Getting pinged by a shadow belief
I like things to run smoothly and I take a lot of pride in creating systems to ensure that we can all function with the least amount of chaos and wasted energy.
Some may call this “type A,” others may call this “hyper-organized” or even “anal retentive.” Maybe even “persnickety.” All of those descriptors, while not exactly flattering, do seem to fit.
But don’t call me rigid.*
In the course of conversation with a friend, they casually threw out that term to describe me. Internally I bristled.
Who, me? Rigid?!
It felt like a poke in the gut, and over the next few days it continued as a source of irritation, like a bug bite that hasn’t quite healed. Some of the emotions I noticed:
Resistance: I am all about growth and evolution, how can I be rigid?
Shame: Do they think I am unpleasant to be around?
Annoyance: Don’t they see evidence of my growth mindset?
Then came the justifications: sure, I “run a tight ship” but that doesn’t make me rigid. Is there something wrong with liking things a certain way to reduce unnecessary discord?
The fact that I could not let it go provided proof: it pinged a shadow belief.
In the words of Debbie Ford, “If you honestly feel that what someone thinks about you has no basis in reality, you won’t care. We care when we’ve been deceiving ourselves and get called on it.”
There are many experts who write about shadow work, shadow integration and the shadow itself; I am no expert, so I keep it simple.
My working definition of a “shadow belief” is something that I don’t want to believe about myself but when I hear someone else name it, I know on some level that there’s some truth to it. Being reminded of it is painful since it has not been accepted or integrated.
In contrast, there are plenty of descriptors that don’t nag at me. For example, if that person had said I was loud, I would have nodded, smiled and may have sarcastically said in my stage voice, “What do you mean I am loud?”
I am aware that my voice carries and that my baseline volume level is above average. And while I don’t love that part of me, I have accepted it.
As with all of this kind of work (regular readers…you know what’s coming…) awareness is the first step. After a few days of hearing “rigid” in my head, I did some work (see “Try it!” below) and now understand that my behaviors can fairly be perceived as rigid (and of course, my acceptance of that proves that clearly I am not that rigid after all…wink wink).
If something gets under your skin, perhaps it’s poking a shadow belief. What a great opportunity to answer the question, “Who, me?” with “Yes.”
*Of course, this reminds me of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda: “Don’t call me stupid!”
Bringing Light to Shadow (Beliefs)
It stings to be called out on something we don’t want to see in ourselves and can be an opportunity to bring light to shadow beliefs. Before diving in, it is worth first considering if the comment that someone made that gave you that “ping” is more about them than about you. If so, acknowledge that and you may be able to just move on! If it still sticks, here are a few questions to ask:
- How does that word or descriptor make me feel emotionally?
- Where in my body do I feel it?
- Are there times that I have been hurt by similar comments?
- Are there times that I have taken similar comments in stride?
- What do I take it to mean about myself?
- How would it feel to say “yes” to that trait or description?
(other) Smart People
“The shadow is the greatest teacher for how to come to the light.”—Ram Dass
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