Healing your Wounds, Reclaiming your Power
Like so many children of the post war era, I grew up with parents who were abysmal in dealing with their emotions. My Dad, passionate by constitution, a World War II vet and child of immigrants had one emotional speed: rage. Whether he was terrified, mourning, exhausted, or frustrated, you wouldn’t know it because all of these sent him into a volcanic eruption. Fueled by a touch of alcohol the mix was explosive and left a wake of carnage. My Mom, on the other end of the spectrum was raised by polished Ivy League New Englanders, what I call with the oxy-moron intentional, Yankee Jews. There was decorum in her household, stoicism. Love and affection were expressed yes, but there was little room for and no condfoning of “negative” emotions – mad, sad, or scared — you simply buried them all.
A toxic emotional stew, these two. And when the Cary Grant handsome, raging alcoholic married the proverbial Prom Queen — who later proved to be a clinical depressive — where was the grief, rage and fear to live?
Enter the fourth child. I watched the rage of my father and reacted with disrespect. I experienced the depression of my mother and developed disdain. Judgments galore helped me survive as a teen, but never touched the deep well of feeling that was brewing. Buried beneath the warrior veneer, lived a hurting soul.
Until I met Shadow Work ® at the age of 32.
I’d been intrigued by Jung’s concept of the “Shadow” in graduate school, the idea that there are parts of our personality that we repress and deny due to wounding from culture or family. True I had yet to tap my own shadows, but I sensed there was something there. When my colleague Bill Isaacs invited several of us to a Shadow Work workshop in the Spring of ’93, I asked what to expect. Bill a reserved Oxford alum said, “healing I suspect.”
The understatement of the decade.
The Shadow Work® facilitator and guide always opens a session with the question, “What do you want to have happen here?” It’s a powerful inquiry as it is all about what you want to create in your life. It is about possibility. In other words, exploring your Shadows is not the goal of the experience: it is a means to experiencing your full potential. The theory of reality is that we all land on planet earth with a complete 360-degree range of emotion and power. That access gets chipped away at, through trauma. I put my anger into shadow because of my raging dad, making a solemn oath never to be like that. I put my grief into shadow mistakenly equating my mother’s depressions with sadness. Through the Shadow Work process, I have the potential to reclaim my full birthright, where all parts of self are available, welcome, and celebrated.
When the Shadow Work facilitator in my first experience of the process asked me the opening question, I knew it would be about this: at that point, though I had career success, close friendships, and joy in my life, deep loving partnership had eluded me. Perhaps no surprise, given the marriage-as-battle model I had studied from my parents, with my mother suffering the most debilitating battle scars, I had not yet let anyone into the inner chambers of my heart.
“I want to find my ideal lover, my soul-mate, my man,” I said.
The Shadow Work approach has us choose role players to play parts of ourselves. We’re then able to literally take parts of our psyche out of our heads and see them live on the floor in front of us. My facilitators, Cliff and Mary Ellen invited me first to choose someone to play the role of my ideal lover. More about him another time. (Spoiler alert, he turned out to be my husband of 25 years, father of my kids, and partner in all things, but as you can see that’s another story! Or check us out here.)
Then Cliff and Mary Ellen said, “What’s getting in your way? What’s the obstacle? Would you choose someone to play that part for you?”
I chose a buff military man, to play the role of that wall blocking me from meeting my man.
In Shadow Work, the understanding is that all these role players are parts of self. The power is not only in seeing those parts in front of you, but also stepping into them to fully and consciously embody them. Shadows are revealed: we literally never knew we had inside us.
“Sara, would you be willing to step into the role of that wall,” Mary Ellen said, inviting me to switch places with the buff guy.
“Sure, “I said. Having zero idea what was coming next.
Embodying the wall, I felt a surge, a Tsunami of rage erupt. In Shadow Work there is permission, confidentiality, compassion, and a safe invitation to express that. For the first time in my life, I did. I was blown open by how much anger lived inside of me, since I had promised myself never to be “that guy.” Tapping the energy of the rage, I found a Niagara waterfall of power.
Because here’s the thing, when we deny our anger – or any emotion for that matter — we also lose access to its power. When, with support, we allow ourselves to feel it, decades of pent-up energy are freed. The key thing to understand is that this energy does not have to be used in the destructive ways that we experienced. Like the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states about physical energy, emotional energy can be transformed. It is available for us to live and create the loving lives we want. And that changes everything.
That all took place 28 years ago today! Moved and changed by my Shadow Work experiences, I chose to study to become a facilitator and coach in the model. I have worked with 100s of men and women in the ensuing decades and witnessed phenomenal transformation. In one example, here’s what the acclaimed fashion icon, founder and CEO Eileen Fisher had to say about her work with me:
Sara coached me personally through one of the deepest personal transformation experiences I have ever had: a healing process called “Shadow Work” that changed my life and caused me to shift my perspectives and actions in ways that still resonate with me years later. Sara is a miracle worker.
You can have that too. I’m inviting you to experience this for yourself. Scary? Maybe. But you get to set the pace and the depth. Awesome? Yes. Contact me here for a complimentary exploration into what this can look like for you.