begins to make more sense—it’s as if the underlying story of our life begins to come clear.
We lose our taste for people who chip away at our self esteem. We choose relationships differently. Single people find themselves meeting—and being attracted to—people who accept them for who they are. People in couples begin to reveal risky feelings of deeper passion, intensity, and vulnerability. Relationships which may have become stagnant begin to come alive as authenticity—the key to true intimacy—begins to re-emerge. People begin to develop a sense of inner dignity and worth which previously evaded them.
Learning to honor, dignify, and cultivate wiser discipline around our Core Gifts may not be for the faint of heart, but it is without a doubt the true adventure of deeper love.
© Ken Page, LCSW 2017. All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared on Psychology Today
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