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How to embrace being imperfectly perfect

Facing the shadow self.

Shadow Work — Sim Campbell

“I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole.” — Carl Jung

My research into Shadow Self was triggered by a conversation with a friend as we were walking along the river this past week. We were reflecting on our reactions to certain experiences and I said:

“I know I am a pretty good person, kind and supportive most of the time, but I can react poorly and be pretty awful too.”

As a good friend would, her initial response was “No way!” which was very supportive and kind, but you know what? It’s absolutely true. I had recently reacted very poorly during an interaction with a stranger and I wanted to explore what this lack of patience says about me? Because isn’t everything we dislike in others a reflection of what we don’t like in ourselves?

A psychotherapist friend suggested that this reaction is coming from my shadow self .” “Oooooh, so what’s that? How does that work?”

Fight Club — Fox 2000 Pictures

The Shadow Self

Black and white. Yin and Yang. Two sides of the same coin. Light and shadow. It’s all about balance, you can’t have heaven without a hell, and if we have a light side we must by default have a dark side too.

Jungian philosophy states that the shadow archetype is an “unknown side”, it is our subconscious, our reaction state. It is the side that we try to ignore or the less desirable states that we try to pretend we don’t have.

We have seen the Jungian model in action in movies before, famously in Fight Club, there was the character who followed all the rules and a shadow self that broke all the rules and created anarchy.

Like any shadow, there has to be light for the shadow to exist. We don’t always see our shadow when we are walking in the light, but it is always there, and the shadow self is the same; we can’t always see it ourselves, but it always exists.


The importance of understanding the Shadow Self

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” — Carl Jung

The theory states that we need to embrace the shadow or it becomes black and potentially evil. Call it instinct or call it irrationality, but we are inclined to perceive our personal inferiority as a moral deficiency in someone else — otherwise known as projection. Our ego cannot take our criticism, so we take it out on the real world.

It is the part of us that we are ashamed of, and if we do not face it or grow to confront it, the shadow can take over. What is really confronting is that this is the part of us that we see in others or resent in others — that we actually hate about ourselves.

“Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life.” — C. Zweig & S. Wolf


My pandemic experience with the Shadow Self

As someone who has worked at the front lines of McDonald's, in retail shops, banks, and online services, I learned the old school method of customer experience, i.e. these are the people enabling our paycheque, and a disappointed customer is just an opportunity to exceed expectations.

No matter where the customer service office is located, I find it absolutely frustrating when service agents do not understand how to deliver humanized customer service or clearly do not read the original complaint so they address and respond to the actual concern or issue.

I just wanted to close a SaaS account.

I went through the website, and there was no clear confirmation on screen that it was closed primarily because I could still log in, I emailed the company — “There is no confirmation of closing the account on the screen or your website. Can you please confirm that the account is closed?”

The response I got was Yes I can see you closed the account. It was closed more than once. Do you understand that? So why is there an issue?”

Okay, to start, I don’t know how you can close an account more than once. But she really got me wound up with the condescension.

I do not like condescension.

When I am spoken to like I’m an idiot, it triggers my evil side, my Shadow Self (I’m working on this), and I responded politely with the suggestion that putting the confirmation on the screen for the customer would save this email exchange and received yet another “I don’t think you understand” and at that point, I responded, please do not email me again and stopped engaging.

The Dark Knight — Warner Brothers, DC Comics

As I reflect on that interaction through the lens of the Shadow Self, I can view my reaction a little more objectively and understand what it says about me.

Did I expect perfection? Did I expect gratitude for feedback? If we were exploring the Shadow Self, what did she exhibit that I dislike about myself? I am a freelancer and entrepreneur, and “the imposter syndrome” can seep in periodically, so perhaps it was simply that I felt I am not achieving what I strive for?

Loner Wolf discusses “Types of Shadow Self”, but I am not certain they can be so easily categorized or intensely dark as he describes them. However, understanding ourselves is always a lifelong learning process.


Facing the Shadow Self

Fight Club — Fox 2000 Pictures

There is no such thing as perfection; even those that fight to attain it, eventually end up in the depths of despair because they realize it is unattainable. And I am far from perfect.

This research shows me that if I want to continue to grow and develop, then I will need to understand the concept of the Shadow Self. I would like to believe we can temper the negative aspects of ourselves or improve our mental state with tools and commitment to understanding and learning.

I have wrapped up the darker side of my nature as “I am an impatient person.” But I also know with certainty that when I was taking the time to meditate every day, I was far more patient. Funny how that works.

Different coaches suggest different methods for facing the shadow self, not just facing it but growing from it.

  • Committing time to meditate daily, at least 30 minutes or more, is always a good practice.

  • Self-development tools such as the Four Agreements can show us where our mind falters and betrays our own happiness.

  • Self-assessments can help us confront your positive and negative traits and also learn our strengths so you can gain confidence.

  • People us love and trust are always a good source of feedback

For now, I am committed to exhibiting patience, developing techniques to face, temper, and maybe even embrace that shadow self.

After all, it is a part of who I am.

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