How is it we find it so hard to speak the things that lend themselves to shadow – within ourselves and within all of our interactions with others – at work, at home, elsewhere? How is it that voicing shadow has been stilled instead of us stilling shadow by voicing it?
If we all carry shadow – and I do mean everyone of us – and if it shows up in every conceivable situation or context – relationships, teams, projects, organizations – anywhere and everywhere human beings show up, how is it we have fallen into patterns of colluding with it so that it gains a foothold and sometimes a stranglehold on us and our relationships, getting in the way of us getting things done?
I know personally I have found my voice stilled in the face of shadow in situations too numerous to recount. I have felt without voice, shut down by self and others, judged and judging and I have often wondered how I could ever find my way to clarity that could be voiced in a way that served well instead of feeding the emotional and energetic vortex that often forms around shadow. Fear felt in each heart palpitation, stomach in my throat and head pounding as words sometimes eeked their way out and sometimes didn’t – not knowing how to name things in the groups and teams I was part of and particularly when it felt like I had a lot at risk.
It is probably these many experiences with shadow (beginning long before I knew what shadow was) that has sparked my enduring interest and curiousity in this topic – that and the freedom that learning has brought in those times when I found the voice to speak from the place of my own shadow. I grew and released bits of shadow every time I found my voice. Sometimes it was messy and inelegant and other times for more graceful than I would have given myself credit for.
I also discovered I could help others – individuals and groups – begin to name and voice their shadow in order to elevate it to a place of visibility and learning which disempowered the negative influences of shadow.
Then, knowing that I actually have the capacity to voice it, deal with it, disempower it, I have judged myself harshly in those times when I knew I wasn’t voicing the shadow I was aware of.
Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, in their work in PeerSpirit, define shadow as that which cannot be voiced – and, if it is voiced, is done at great peril, real and perceived, to the speaker. I wrote about it in this blog on the Gift of Shadow. In a recent conversation with Art of Hosting friends and colleagues: Christina, Nancy Eagan and Martin Siesta, we identified at least two traps we often fall into that still the voice that would expose shadow.
The first of these is the time trap. In pursuit of our work and objectives we feel we do not have time to “derail” the trajectories, grand design or process flow in favour of pausing to check in around shadow that begins to show up. We know it’s there but we want to work around it to keep to a time target. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice. Other times we are just blundering our way through.
Related to this is another situation I’m familiar with – shadow on hosting or facilitation teams that is not addressed. When shadow shows up in hosting teams (and it usually does to some degree or other) and isn’t addressed, it impacts the relationships on the hosting team and it can influence the dynamics of the larger group we are working with, whether we intend it or not. The degree to which this happens depends on the level of self-mastery of the individual hosts (the degree to which I can own and sit with my own shadow or to which I am projecting it onto others), the larger context of relationships within the hosting team and whether this is something new that is beginning to emerge or something that has been brewing for a long time. I’ve experienced all of these scenarios and more. Because dealing with shadow is usually not a lunch time conversation, as a hosting team we often make a non-verbalized choice to function on behalf of the client or the group rather than trying to deal with shadow on the client’s time. Sometimes this is a necessary choice. The problem with this is we often do not make the time to deal with shadow outside of client or training time. One often used excuse is our schedules are too busy. And our tendency is to want to avoid these conversations because we have all had experiences where this had gone badly. We are scarred by these experiences. When the relationships are really important though, when we want to deepen the experience and continue to work with people in the most authentic ways possible, we do make the time. We stay in it for the long haul. It is where some of our greatest learning and growth takes place and our deepest relationships emerge.
A second thing that stills us from voicing shadow is people’s goodness. People generally are trying hard and if we bring up shadow it seems to imply they – or we – are a bad person. Whatever shadow shows up gets generalized to the whole person rather than to the specifics of this particular shadow or context. If it is named, the response is often defensiveness – “I’m doing all I can”; “I’m doing the best I can”. People’s goodness and the tendency to generalize become a barrier to talking about hard and difficult things. It comes back to not wanting to hurt another person and also our lack of skill in addressing difficult topics. We are afraid for their reputation and for ours.
These are just a couple of traps. There are more. What are some traps you’ve experienced that still the voicing of shadow? What are your experiences in finding your voice? How can we develop our skill in surfacing the undercurrents of shadow so we can shift the shape of our experience and our world in a way that embraces all that is there?