Entering into psychotherapy, or any method of honest self-reflection, demands a willingness to lose something as well as to gain something. Personal growth often involves “loss”: the loss of illusions I have believed in order to avoid the truth. Perhaps I have constructed a self-image that is too flattering, or just the opposite I may have believed myself to be less competent and less capable than I really am. It is common in therapy for an individual to begin their work believing that “My family (or Mother or Father) was practically ideal”, only to realize later a more honest appraisal.
Projection and Inflation
It reminds me of the Fleetwood Mac song “Tell Me Sweet Little Lies.” All of the defense mechanisms that Freud itemized so thoroughly a hundred years ago are built around the principle of deception and creating illusion. We deny the truth and invent a fantasy in its place. It might be that “I’m not afraid of intimacy and being fully present in this relationship – you are!” (called projection). It might be that “I am the most capable person in my department at work, and the only reason I haven’t been promoted is everyone is jealous of me” (called inflation).
Honest self-reflection requires that I get real about the stories I have told myself, that I acknowledge the truth I have denied and that I renounce the fantasies I invented. This is what we call Shadow work, discovering how destructive our “blind spots” have been in our life. In the Twelve Step paradigm it is Steps Four and Five:
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
And for most of us, the greatest wrongs we have committed have been against ourselves. Our “blind spots” have allowed us to stay enslaved to addictions, to stay too long in unsatisfying or unsafe relationships, to make excuses for our failures. Our shadows don’t reveal themselves as such – these parts of us are too clever for that. Rather they tend to externalize onto a troubling aspect of the environment “out there”, the projection gambit referred to earlier. Thus they tend to be denied as any part of me, with the result often being entrenched “me vs. them” boundaries and a continuous search for scapegoats. Naturally, the solution to problems they create is to “problem solve” the other’s beliefs and behavior.
There is a twofold process in healing the internal split through which these shadows emerged. One is to give back to the rightful owner any untrue beliefs about myself taken on early in life. My father told me that, “You’re worthless” or “You’re stupid.” Because a small child gullibly believes everything an adult tells him, those messages became introjected as deeply held self beliefs. And they need to be recognized as not mine, not reflecting my true essence, not me, and given back.
The beautiful Truth
Only then can the second part of the healing process take place. That is to reclaim the original truth: “I am worthwhile” or “I am as smart as I need to be.” And being rigorously honest, we must acknowledge the damage done through the confusion, whether the damage was to another or to myself.
Here is where the healing extends beyond the personal, however. We need to address the world we live in, and that requires a re-evaluation of how we make personal choices. There are cultural values exerting influence from the background, unconsciously, just like the personal ones I introjected from a parent. Beyond the personal, I discover and confront the archetypal shadows, the cultural assumptions and societal biases that can be so limiting.
My healing also requires that I become clear about the background patterns that drive my reflexive behaviors, the archetypal shadows operating independent of the ego, and give them back to the rightful owner, too. Or better yet, to allow those to become “losses” that personal growth grows from.
Hypnotherapy is an ideal vehicle for this shadow work, because through age regression it allows access to our various “parts” which are the arrested development child states that we call shadows in adults. It also gives access to the traumatic events that initiated the defense of these shadow parts. Compassion comes easier when we begin to recognize our shadows as inner child states attempting to get a basic need met, needs such as safety, nurturing, comforting, or acceptance. Gaining this perspective allows us to lose the dysfunctional patterns that these infantile or childish parts of ourselves have been relying on.