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Stepping Into My Shadow: Halloween as Therapy

“Hold on, man. We don’t go anywhere with ‘scary,’ ‘spooky,’ ‘haunted,’ or ‘forbidden’ in the title.” – Shaggy Rogers (Scooby-Doo)

handshadowdragon_131290649It wasn’t until recently that I realized why I love Halloween so much. I don’t really feel excitement over candy or overwhelming crowds. Yet the theatrical has always had a magnetic pull on me, and Halloween, in all it’s theatrics, provides me with an open invitation to explore things from which I normally try to distance myself. (My ’08 Sarah Palin costume really sums it up). Halloween is that special time of year when the icky stuff comes out to play – and our shadows get the limelight.

In Jungian Psychology the word “shadow” refers to an aspect of the personality that’s out of our awareness. Perhaps anger and fear are a part of your shadow. Besides the obvious icky stuff of which shadow is made, we can find other qualities like masculine or feminine or even self-love relegated to the shadow. Maybe you learned that your expressions of self-love were “selfish” or “conceited” hence banishing that quality to the darkness. Maybe you learned “boys aren’t supposed to be nurturing” so you stopped playing with dolls or trying to braid your sister’s hair since girls had cooties. You get the picture. We have lots of possibilities within us but living in a society and growing up in a family, we learn to bury parts of ourselves when they are not modelled or welcomed.

All this buried stuff seeps out in the form of projection. We do it as individuals, as organizations, and as cultures. The shadow includes things we hate and things we don’t want to deal with – or stuff we just can’t deal with. No matter how benign these shadow parts may seem, intellectually speaking, our psyches file them under titles like “scary”, “spooky”, “haunted”, or “forbidden” and, as Shaggy pointed out (probably in a pretty shaky voice), we don’t go there, man.

But on Halloween we come out in droves, dance through the streets, and proclaim: “I’m Dracula and I vant to suck your blood!” Maybe you struggle to express your sexuality but then suddenly there you are in a sexy mummy costume (yeah, I’m sure someone has done it). I once saw a man dressed up like a bloody tampon. Gross, I know – but why do we think it’s so gross? In a spirit of play we somehow find it within ourselves to access parts we didn’t think we possessed. We come out to face the scary, spooky, haunted and forbidden together – and it’s fun!

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” – Carl  Jung

Carl Jung believed that some of the most important work we can do in our lives is to begin to understand our shadows, to bring them into the light, and to try to reintegrate these disowned parts. This makes us more whole, giving us a greater range of choice in how to interact with the world from one moment to the next. As the quote above suggests, we are also more able to see others  – including their darkness – and perhaps feel less fear, more compassion, and more empathy. When we project our racism on to others, for instance, we don’t really have to deal with it and we stay blind. But when we can recognize our racism we can more effectively address it in ourselves and around us.

OK, I’m not suggesting you should be racist for Halloween or actually suck anyone’s blood (unless it’s consensual) or anything else that could really hurt you or others. What I’m suggesting is that Halloween be used as an opportunity to play with darkness and entertain the idea that our thoughts and feelings can’t actually destroy us. It’s the denial of our thoughts and feelings that puts us in danger. The Boogey Man is scary but he’s an idea of a lurking kidnapper, and if we’re too afraid to call it out, the concept takes on a life of it’s own – we start to behave as if our lives are threatened and we make poor choices based on fear.

“I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one’s nature…[This] is to accept everything about ourselves.” – Anthony Hopkins

Halloween is a cultural ritual that provides us a chance to push the edges of what’s comfortable, “civilized”, or politically correct. We bump up against the boundaries of the limited form we have identified as who we are.

Whether or not you want to dress up this Halloween (I encourage you to try it!) you can benefit from taking some time to reflect on your shadow. What villains are scariest to you? What feelings do you tend to avoid? What kind of qualities in other people do you despise? What do you generally consider the opposite of you? When you get a sense of some aspect of your shadow, you can find a way to play with it. Use art to turn your shadow into an image. Write a letter to your shadow and have your shadow write back. Begin to make friends with it…or at least frenemies.

Just in time for Halloween I’m re-watching my favorite creepy, uncomfortable, shadowy TV show: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The show is rich with outrageous characters that represent so many aspects of the human psyche – dark and light and in-between. This Halloween I’m going to explore the Log Lady inside of me. I’ve ordered my red glasses but does anyone know where I can find a log that will speak to me?

What does Halloween mean for you? Feel free to leave a comment and mention your favorite Halloween costume or what you’re excited to dress up as this year. Or tell me how much you hate Halloween – I won’t be offended.


Lily Sloane

Lily Sloane

Lily Sloane is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco. She sees her work as a dynamic interplay of science, art, and relationship, aimed at opening up wholeness and a sense of choice for her clients. She specializes in working with sensitive, creative young adults struggling with eating disorders, substance use/misuse, perfectionism, and relationships. (LMFT #84885)

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