What are you hiding? Why are you hiding it? If you’re reading this, it could be time to reconnect with the parts of yourself you’ve disowned over the years, and heal the pain caused by denying who you truly are.
Today, we have with us my sister, Lea Evangelista, who works in the fields of personal growth and spirituality to inspire people to find happiness and fulfillment by living as their authentic selves. One powerful way to do that, according to Lea, is through shadow work.
Hi Lea! Before we jump into talking about the shadow, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Hi Anna! Of course. As you probably know from your lifelong exposure to me (laughs), I began facilitating workshops on personal development and related topics when I was in college. One of my classmates and I co-founded a paranormal society at our university—the first and only one of its kind back then—and giving talks to groups of people was a regular part of my duties as founding president. I loved it. I love seeing the looks on people’s faces when their minds are opened to possibilities they weren’t even aware of a moment ago.
How did you begin exploring the shadow?
My formal introduction to the shadow was through the work of author Debbie Ford, who I began following in my early twenties. She has a number of books on the subject, including The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand themselves and the dynamics of their relationships better. But as early as my teens, I had already begun doing exercises and meditations to unearth any hidden issues whenever I was feeling emotional pain. I have always been very introspective and introverted. I was a quiet bookworm in high school who experienced quite a bit of bullying, and being an empath, as well as what is now called a Highly Sensitive Person, my emotions were always at the surface. And yet, despite having the capacity to feel so strongly, for a very long time I held back from fully expressing myself, including being my naturally loving and affectionate self around others, because I thought that being openly vulnerable would hurt me. You know how it is… sometimes you extend yourself in friendship towards someone and they may not be used to that level of openness, and it could result in anything from rejection to them reacting like you were offering more than you actually were and treating you afterwards like you’re this weirdo. That loving and playful part of me became part of my shadow self.
So you’re saying that the shadow parts of ourselves can also be positive? Just clarifying, because isn’t the word “shadow” about the darkness? How would you define the shadow?
The shadow is made up of the parts of ourselves we keep hidden. These are parts of ourselves we don’t like, because we believe there’s something wrong with them. Usually there’s something painful or traumatic that happened earlier in life that prompted us to disown these parts of ourselves. Many times, yes, we do distance ourselves from traits that are generally seen as unfavorable by society, such as laziness, arrogance, or greed.
But there could also be parts of us that we distance ourselves from simply because they were frowned upon in our early environments. On the surface, there may be nothing that appears wrong with these parts, but they were criticized by those we considered authority figures… those who had power over us when we were young.
Can you give an example?
Sure. For some, being an artist could be part of their shadow. If they came from a family, for instance, where being artistic wasn’t valued or was even looked down on, they could have swept their creativity under the rug, and chose to develop and exhibit instead what their family considered more valuable. I can personally relate to this. I am an artist, with makeup artistry being a huge avenue through which I have both financially supported and expressed myself artistically. And yet, for years I had issues with using makeup as the medium for my art. I don’t even really wear makeup in my personal life, only for work, and to create artistic looks, and yet there I was, getting judged for being a makeup artist by those who equate makeup with vanity… and that made me so angry without my knowing it until I discovered it by doing some inner work later. I found out I had also been judging myself for being a makeup artist, engaging in something that supposedly made me shallow, which I considered myself to be anything but, and yet it put food on the table and kept a roof over my head. It was a vicious cycle.
For other artists, maybe, despite knowing it isn’t for them, they end up pursuing a profession that’s more inclined towards the sciences, or towards physical labor… whatever it is that was more respected and not disapproved of in their family of origin.
And that’s where happiness and fulfillment come into the picture.
Exactly. When we aren’t being ourselves, we are disconnected from our purpose in life.
But how about the traits that ARE considered negative? Where’s the value in admitting to ourselves that we are those things?
Doing shadow work is about embracing what was once condemned, mocked, or laughed at about us. We associate these traits and parts of ourselves with shame because we were shamed for having or being them. That’s why we don’t want to let them out, or even admit in some cases that we are those very things we feel disdain for. Think about it. What if we were to give our shadow selves the love we wanted, needed and craved when we were younger? What if, instead of judging that part of us we’ve repressed into the darkness, we gave it a safe outlet for expression? That part of us would no longer pop up to sabotage our best efforts at the least expected times.
What I get from what you’re saying is, we can’t run from who we really are. Right?
Absolutely. History is filled with examples of public figures who condemned certain actions, behaviors, choices, and ways of living and being, only to be caught later on engaging in those very acts. Many public careers have been destroyed because people go down roads not aligned with who they truly are, and their real selves come out sooner or later. We’re not giving people an excuse to behave badly here by saying they should give in to all their impulses. We’re merely acknowledging that there is good in the traits we’ve considered negative. Knowing how to use that good is what makes all the difference.
A child might be scolded for being talkative, but she finds the gold in that attribute by later becoming a successful talk show host. A child who loves to draw might be yelled at for wasting his time, and he may put his sketchpad down for a few years in response to that, but when he becomes a children’s book illustrator who contributes to inspiring young minds, his acceptance of that part of him leads to him feeling fulfilled.
It looks like this topic has so much depth and room for exploration. Can you give one tip on how we can begin identifying our shadow selves?
Notice what it is that rubs you the wrong way in others. The way we feel about other people serves as a mirror for what’s going on inside us. Our judgments of someone are based not on who they are, but on our perception of who we think they are, and that explains why different people have different interpretations of the same person or event.
Then honestly ask yourself in what ways you have been that very thing you dislike. When have you acted that way? If you don’t think you ever have, the next question is, would there be any circumstances where you’d feel perfectly justified to act that way?
Again, this isn’t about condoning hurtful behavior. The focus is on acknowledging that we are capable of doing and being what it is we dislike, even if only in very particular situations. If we own a particular trait—let’s say, anger—we have more control over its expression. But if we pretend to ourselves we’re all sweetness and softness, when there are actually moments we get pretty riled up, the anger that builds inside of us will make itself known eventually, and it may not happen at a convenient time if we refuse to accept it as part of who we are.
I’m sure some readers are intrigued about how they can do this sort of work on themselves. Are you available for that?
Yes, thanks for asking! I do workshops, and one on ones. There will be some FREE sessions here and there as a gift for those who want to see if engaging in this work is right for them at this time, so go ahead and follow me on social media for updates, and contact me directly as well at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
And I would also like to mention that I have a partner in this work of inspiration, authenticity, and personal development. I am so excited to share more about his end of the partnership very soon. He’s one of my dearest friends… an amazing guy whose presence in my life is what inspires me to be more expressive of my gratitude and appreciation, as well as be more loving in general.
I wanted to add that because I think we could all use more love and kindness, and he is just such a great model of love. Sometimes we hide the caring part of ourselves in the shadows because we don’t want to be misinterpreted, and the world ends up being colder and less friendly as a result. There is such a thing as agape, which is universal love, and he and I believe in extending it to everyone. When someone’s nice to you, or is complimenting you, or is extending themselves to you, it doesn’t automatically mean they want anything other than to express kindness and spread the love. And I personally think the world would be a more peaceful place if we could love more without it always being looked upon suspiciously, or misinterpreted as the love most of us are familiar with, which is romantic or erotic love. Of course you’d run away, well many would, myself included, if we thought someone we don’t really know was trying to get in our pants! (laughs) But really though, how many potentially wonderful friendships have we turned away because we were too scared to receive agape from someone? How many moments where we could have made someone’s day by complimenting them or smiling kindly at them have we passed up on because we were scared our motives and actions would be misinterpreted? It very well could happen, don’t get me wrong. But when we aren’t expecting anything in return, isn’t the risk worth it to have given what could be an appreciated bit of genuine kindness to a fellow human?
Regarding shadow work, I will sum things up by saying, it can be a scary process because we come face to face with what we don’t necessarily want to see. But when we acknowledge all of who we are, we can move forward because we aren’t subconsciously blocking our progress through self-sabotage. And love… love for our purpose in life… love for those in our lives… love for our commitment to be the best version of ourselves we can be… that’s what gives us the courage to dive into the darkness to retrieve the parts of us that we’ve banished to the shadows.
Thank you so much, Lea! Maybe next time, we could bring him on for an interview. Anyone with a genuine interest in Lea’s work, or in matters such as defining their life purpose and passions in order to find greater fulfillment, we will provide some links below.
Catch you all later!