I’ve recently made a big life decision which involves me facing up to some pretty intense fears, by going back to work. Throughout my life, starting at school, I’ve had fears of being trapped and not being able to get away from a situation if I need to. The underlying fear is of being consumed by some intense emotion and reacting in an uncontrollable way. It is a very child-born fear and, as with many anxiety states, is something which is extremely difficult to rationalise myself out of! Placing myself in a working environment, this fear is precipitated by the need to be in a certain situation/role/building for a fixed amount of time, during which I feel I must “hold it together”. By this I mean be able to show only those aspects of myself that are adult, professional and self-controlled.
The Shadow Side In my spiritual development classes, we talk about the shadow side of ourselves. The shadow is made up of those aspects of ourselves which we prefer not to look at- mainly our fears and past behaviours which we have judged ourselves negatively for. This fear of not being able to “escape” is part of my shadow. I unconsciously judge myself for this fear- that it is silly, childish, irrational. These judgements make me feel ashamed of it, of myself. This is part of me I prefer not to look at. This is only one aspect of my own shadow side.
Accepting Our Shadow. Making peace with these shadow aspects of ourselves frees us from the shame we ultimately condemn ourselves to from harsh self- judgements. We’re aiming towards accepting that this fear exists by feeling the fear (physical sensations, emotions, thoughts), acknowledging it from a perspective of non-judgement and compassion, and then gently encouraging ourselves into situations which may trigger the fear- if this is something which needs to be done: I need to be able to make a living and fulfil some kind of useful purpose in my life, therefore I am choosing to face this fear in order to grow and become stronger as a human being. (Of course, being terrified of snakes is probably a fear we can live with- it affects us on a very small scale, unless you happen to work in a reptile house: pretty unlikely, given the fear!)
Compassion for Ourselves Accepting and making peace with this particular aspect of my shadow can look like a conversation between the Shadow Self (which in this case is the frightened, traumatised child) and the Adult self, who is rational, experienced, capable, strong, comforting and soothing:
Shadow Self: “What if I cry or react in some other uncontrollable way at work? I’m terrified I won’t be able to escape or leave when I need to!”
Adult Self (rational, comforting soothing- coming from our higher selves): “Why do you think that might happen?”
Shadow Self: “Because it’s happened before with really bad consequences”. “I don’t feel safe with people in authority, particularly men”.
Adult Self: “This is completely understandable given the experiences you have lived through during childhood and as an adult. You are doing whatever you can to protect yourself. This is a normal reaction to past events. It comes from that part of you which is still a frightened child and that is ok! I, the adult, am here now, and I can take care of you. I am capable and strong and will not leave you in danger. You are safe. It is absolutely ok to feel scared, but know that you are safe now.”
Shadow Side: “But what if it does happen? I will feel so ashamed.”
Adult Side: “What is so shameful about letting out emotion and expressing our truth?”
Shadow Side: “It’s embarrassing and not accepted socially. I’ll be ridiculed and isolated socially”.
Adult Side: “What if I told you that other people’s reactions have nothing to do with you?! They are as important as the speck of dust on your windowsill. The way other people react is their karma and nothing for you to worry about. You are not responsible for any reaction on their part. How they feel about you need not be a significant part of your life. Free yourself from the belief that it is up to you to keep everything and everyone happy and stable. Is isn’t! If you need to express emotion- then that is what is most appropriate for your healing at that moment. It is safe for you to express yourself”.
By this point my Shadow Side (or fearful inner child in this case) is feeling soothed, comforted, accepted for who she is, and supported in moving forwards in facing these fears. Once the judgement has been removed from the fear of crying uncontrollably with no escape, space has opened up for me to do it again if I need to- I’ve given myself permission to express myself. I am safe. If I ban myself from doing such a “terrible” thing, I automatically tense up and restrict my true self- I squash myself into a rigid box, compounding the feeling of being trapped. I feel suffocated.
The freedom I have given myself may be completely invisible to other people, but to me it is a precious gift.
Working through these thoughts as I have done above, forms a script, and one that will need to be repeated on numerous occasions until I have trained my mind to be loving and kind to myself! This is a much better platform from which to go out int othe world and face my fear!