We Each Have A Shadow Self — And It Could Be Sabotaging Your Relationship
Do arguments with your partner always end up in the same dead end? Do you feel guilty asking for what you need? Or always say something in a heated moment you just don't mean? Welcome to the world of the shadow.
What is the shadow?
Famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the term to refer to the unconscious parts of ourselves that we don’t identify with. In other words, these are the parts of us that remain hidden and unknown to ourselves. Have you ever had a friend with a bad habit they are clueless about, but everyone else notices when your group of friends is together? This is how the shadow works, hidden to the person it belongs to.
In romantic relationships, our shadow can be responsible for sabotaging an otherwise healthy relationship by breaking it down over time or breaking it up. Why? Even though our shadow may be unconscious to us, our shadow still influences how we think, act, and show up in the world. Have you ever said something and felt complete shock by how searing your words were? Have you ever thought, I don't know what came over me after a fight with your partner?
Our shadow follows us around, showing up as unhealthy, often repeating, thoughts, behaviors, and choices. When our shadow is at play, it can feel like autopilot, regretfully impulsive, and like our choices are not our own. Whether we want to admit it or not, our shadow can be one of the most destructively influential aspects of ourselves in otherwise loving relationships.
Here are three common ways your shadow may be sabotaging your love and what to do about them:
1. You struggle to ask for what you need and get upset when you don't get it.
I call this the "mind-reading trap." You don't want to have to tell your partner what you need. You believe your partner should be so in tune with you that they should be able to figure out what you need. After all, what you need in a relationship is precisely what you give back in your partnership, so for you it's obvious! You wonder why your partner can't just treat you like you treat them. You wait for your partner to pick up on subtle signals or passive-aggressive statements like "it's OK" or "no big deal"—when what you really mean is "I'm not OK" and "this is a big deal."
Solution: Get clear on your needs and make them explicit. Your partner cannot read your mind, and they are an entirely different person with different needs. For example, perhaps when you feel sad, you need comfort by receiving hugs and talking things out, but when your partner is sad, they need to be alone, in silence, maybe with a good book. The next time you are sad and need comfort, be explicit and ask your partner for a hug. Ask them if they would be willing to listen to you for a few minutes as a sounding board. Consider, if my partner could read my mind, what do I wish they knew I needed? Write them down and start speaking about them with your partner. Even better, ask them to do the same and sit down for a nourishing chat about how each of you can support each other more.
2. You aren't aligned with what you want.
You say you want to take your commitment deeper in your current relationship, but really, energetically, you have one toe or maybe even one whole foot out the door. You tell your partner you want more quality time, but you seem to always be busy every time they try to make plans. You want to be exclusive, but you keep in contact with an ex that you have no desire to be with who serves as a confidence booster when you receive their messages.
Solution: Take responsibility to clean up your side of the street. Look at all of the areas where you are saying or desiring one thing and then your actions are creating another. This requires some hard honesty at times. If you have one foot in and one foot out in case things don't work out, consider, who would you be if you had two feet fully in for the next six months? How can you make quality time with your partner a nonnegotiable and get honest with yourself about what are true work obligations and when you may be armoring yourself from deeper intimacy? Stop contact with the ex that just boosts your ego by deleting their messages and blocking their number. It's time to close that door.
3. You catch every single mistake your partner makes.
You notice the little things like how your partner didn't take out the trash again. Or how they forgot to message you during a break at work. You've had conversations about what you need, and you keep picking apart every moment they make a mistake. You have high standards that are hard for even you to meet, and you find yourself feeling constantly disappointed. It's like death by paper cut in your mind as you catch every tiny misstep along the way.
Solution: Focus on what is important and recognize what is going right. No one is perfect, and people will make mistakes. The question is, what are the deal-breakers for you? What are you willing to tolerate, and what are you not willing to tolerate? Get clear on the lines in your mind so you focus any feedback on the areas that actually feel most important—not every misstep along the way.
After getting clear on what is important, notice: What is going right in your relationship? Acknowledge your partner more verbally for all the bright moments. Maybe even take up a daily practice of ending your day telling each other one thing they did during the day you are grateful for.
Releasing the influence our shadow has over us and our relationship starts by being honest with ourselves by realizing how it may be sabotaging the love we desire. Rather than avoiding your quirks, faults, and not-so-great parts of your character, learn to lovingly turn toward them, get curious, and consider how you can think, act, and choose in more alignment with what you consciously want. Over time, you can release the unhealthy patterns that keep repeating and block you and your partner from deepening your connection, commitment, and emotional intimacy.
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