Friday, March 6, 2015

Out of the Shadows

"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.


  1. Hi Elle,

    I always enjoy your posts. You have great wisdom and insight. The shadow self reminds me of integrity. You know, doing the right thing even when no one is looking. But in my case, it speaks to another part of me at the moment.

    My husband had his affair with a man. He chose not to disclose his bi or gay side to me. Ever. I had to find out about it by an anonymous email. That was just about the affair, not the who. I had to drag the who out of him after I guessed. then there was 4 months of fog where he was still very much in contact with the other man. He says he hasn't had contact in a few months now. I am truly not sure if I believe him or not. I am tired of checking up on him. It's exhausting. And, I realize I can't control him, just me, so it's almost irrelevant.

    The shadow part speaks to me because I feel like I am walking on a shattered piece of glass. I am waiting for him to just come out and say he's gay and wants what he has been missing. He swears he loves me, wants me. That he doesn't have those desires anymore. That he doesn't even miss the other guy anymore.

    But, here's my issue(s). He didn't just meet and have a casual thing. He actually placed an ad on Craig's List. Who does that? So it wasn't the "oh we met and sparks started flying...". He. Searched. Something. Out. That has had such an impact on me. And of course, he didn't feel guilty about it to tell me. Strike 2.

    I just really wonder if I am just living in his closet. I have read so many articles and books about "mixed marriages". (straight/gay/bi). Let's just say I haven't found a happy ending in the bunch. Has anyone moved past this?

    And I don't mean allowing him to have a boyfriend on the side, because that so doesn't work for me. I am prepared to let him go if that's who he is. I am not anti-gay. But I am anti-lie. And let's face it, infidelity is infidelity. He may not be able to choose his identity, but he certainly did choose to make vows with me. He chose to have a family. He chose to lie and deceive. That's the difference and that's what I have a problem with.

    So when looking at my shadow self, I worry that I am hiding in the shadow of his closet. After being deceived for so long, should I even try to believe anything he says? Do I block my own happiness by being stuck in a cycle of what if?

    1. RDM,
      I have walked in your shoes. My husband also had a relationship with a man (or men) as well as women. In his case, it was part of his sex addiction. He found men easier to sleep with, less emotionally complicated, and he felt he had risk of developing feelings himself. He "liked" the guys, but it was strictly mechanical sex. No emotions at all.
      What is your husband saying about it? Why did he seek that out? Like you, I'm not anti-gay, but I am anti-lie. I believe we all fall somewhere on the sexuality spectrum. Some of us toward the middle, others toward either end. What is he saying?
      It sounds as if you're willing to try and rebuild the marriage but only if you can understand exactly what role you'll be fulfilling in it (and ensuring you're okay with that role). That's entirely fair. But you simply don't have enough information right now to determine what that is. He needs to be totally honest with you...and he can only do that if he's able to be totally honest with himself. Is he in therapy? Sounds like he should be.

  2. ReDiscoverMe,

    This sounds incredibly messy and hurtful. I am sorry, there seems to be major damage here and will take a huge amount of effort to rebuild the trust. Think you're absolutely right that infidelity is infidelity whether it's heterosexual or gay. I trust you've been tested. In my husband's affairs, I picked up a lovely STD that may or may not have caused the Cancer I got a few yrs down the road from his betrayals. You seem to have sorted things out in a logical way. When all is said and done, we are accountable for the conscious choices we make. They do have consequences and if your husband loses his family for an impulsive choice to try the other team then so be it. Not sure he can blame that on his Shadow Self or Alter Ego. No one holds a gun to our heads to stay in a relationship. We aren't living in the Gulag after all but it's very difficult to leave. If we do stay knowing the things that have happened, then that can be empowering too. A choice is liberating and that can feel awfully good. Wishing you strength to move this very difficult situation.

  3. ReDiscoverMe,

    I wish I was at the point were staying made me feel empowered. This post brings me some conflicting thoughts. I'm tired of looking at my own shadow and ego. I'm just not there yet. Are we trying to justify what happened to us in some sort of "look at yourself"? Look how strong you are, look how gracious you are to stay, look how loving and accepting I can be, look how I can let my ego go, look I'm not playing the victim, look I'm going on with life with him but it's all about me now. Are we kidding ourselves into stuffing all HIS shit somewhere and saying I put my ego aside? Your right HE is accountable for his choices and we reap the consequences too. Opps it's suppose to be only if I let myself, only if I free myself, only if I move on, justify how we feel, justify how we act, justify how we can move forward. I'm sick to death of trying to get over this completely and move on, I don't have an ego anymore or shadow and self esteem has taken a nose dive. It has been a bad week for me. I'm just plain tired of all this mess. I'm sick off trying to turn around how I really feel into something stronger and good.

    1. Lynn Pain, I definitely get what you are saying. We were dealt the short end of the stick and I just want to scream it's not fair most days. Not saying I am the perfect wife, mother, friend, person etc. BUT (and it's a big ole BUT), I didn't deserve being so deceived, so wronged, so lied to, treated so poorly, And guess what? Neither did you, or Elle or Pilot's wife or any of us. It stinks. We are all suffering because of someone else poor judgement, lack of self control and lack of honesty.

      I tell my husband, how would you feel if someone treated one of our daughter's like you treated me? Like you treated our family? Would you want our son to treat his wife that way?

      I always talk about integrity to my kids. Always try to do the right thing even when someone else isn't looking because at the end of the day, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. My choices haven't always been perfect, but once I became a mom and there was something more than me, my perspective really changed.

      It's really hard each day to trudge on. I believe in honestly and sometimes I feel by the kids not knowing what has happened it could be construed as lying. I mean, what if, my husband decides that, yes, he is gay, not bi, not experimenting and we have to tell them in 6 month, a year etc. Then does that compromise my values as well for keeping them in the dark?

      Of course, then there is the whole "if you are going to make it work, you need to be able to forgive and move on". That is really hard. I don't think my husband understand how much internal conflict goes on with me each day.

      He is in therapy. And he is trying to work on his communication. He is being so much more available now. Which makes me happy and honestly, sometimes it makes me mad that now he can do that, when I have been asking for that for YEARS.

      I don't think that anyone who cheats thinks at all. They don't think about the what ifs, they don't think about being caught, they just react. Stinks for us.

      And I agree, I don't want to be any stronger. :)

    2. Lynn, RDM, Pilot's Wife,
      Please know that I am NEVER EVER saying that what happened was our fault. EVER! He chose to cheat. That's completely on him.
      But what I've discovered through trying to heal from that pain is that processing what happened gives us an opportunity to heal not just from the betrayal but from a whole lot of hurts that we've likely overlooked. It also gives us the opportunity to pull parts of ourselves from the shadows that we've ignored. And by doing that, we sort of re-integrate those shadow parts into our whole self. Perhaps I should have noted that I think this part of healing is further down the road. It's not for the "just found out" women. But it's something to think about as we move toward a deeper relationship with ourselves.

  4. I rediscovered Richard Rohr in these last 2 years since dday....many years ago I attended a mass he was saying at a big conference and didn't really pay too much forward to the bomb dropping on my house and desperately trying to find some form of inner peace...meditation and contemplative prayer searches led me right back to Rohr....he is amazing and I give him a lot of credit for our healing on this very difficult journey...I bought his book ON THE THRESHOLD OF TRANSFORMATION a daily devotional for men for my husband....he has been so moved by this book that for Christmas he bought one for each of our sons and son in law...

    Ego definitely plays a part in this whole mess...and it is easy to stay in the victim mentality because the whole idea that the person you trust the most was not just capable (because we are ALL capable) but actually CHOSE to be extremely selfish...but that becomes my husbands "shadow self" not mine...I have my own shadow self to battle...I am working on acceptance and for what ever reason at 28 months out this is where I struggle the most...and yes even though my husbands actions today are so very different than his choice made almost 5years ago I realize how hurt/broken/f'd up he was... I now know as I take myself/feelings out of the equation he has to live with his choices and the pain he caused to not only me but to himself...he has found his inner peace and is grateful for the chance at reparation

    1. L,
      Yes, I think acceptance is a tough one for all of us. I believe it comes as long as we work at it...but it takes far longer than most of us could have imagined.

  5. Elle,

    What an interesting post. Lots of food for deep thought in Jung's complicated theory of Shadow Self. Shadow can cause us so many problems unless we figure out what's going on. When our parents told us to not be angry, selfish, or any other negative trait where did those feelings go we repressed? Shadow. Stuff them deep inside, repress them until someday when we least expect it they impulsive jump out and cause us problems in our relationships or life.
    Growing up in dysfunctional families, we are often told to be good, don't be angry, or selfish and maybe turn into the eternal people pleaser who gives away her Self. Self matters, don't do that but that is the tape that can play very long in our heads. And of course Ego likes to hide our shame cause Image is so important. Don't let anyone see what that SOB husband did to you. But the lies make us sick ( Freud). So what to do? Realise as you said that the Shadow is there with good and bad stuff struggling to get out, but most likely it will take time to heal, to become whole after this wretched experience of betrayal begins to fade. We can use what happens to us to learn, to grow, and change. But we have to work hard to not let betrayal define us. Grieve, heal, and move on even if it takes a lifetime ( my therapist). and of course, make good choices for ourselves and not let Shadow run the show.

    1. Yep! I think you should have written that post! :)

  6. To ReDiscoverMe,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I too found freedom in the realisation that I only have the ability to control my actions and no other person's. I too was exhausted with constant suspicion, checking and re-checking of anything that might lead me to more of the truth and to not be duped again.

    I think you show great clarity and strength in your analysis of your situation. I also think that your choice of moniker 'RediscoverMe' is very telling and resonates as well.

    I know I wish I could fast-forward to the 'final chapter' of my husband's infidelity. I want to know how our story ends - do we stay together? Do I leave him? Does he do it again and decide this time that he leaves me? Sometimes the resonating pain is just so damn tedious. Like an echo of a horrible noise that just won't go away.

    You ask whether you should believe anything he says - well that depends. Personally I would look at his actions and not his words. Do most of your little daily interactions with him reassure you that he loves you? Is he open to talking to you and importantly, actively listening to and acknowledging your pain? You don't mention whether either of you are seeing a therapist - but I would urge you to do this asap if you haven't already.

    Please take care of yourself - you deserve better than how you have been treated and you need to put yourself first. Fullstop.

    Thinking of you and wishing you strength in your rediscovery of you.

    x Kiwi Anon

  7. Yes it's hard your not alone. The Craigslist thing is very common. I found out when my husband did the same thing and I also found out from an email not honesty. I've had to wretch information out to get a picture of the magnitude. I've been working on forgiveness also. It's a shame craigslist has so many married people on there looking. It's really the dark underside I never new about. I have now learned that I shouldn't focus on just one fact but look at the situation in its entirety. At first he tried to deny deny. When it didn't work he came clean and then it was up to me like you to decide what I would choose. Whether to believe in forgiveness, choose to forgive or remain bitter and angry lost in sorrow. After forgiveness came a choice to try to work it out or walk away. I've seriously mulled this over and decided if he is trying 100 percent then I will try too. I fell in love with him not only physically but also his spirit inside. We all know that sometimes we are not ourselves and the dark side of personality has to be faced. Time and again I've had to apologize during the dark periods and was given a chance to redeem. My actions weren't forgotten just forgiven. Your goal will be to get to there. It's taken me a complete two years to be able to think this way.--
    With a ton of love to back you up from everyone who loves you truly caring for you not just for gossip or the juicy details you can make it through.
    -Ann from Texas



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