As a student, practitioner and teacher of yoga, I try to live my life in a kind and thoughtful way. I try to tune into each moment in the present, and live according to the principles of my yoga practice.
Yet just when I started to wrap my mind around the fundamentals of yoga and the potential it had to transform all facets of my life, I had a kid. Then I had two more.
To say, "My life changed" as a result of having three kids would be a laughable understatement. My universe was totally flipped. Up was down. Left was right. Not only were my circumstances different, but my emotions were intense and often confusing. I felt madly in love yet also sad. And a lot of the time, I found myself feeling isolated and angry.
It was both fascinating and terrifying to see myself go from loving, present, calm and clear to confused, desperate and resentful. It all happened so quickly — sometimes there would be mere moments in between such polarized feelings. How could I be so in love with my darling children, how could my heart stretch so far for my family — and then, at the drop of a dime, I could stumble so far away?
The answer is both simple and mystifying. Being a mother is beautiful and gratifying, and my children are the beating heart behind everything that I do. At the same time, parenting is one of the most draining, exhausting and scary things I will ever do. It's a full-time job, and you don't get weekends off — ever.
As parenting became more all consuming, I could feel myself living out of alignment. Walking the walk of my yogic talk was becoming more and more challenging. It was then that I heard the idea of "Shadow Work." Carl Jung coined the term shadow to describe those dark and "unacceptable" emotions that we try to ignore and repress. These "shadows" are the thoughts and traits that have been pushed into our unconscious.
Why? As children, we were not allowed or encouraged to express or acknowledge these parts of ourselves by our parents, teachers, churches or peers. When we felt like we weren't being accepted or valued, we wanted to feel accepted and loved. So we would stuff these emotions — our shadows — in what poet Robert Bly calls "the long bag we drag behind us."
When we are unable to express these parts of ourselves — we project them onto others. We do this in order to have someone to point the finger at. We sacrifice them so that they may take the blame.
Once I learned about the concept of Shadow Work, I realized a lot about my emotional journey while parenting. Specifically, I realized that when my children trigger me, it's a projection. When we cast our shadows on our children, we are continuing the custom of passing our most painful emotions and experiences onto those we love the most. So now when I feel unnerved, annoyed, frustrated, angry, I am now able to look inside and find out why.
All of us could benefit from looking inward more — especially when it comes to the point of wanting to yell at your kids. So before you lash out at your child at a moment of high intensity emotion, ask yourself this one, simple question: am I projecting?
The next time your child isn't listening, ask yourself, "Where in my life am I not listening to others?" Next time you think your child is being selfish, pause. Breathe. "Where do I show selfishness in my own life?" The next time your child lies to you, or shows hate and contempt for their siblings, listen. Get quiet. Become really honest. "Where do I lie and show hatred in my life?"
Take whatever steps you need to in order to look inward more. Journal. Feel safe and supported to figure yourself out. Be courageous. This work is indeed work: it's difficult, but it will be so liberating.
To confront our demons honestly and critically, to see ourselves as complex, multidimensional beings with long, messy stories, is to take responsibility for ourselves. Once we do this, we can begin to heal our wounds, to bring light to our darkness, and release the power our demons have over us.
This work, probing the question of our projections, helps make lasting changes and helps to facilitate spiritual growth as people and as parents. We can enable ourselves to live truly loving and authentic lives — with our children and within ourselves.