I don’t find it even a little bit surprising that an internet search shows this exact title has never been written about before. I do find it surprising though, that The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mothers hasn’t been either. I suspect there are good reasons for that, but whatever they might be, I’m willing to put on my Hubris Hat and take up the challenge and offer One Habit.
If there’s one thing the six-week teleseminar I recently presented with Jeanne Denney (Embracing Mother’s Dark Heart) has taught me, it’s that I don’t know jack about what it really means to be a mother. But I am a man after all, so I refuse to let a little detail like that stop me.
So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s start with Habit One. . .
Habit One: Make Your Shadow Your Bitch
Most people know what the Shadow is, but just so we’re on the same digital page, let me tell you what I mean by it – I mean precisely what Kay Plumb means by it:
the parts of a human being that a person doesn’t want to, or can’t, think about or acknowledge. It refers to the repressed, unlived side of your normal daytime personality—the stuff you don’t like about yourself, the stuff you don’t want anyone to know about you.
Thus your shadow contains negative qualities, such as envy or prejudice or insecurity. Or it could even contain positive qualities, such as compassion or artistic ability. But the qualities, whatever they are, stay in your shadow because you don’t like to—in fact most of the time you simply can’t—admit you possess them. Some parts of ourselves we like to show to others—put out into the light—and some parts of ourselves we like to hide—keep in the shadows….Your shadow can’t be smelled or tasted or touched or felt, yet it is actually hooked to you, attached to the creases and crevices and neurons of your daylight mind. And while other people can see your shadow without too much trouble, you usually have to turn your head around to see it.
The Birth of Shadow
In their seminal book, Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes, Peter Levine and Maggie Kline encourage us to look with new eyes at all the many things we adults take for granted that can easily overwhelm a child. Any number of those early experiences can end up in the alchemical mix that make up parts of the Grand Delusions underlying each of our unique Shadows.
Because of its alternating hemispheric development, our brain begins recording overwhelming events and storing them as shadow experiences on the right side long before we ever learn to speak – The Unthought Known. Beginning in utero, things that scare us stay with us and work to disrupt, delay and disorganize neural development. A noise in the dead of night, prolonged maternal stress, food that we gag on, loud or scary voices on the radio or television – all stored as sensation and image in the right brain for years.
And all of it making us uneasy over and over again down the developmental road. And the things that disturb us most are usually things having to do with … Those People. Those people who don’t share our love of nature. Those people who crashed the economy. Those people who raise their kids and puppies wrong. Those people who don’t and who should.
Ignoring the Yucky Parts
What happens if I simply decide to ignore my shadow? Turns out I’m not too well-served doing that, and Kay has some spot-on insights about that strategy as well. (I should have asked her guest-write this blog! I can at least suggest you buy her award-winning book: Using Beauty and her Beast to Introduce the Human Shadow).
Shadows get projected out onto other people. You can’t avoid running into parts of your own psyche. Since the things in your shadow are a part of your own psychological make-up they have to and they will show up somewhere in your life. In other words, if you just can’t stand to face some of your own stuff, you will end up seeing your own stuff on someone else’s face.
The word projection is very apt. We’re all familiar with movie projectors. . . . With unacknowledged shadow material you’re the projector. You’re that little machine in the back creating the image. The image is coming from you. But the place where you see the image is on the screen in front of you. You see it in another person, or group of people. Causes a lot of heartache in the world.
What’s for Breakfast?
Eating our Shadow, as the poet Robert Bly has suggested, is not the most delicious meal on wheels. It often requires us to trace back present-moment upsets to their earlier, painful roots. Who in their right mind happily descends back to the future of such memories? Better to let sleeping dogs and early abuse be, or simply cast present-moment transgressors into purgatory. Except that any time we find ourselves emotionally upset or speaking in generalities or stereotypes, we can be pretty sure our Shadow is making US its bitch. And as it does, you can be equally sure it will wreak havoc with all the personal relationships in our lives, especially the relationship with our kids.