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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Joy in the Shadow

Usually when I talk about parts of the psyche that have been disowned, parts that have been relegated to “the shadow” I’m referring to the commonly unwanted feelings such as fear, rage, shame, or despair. The shadow is typically perceived as the dark depository for what is often held to be the negative aspects, for example; unhealthy dependency, unacknowledged narcissism, unmet hopelessness, and the looming ghosts of unlived lives. Interestingly however, it is not only negative aspects that I consign to the oblivion of dissociation and unconsciousness. I have noticed that I myself, as well as many of my friends and clients, have lost the capacity to access, embody, and express more positive experiences such as contentment, pleasure, creativity, sexuality, intimacy, and connectedness. It is hard to comprehend that some of us have disconnected from the simple experience of joy, or a spontaneous sense of elation at being alive. For example, when my very young, very natural, raw, human experience of joy created reactivity and suppressive responses in my parents – anxiety in my Mom, and anger in my Dad, causing them to shame and pull away from me – I learned quite quickly that joy is not okay, and even potentially dangerous. It can be very confusing to associate the experience of joy with being unsafe. As a little wee one, with a developing brain and nervous system, I learned to disown and/or dissociate from any state or experience which had the potential to disrupt my tie to my primary attachment figures. Repressing joy was an intelligent and creative act, and probably saved my life, or felt like it would. But there is a deep longing in me to know joy again, to feel alive, to fully show up. Allowing myself to feel joy is not so simple, as I must step back into the anxiety, panic, and sense of annihilation that the repression of joy protected me from. But joy is seeking expression, so the darkness has to be explored and known. Allowing myself to see all the various aspects of myself that I have projected into the shadow . . . awakening to the ways I have split off from both the negative and the positive, is crucial to the unfolding of this psychological and spiritual inquiry.

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