"The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without calling it evil."~Fr. Richard Rohr
It's not a coincidence that the seminal book on sex addiction is called Out of the Shadows, by Patrick Carnes. But not just sex addicts who know about living in the shadows – anyone who's living a secret knows.
Fr. Rohr is, of course, pointing to the shadow self, not just a life in the shadows. It's not the shadow self that's the problem, he argues, it's our refusal to acknowledge it. It's our insistence that it's not really there. In other words, it's our ability to convince ourselves that we're not doing anything wrong...all while doing something wrong. It's our ego that we need to do battle with, not our shadow.
This ego rears its head (and often roars) whenever we want to talk about our spouse's betrayal and they bark at us to stop "living in the past". The ego shows up to ensure that the shadow self can stay hidden, to allow our spouse to maintain the conviction that he didn't really do anything wrong. If he doesn't have to really acknowledge the consequences, it's far easier to minimize them.
But ego gets in our way too. Whenever we insist that we could "never" cheat ourselves. Whenever we refuse to admit that we just might be capable of inflicting the same pain on someone in certain circumstances. Whenever we're absolutely sure we're right, that's ego. And it stands between us and a deeper, richer relationship – not only with our spouses but with ourselves.
We all have a shadow self. None of us is free of one. The difference is between those who acknowledge it and those who deny it. Those who acknowledge it are able to shine a light on it, examine it, and thereby diminish its power. We see its tricks. We expose it as a charlatan. But it never completely vanishes.
Those who deny their shadow continue to make choices that hurt not only others but themselves. They continue to blame everybody else for the messes. They make the same mistakes and wonder why nothing changes for them. They vacillate between thinking they're better than everybody else and thinking they're worse – false arrogance and self-loathing.
The way out seems simple but requires enormous courage: Look at your own shadow self. Open your mind to the knowledge that we all have the potential to make huge mistakes, to hurt people we love. This isn't about letting people off the hook for the pain they've caused us, it's about letting ourselves off the hook. It's about realizing that we're all messy. It's about loving and accepting ourselves – our full selves – while no longer being tricked by our shadow selves. Or anyone else's.