Shadow work refers to exploring our shadow selves (coined by Carl Jung), which comprises the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected from our conscious identity but remain latent in our unconscious identities. Through shadow work, we can reveal our true light through our darkness. This is a reflection about the power struggles between the male abuser and the female victim, a subject that is close to my heart.
From an early age, I learnt that the world was inherently unfair, especially in the balance of power between men and women. It was neither logic, intelligence, depth of humanity nor diligence that often allowed men to have the upper hand. My childhood experiences led me to believe in the biased view that the male gender had inherent authority and this power was asserted through threats or displays of emotional and physical abuse. My view of the world was distorted before I was able to see it clearly through my own eyes.
My father was the epitome of male authority. To me, he was the most insufferable of man – he was egoistical, impertinent, selfish, belligerent and emotionally manipulative. Behind that facade of authority, I saw that he was deeply fearful that he was incompetent in providing for the family, often depending on my mother financially. My mother exemplified female victimisation in my eyes. She was a meek and quiet character who accepted the emotional abuse without retaliation. She often normalised the experience for me, convincing me that the outbursts of emotional and physical abuse were acceptable and that there were families who went through far more traumatic experiences. As a family, we learnt to mask the power struggles in the family from outsiders to protect our pride. From an early age, I questioned why women were so permissive of injustice that was apparent to me even as a child. Though I was conscious of this injustice, I unconsciously absorbed the same patterns of behaviour and my identity was deeply enmeshed with the unresolved pain of my family.
As I grew up, I developed a heightened sensitivity for all forms of imbalances in power. I became interested in works of psychology and spirituality for they offered solace from a harsh reality I could not face. Through psychological shadow work (exploring the rejected and dark aspects of my psyche) as well as understanding the psychology of projections, I learnt how to disentangle myself from the patterns of behaviour in my family. I saw that my father had projected the rejected parts of himself – the incompetent, timid and powerless female figure – onto my mother and me. He abused us because he could not accept those qualities within himself. I also saw that I had projected the qualities I could not accept in my father – his pride, self-consciousness and emotional manipulativeness – onto everyone I interacted with in my life. In a way, all the men that I met in my life were blank canvasses to me and I unconsciously projected the qualities that I hated in my father onto them, seeing them as egotistical and narcissistic male chauvinists. I developed a deep hatred for men in positions of power. I found myself emotionally unavailable for any authentic relationships with men as I refused to be trapped in a position of servitude and subservience like my mother.
Through psychological shadow work, I uncovered the dark aspects of my psyche that I carefully concealed from the world. To my horror – I saw that both my mother and my father lived within me. Inwardly, I was like my father – I was domineering, abusive and hungry for power. Outwardly, I behaved like a demure and meek woman just like my mother because I had to live up to society’s expectations of our gender. I became both the male abuser and the female victim. My life was a reenactment of the power struggle in my family. My feminine and masculine qualities rose in mutiny against each other and I was torn apart by the ensuing internal war. As a result, I started to become my own abuser.
In a way, I carried my mother’s silenced pain within my heart and I lived out the retaliation which I thought she should have responded with. The pain I inherited from the family became a recurring theme in my life and invaded all aspects of my relationship with others. In the end, we can never conceal our darkness. The most rejected and unwanted part of our psyches always rears its ugly head – not in the carefully put together version of ourselves we show the world, but in our moments of loneliness, anxiety and hesitation. When we begin to look within and see ourselves as we are, the shadow self is there to haunt us.
I do not consider my story unique, for the imbalance in power between men and women is a timeless and recurring theme in the shadows of our collective consciousness. It is a story that we have heard time and again and also one that we have rejected and stowed away in the murky depths of our shadow psyches. My pain is part of a pain that is imbued in our collective consciousness. I can hear my pain echoed in the silenced cries of every woman who has a similar story. I can feel the weight of the burden we have collectively attached to our gender. In a way, this pain has become part of our collective shadow selves. When a problem exists in our collective consciousness, a collective awakening is required to address it. Both men and women need to be awakened.
In truth, all of us have masculine and feminine qualities within ourselves – the anima and the animus. To become whole, we have to embrace both aspects of ourselves. To reject either side of ourselves is to cast it into the shadow, only for it to eventually manifest as a demonic version of ourselves. Awareness alone is powerful; for awareness can bring light into the darkness. With awareness and love for both the feminine and masculine aspects and both the light and the darkness within ourselves, we can work our way out of our pain. Then, we will see that our feminine and masculine sides can coexist in harmony; the contrasting qualities within ourselves can be put to use purposefully to help us achieve our goals in constructive ways.
p.s. Leave a comment if this resonated with you. I love to hear your stories!
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What an excellent article–insightful and rich! Thank you for sharing with us! Namaste
Everything may be a path but some paths should be avoided.
Nice post. Bob