In a recent interview with Beliefnet, she described the shadow as "the parts of ourselves that we hide, deny, or suppress. There are parts of ourselves that we are unaware of or we're in denial of or the parts of ourselves that we don't like, that we feel ashamed of or embarrassed by, that we suppress. We spend our time, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly, hiding them."
Ford explains that the shadow exists within all of us. It is a part of us and yet we spend most of our lives running from it. Our shadow makes itself known every day. It is the reason we get furious over a friend showing up ten minutes late, yell at our parents or kids when they have done nothing wrong, and sabotage our own success at the worst possible time. Until we are able to embrace our dualistic nature, we will continue to hurt ourselves and those closest to us and we will continue to fall short of our potential, she says. But far from being scary, embracing the shadow holds the key to great joy, inspiration, and success.
"In trying to express only those aspects of ourselves that we believe will guarantee us the acceptance of others, we suppress some of our most valuable features and sentence ourselves to a life of reenacting the same drama with the same outworn script," Ford says. "Reclaiming the parts of ourselves that we have relegated to the shadow is the most reliable path to actualizing our human potential. Once befriended, our shadow becomes a divine map that reconnects us to the life we were meant to live and the people we were meant to be."
In her most recent book, The Shadow Effect, Ford joins forces with friends Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson. The three authors pierce the veil of our unclaimed self, helping to release us from the past and propelling us on a journey to wholeness where we can reclaim happiness.
Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway: In your book you talk about the birth of the shadow. How does it come into being?
Debbie Ford: There are things that are our nature, qualities that we would maybe consider our shadow qualities that are kind of built into our DNA. And then, there is what gets birthed out of the wounds of our childhood and sometimes even in later stages of life.
What are some common shadow situations you see?
Right now one of the biggest diseases of our time is people pleasing. People saying “yes” when they mean “no.” Then they feel resentful. They can't actually go about and meet their own soul's vision because they're too busy working on all these other people, or staying nice, or just thinking that they won't be loved or they won't belong if they're not pleasing somebody else. When people start doing shadow work they often say: “I can't say no to my mother because I don't want to be a bad daughter.” “I can't say no to my husband because then he won't love me. “ Or, “I can't say no to my kids and set a boundary because then I'll be a bad mother. “ The more we identify these things, then the more we realize it is related to something we were shamed for—such as selfishness. That's a quality that most people hate about themselves. They don't want to be selfish. But, that same selfishness could actually be a balance for something. We don’t know how the shadow, when suppressed, will affect us or how we will try to disguise it. We don’t naturally say, “Oh, I'm going to become a people pleaser. People won't know that I'm really selfish. “Any quality that we make wrong or judge becomes part of the shadow--and becomes our nemesis.
Some traditions say we are born with a “dark inclination” and a “light inclination,” and we have to honor both. Is the idea to balance the shadow so that it works for you?
We do have to, ultimately, bring the shadow out of the shadows and bring the light to it. We do it by understanding that every quality comes bearing a gift. You may not understand what the gift of your mean self is, but you may have a child who is in a rehab for the third time and has emptied your bank account and you may have to be mean. You may have to cut them off. We don't always know when we may need those qualities. Anger, if used properly, might be for a cause like helping feed children, or stopping abuse somewhere. When we understand that every quality has importance and value, then we open up to this. Shining a light on these shadow qualities gives it balance.
How do you teach balancing our shadow selves in your workshops?
It's a three-part process. We uncover the shadows that are driving us, that are sabotaging us, stopping us from having what we want in some area of our lives. And then, we own up to that quality. We see how it's using us, either because we're overcompensating with an opposite quality, the other side of it, or because we just hate it and feel so much shame about it. And then, the third part, which is the transformative part, goes beyond acceptance, because acceptance you're just left with, all right, I have all these qualities. I still don't like these 20. But embracing them has us bring the light to find the gift, to find the wisdom, to find the compassion. And that's what transforms us.
You said you like to use “shadow tricks” to help people do this kind of deep self-exploration.
I try to get people to see it as more of a treasure hunt, because every time you embrace something of the darkness, you'll find that the counterpart shows up in your life.
1. One little trick to find your shadow is to look out in the world and find two people whom you don't want to be, whom you don’t like, who push your buttons. In the quietness of your own inner world, ask yourself what are the qualities are that disturb you. You’ll find you don't like those qualities in yourself.
2. The second step is, once you've uncovered it, own up to it. This other person may ignore his or her children. You don't ignore your children but you ignore your husband, or you ignore your community. It may show up in a completely different way, but you'll be able to see that you don’t like the quality.
3. The third step is a bit harder to do on your own, but you can do it and start to see: What does that part of me need? How can I bring compassion and forgiveness to this part of me? When was I taught to ignore it, to hide it, to hate it--who else made it wrong? Write that down. The ultimate question is, what would be the value if I own this part of me, if I allowed it to be free? When we can see that the quality which I've hated has actually brought me value, we start to shift. We bring the light. Then it's not stuffed inside our unconscious and doesn't have to do what I would call the beach ball effect. It doesn't have to bounce up and hit you in the face --when you least expect it.
So, if someone aggravates you, they're just reflecting back to you the part of yourself that you don't like? And is the same true about liking and loving someone?
Absolutely. That is how we see the shadow. There's only person in the world you can't see--yourself. But, God created--or whoever created us, we don't even have to argue that point--created us so perfect because we can actually see ourselves in other people. We also see ourselves in that which we love about others. This is how we find our light shadows, our brilliance, our beauty, our power. We look out in the world and think: What am I attracted to? What gets me excited? And you find your light shadow. And on the other side of it, you look and you say, what annoys me? What disturbs me? What makes me angry? And you find your dark.
So there's a light shadow and a dark shadow?
Yes. Just as we hide our darkness, we also hide our light. For example, you're six years old and you're singing at the top of your lungs. Maybe you're fully self-expressed in that one moment. And somebody says, “Shut up, you’re too loud, you're annoying people.” Then all of a sudden you take your full self-expression and you hide it. You see it as wrong. You judge it.
How did you learn to love your own light?
I grew up very insecure. From the time I was little I used to hide under my mother’s dress. That was my nature. Marianne Williamson, with whom I wrote The Shadow Effect, actually was the key person to reflect back my light--because I saw somebody who was courageous, who was powerful, and who was just straight with other people. When I met her 20-something years ago, I would never say things that I would say today. But I learned to, because I identified the qualities in her courageous, bold self. So, I watched Marianne and said, “If I loved that in her, I must have those same qualities. “ I started looking every day at how I could be more of that. You find the qualities in the people you admire and you start to, day by day, bring them forth in yourself, because the outer world is truly a reflection of our inner world.
How are some of the ways people change when they embrace the shadow - dark and light?
What I've seen--this is my eighth book and I've trained thousands of people and done workshops with hundreds of thousands of people--is that as we shift our inner world, as we learn to have compassion for our dark shadows and open our hearts to the light shadows inside of us, the whole outer world changes. The way people relate to us change. The opportunities and possibilities that come to us change. Our voice changes. Our walk changes. Many times our career changes. It is so powerful. That's why I keep writing, and even had Deepak and Marianne come into this project to really help people understand that to be human is to have a shadow. And to have a shadow is your divine map to your wholeness and your greatness.
Would you say that complaining, gossip, negativity, bitterness, and judging others come from a shadow side? If we gripe about this in others, are we simply seeing our own issues?
Yes, we're just projecting parts of ourselves onto it. We can use any situation. In fact, the worse it is, the better it is to heal ourselves. And that's why we're drawn to particular situations and particular people. If you're not dealing with your own shadow every day, it will come up and bite you.
Is that why Peter Pan went back to look for his shadow?
Exactly. Oh my God, we need that so desperately. And we will need to sew it back on. I do this beautiful process in one of my advanced courses where people really sew it back on -- because it's like sewing your human self and your divine self back together. You have this part of you that's discontent. You feel you are ungrateful, and bad. But the divine isn’t looking down and saying, “You're horrible.” We have to understand that whatever we have deemed bad is something we’ve deemed unlovable inside of us. And our job is to love. To love like we've never loved before.
And especially, love ourselves, yes?
Yes. It's easy to love yourself when you feel good enough, when you feel special enough, when you're loved enough, when you have enough money, and you're appreciated. But what about loving yourself when you're crying and you're in pain, feeling powerless and hopeless; when you feel like a reject and nobody loves you? You pick that part of you up and you say, I am going to love you. I know you're feeling helpless right now. I know you're feeling vulnerable, but I am going to take care of you like you are God, like you are gold. That is love and that is what shadow work demands from you. That you take those parts of you that you have deemed inappropriate or wrong, or that you're not. Maybe you've decided you're not a genius, that you're not brilliant, that you're not prosperous, that you're not wonderful, that you're not lovable. Well, you know what? You're both, you're unlovable and you are lovable. And they both need equal time. We were birthed with one soul to take care of, and we must take care of it.