“Bob is embarrassed to be seen with me,” said Adrienne, 37. “A few weeks ago, we were getting ready to run errands. I was wearing an old blue jogging suit, and when Bob saw me, he snapped. ‘You look like somebody’s fat grandmother. Don’t you have anything nicer?’ I didn’t have the energy to argue, so I changed into a sweater and jeans.”
My Husband Is Ashamed of Me, Ladies Home Journal
There is a concept in psychoanalytic psychology that relates to our shadow side. The concept posits that there are things we don’t like about ourselves and we project that hate for ourselves onto other people. This happens until we see our shadow side and are able to stop projecting that hate onto others and learn to love even the dark parts of ourselves. I believe this to be true. I also think we all struggle to love the parts of ourselves that feel unlovable, thus we perpetrate anger/hate/resentment (and even violence) onto those around us that embody those unlovable parts of ourselves.
I think we’re all familiar with the Ted Haggard story. If not, the summary is: He fiercely advocated against homosexuality in front of thousands of people and the country. It was later discovered that he was engaging in homosexual activity with a male prostitute.
Thou doth protest too much -Shakespeare
For example, we have a huge problem with body image in this culture. We know through the research that there are a lot of healthy body shapes and sizes but we find only a small percentage of the population acceptable in appearance. If you struggle with weight and/or you feel that being “fat” is the worst thing a person can be you will find that you fixate on the appearance of others and measure their worth by their appearance (or lack of worth). This thinking can be obsessive and destructive to your health and your relationships.
What we do not make conscious emerges as fate – Carl Jung
Once I was shopping with my dad in the mall. My dad is a fifty year old man struggling to manage schizophrenia. His medications make him tremble and he struggles to look well-put together. This was not always the case. He was not diagnosed with schizophrenia until his forties (this is unique).
He had a life before the diagnosis. He had a good job and people knew him. At the mall, he ran into a former work associate. I saw as the former associate quickly evaluated my dad and he rushed by without acknowledging him. My dad called out to him but he pretended not to see him. My dad said, “I guess he didn’t recognize me.” I agreed but in my gut I knew what happened. I shoved my rage down into my stomach and moved on. This man did not want to be seen or take the time to talk with a man that looked like my dad. As I type this, I feel the rage resurface. I saw this man’s shadow side and it brought out my own darkness.
I think a good clue to unlocking your shadow side is knowing what makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed. Those emotions can be clues to discovering the parts of yourself that feel unlovable. I know that the term white trash triggers me because of my own insecurities around not feeling good enough. I grew up middle class but for some people that is still white trash. I can get embarrassed of my tattoos because to some people the represent trashiness. I get embarrassed of how my dad might be perceived and what people might think when we’re in public (which is why that man sent me into a rage). I hate that I feel this way but I know where it’s coming from and I try to extend compassion to myself in those shameful and embarrassing moments.
Ultimately, I cannot control how other people perceive me. We each see what we want and when we want. There is no objective reality where things just are. We walk around in our own realities and label people and things according to conscious and unconscious factors. I think it’s worth the work to dig into your shadow side and see what lingers in the darkness. It will help you be more compassionate with yourself and with others.
Of note, if someone is embarrassing you because they are engaging in unhealthy behaviors, this is not a shadow side issue this is a boundaries issue. Again, our emotions are clues that help us understand better understand ourselves. If someone cusses me out in public and I’m embarrassed, it probably means that I should not share time with that person anymore. Someone once told me that they were embarrassed by their husband’s sexual gestures towards their friends. This is not a healthy behavior and she should use her emotions as a clue to talk with her husband about boundaries and appropriateness.
The difference is if it is a theme in your life (e.g, weight, finances, employment status, status in general) or if it is a episodic (e.g, drunk friend/partner, abusive behavior, inappropriate boundaries). There are just some people that are unhealthy for us to share time with at certain times in our lives or maybe forever. This goes beyond exploring our shadow side and understanding ourselves as a whole.
“A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”
“The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335