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When I was growing up, I was taught to ‘do the right thing.’ Perhaps you were taught this as well. I got this message from my parents, from my teachers, and from my church.

I think this process is necessary in a society. We all are part of a culture, and we need to learn the rules. What is acceptable, and what isn’t acceptable? What is okay, and what isn’t okay? Learning to ‘do the right thing’ helped me to develop into an upstanding citizen. I learned to study hard, get a job, vote, and be nice to others. Most of us go through a similar process. The particulars might be different depending on your specific culture and family upbringing. But we all are taught to ‘do the right thing.’

Here’s the tough thing: Beginning when we are very small, we learn that some parts of ourselves are good and acceptable. We might be rewarded for those parts. For example, when I was growing up, I got rewarded for getting good grades, following the rules, and playing nicely with others. Little by little, those parts of myself started to grow bigger and bigger.

On the other hand, we learn that some parts of ourselves are bad and unacceptable. We might get punished or made fun of for those parts. For example, when I was growing up, when I got sad and cried at school, I got made fun of. The same thing happened when I got anxious and scared. When I got angry and lashed out at someone, I was punished. Sex was something that was off-limits and inappropriate. Little by little, those parts of myself started to shrink smaller and smaller.

This is a normal process of growing up and learning how one fits into culture and society. But often we become unbalanced. And the parts of ourselves that we expend so much energy to stop—those parts make up our shadow.

The shadow holds the parts of ourselves that we hide, repress, and deny. They are all those parts of yourself that you were told (at one time or another) weren’t okay. They are the parts of yourself that you had to push down in order to ‘do the right thing.’

We need to honor the shadow in us, or else it will come out sideways. Maybe this has happened to you. It might look like a midlife crisis. Maybe you found yourself lashing out at someone you loved without knowing why. Perhaps you found yourself judging someone harshly without understanding where the judgment was coming from. Maybe you did something crazy that you never thought you would do. These could be signs that your life has become unbalanced, and your shadow is actually running your life behind the scenes.

Instead of always trying to ‘do the right thing,’ I’m now trying to honor my shadow and ‘do the whole thing.’

Discussion: What parts of yourself do you repress, hide, and deny? Do you see any evidence of your shadow coming out sideways?

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