*All identifying information has been significantly altered to protect anonymity*
In my last ten years of working with coaching clients 1-on-1, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of amazing things take place.
I have helped people go from anxious, shy, and single, to marrying the partner of their dreams.
I have helped men and women let go of their breakups/divorces (and the pain attached to their exes) for good, after years or decades of resistance.
I have seen the most deeply stuck people flourish, thrive, and excel in their lives in a balanced, connected, and deeply nourished way.
And nothing fills my heart more than to see someone who I believe in make real, lasting changes in their lives.
But every now and then, a client comes my way that is more resistant to change (and, ultimately, to difficult truths) than others.
Because, to name it directly…
The shadow figures in our minds do not want to be seen.
Depending on the level of work that we are doing, the suppressed psychological content of our minds can be a small backpack that we’re occasionally lugging around, or it can be likened to dragging a full sized army tank behind us… essentially making progress in our lives impossible.
Whatever you disown in yourself, goes into the shadow.
We start putting parts of ourselves into the shadow at a very early age (when someone tells us that something about us is too much, not enough, or just plain unloveable) and the accumulation of this content gathers throughout our lifetime.
Maybe someone tells you that it isn’t acceptable to pursue your favourite form of art (writing, dancing, singing, etc.) as a means to make a living in the so-called ‘real world’.
Maybe someone tells you that you are too sensitive, too emotional, too quiet, or too loud.
Maybe someone tells you that your dreams are silly. That your perceived truths are unwelcome. That your ability to see people as they are makes others uncomfortable.
Whatever we have wronged in us, we put into the shadow… and we disown it for as long as we are able (until our minds eventually revolt). Because any part of yourself that you are at war with will eventually turn on you and demand to be listened to, one way or another.
Even when being called out directly, our shadow figures maintain their resistance to being brought into the light.
I once worked with a client named James* who was the CEO of a business that did over $200 million in annual revenue. James had worked tirelessly to build his empire through his 20’s and 30’s, and came to me when he was a burnt out, exhausted 38 year old. He was willing to acknowledge that he had been feeling “a bit tired” for years, and found it hard to relax. Within our first call, it was massively apparent to me that James was struggling because there were major parts of himself that he had disowned in his tireless search for success.
I asked him why he had originally started his business, and he repeatedly mentioned wanting to create a life in which he had the freedom to surf, spend time with his loved ones, and enjoy the kind of spaciousness he had experienced in his carefree teenage years. When I suggested to him that he had severed significant parts of himself in order to experience mythic success, he balked at the idea and breezed past my suggestion. Never one to be put off by a well developed ego’s initial resistance, I pushed back.
“I really think that this whole situation comes down to the fact that you have doubled down on certain traits… like your decisiveness, dedication, and focus… to grow your business, and completely disowned other parts of yourself… like your playfulness, creativity, and patience. My greatest wish for you would be to create more time for rest, play, and whatever else has you slow down and feel more alive again.”
Without a moments hesitation, he shot back, “No, I really don’t think that that’s it. I just need to figure out the next leg of my business development. A new product I’m excited about. Or the new direction for our company. Something has to change internally.”
And indeed, something did have to change internally. But not in his business’s structure or product development… but in his own internal world.
Even when our shadow is called out directly, it often digs its heels in further.
As evidenced by another client I worked with just a few years ago.
Rebecca* came to me at (what she wanted to be) the end of a long streak of only dating men who were emotionally unavailable. The romantic partners she attracted were all either married, very recently divorced, staunchly unwilling to be vulnerable with her, lived on another continent, or a combination of these things.
In our first coaching call, she held the position that she just needed to find the right “dating lead generation source” (Rebecca, like many of my coaching clients, was self-employed and loved using business analogies for her love life). In her mind, if she just found the right dating app or the right matchmaking service, she’d finally be able to settle down and marry the man of her dreams.
When I offered her the feedback that perhaps it was she who needed to become more emotionally available because she was terrified of being truly seen by others, she rejected the notion point blank… continuing on down a path of self-sabotage and half-baked, short-term connections.
Now, my coaching practice tends to attract a lot of high achieving entrepreneurs who thrive (in their business lives) on their self-assuredness. But the shadow side of self-confidence is foolhardiness (or worse, blindness). And when certain character traits get you a ways in your career development, it’s easy to think that those traits could never harm you (when, more often than not, they are things that most lead to your down fall if they aren’t recognized and balanced out with opposing forces).
It is a rare occurrence, but there have been clients who have terminated our coaching relationship early because I was the only person in their carefully cultivated lives who wasn’t serving them false niceties on a silver platter. The truth can sting, but it serves us in the long run.
It takes willingness, persistence, and trust in order to shift our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves.
It takes effort to work with our darker energies. And, as one of my mentors, Phil T. Mistlberger once told me, “The dark lords do not surrender their assets so easily.”
When you finally do find a way to work with and transform these resistant shadow elements, you will experience a surge of energy like no other. A surge of energy that your soul has been craving for longer than you can remember.
Because being at war with ourselves is severely taxing.
Because the old way is no longer serving you.
Because, eventually, the truth demands to be heard.
Dedicated to your success,
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