Basecamp for Men E33: Firestarters for Men- Owning Your Shadow

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E33: Firestarters for Men- Owning Your Shadow

In Menswork, there is always talk about working with the shadow. The shadow is defined as everything that we hide, repress, and deny about OURSELVES. It can be a tricky business, becoming aware of your shadowy tendencies. It takes patience, and perseverance, and compassion.

However, the upside is… humanizes everyone. You stop putting all the things you find unsavory OUT THERE and then demonizing the other person.

We tend to project onto others all the traits and emotions that we are not comfortable claiming in ourselves. Learning how to own your projections is a powerful tool.

It allows you to reclaim the power and energy you have (subconsciously) repressed and hidden from yourself. It can be used every day in all sorts of settings. Once you understand the dynamics of projections, you may find it’s one of your most useful tools for moving from shadow back to the mission.

“There is a way to recognize the shadow: what strongly attracts or repels us in others is a clue to where our own darkness lurks. As we begin accepting our shadow, we acknowledge the projections of our shadow qualities onto others as truths about ourselves. My hatred of your controlling ways may cloak controlling ways in me that I do not see. The negative shadow in us is projected onto others as strong dislike or disgust. The positive shadow is projected onto others as admiration or envy.”

David Richo, author Shadow Dance 

So you see, you can project shadow and gold, so to speak. I would like to walk you through an exercise to deepen your understanding of this important concept.

Here is an exercise from my book Body and Soul: The Essential Handbook for Men.

For this process, you’ll need a piece of paper, a pen and about 15 minutes of time. Once you do this a few times, you’ll be able to do it all in your head and on the fly. Which makes it an enormously useful tool for your emotional growth.

I’d like you to think of a person or group of people that bring up an emotional charge in you. You will usually feel angry, disdain, or upset at the thought of this person or group. In life, you may find yourself complaining about or plotting against this person or group. It can be someone you’re related to, someone you love, someone who is in power, someone you know from work or church or just about anywhere.

Once you have someone in mind, list the qualities that you can’t stand in that person or group. List the worst ones that come to mind and then stay with the exercise and see if you can come up with two or three additional qualities that you really don’t like.

Now comes the fun part. For each quality, name a way that you are also that way. Do it for every quality you disdain and don’t cop out with “I’m not that way.” Sure, if your person is a serial killer, you may not own that. But can you own that you can be ruthless at times? Or unconscious? Or insensitive to others?…you get my point. Own something about each trait.

Here is the one I did for Dick Cheney in my book. I spent years absolutely loathing Cheney. I still might not want to go duck hunting with him but through this exercise, I humanized him by recognizing our common ground.


Qualities I disdain in Dick Cheney: conservative; rigid; power-hungry; insensitive to others; arrogant; righteous; ruthless.

Now I’m going to break these down, one by one, and OWN them. This is what is known as owning your shadow.

The ways I display these shadow traits:

Conservative: I can crave consistency and the status quo. I can fear the unknown.

Rigid: I can be rigid about wanting to do things “my way” and grow at “my speed.”

Power Hungry: Even though I wouldn’t define myself as power-hungry, I definitely find power to be intoxicating. I’m quite sure if I had Cheney’s power structure, it would seriously affect me. I can imagine how many compromises I might make to what I believe is good and right.

Insensitive to Others: I can certainly be insensitive to others, particularly when I am caught up in my own story. Whenever someone is being dramatic, I can tend to roll my eyes and disengage. I rarely hold compassion for them and this is insensitive to their suffering and unconsciousness.

Arrogant: I stuffed this one in the shadows for years. I would constantly get triggered by men (and women) whom I judged to be arrogant. I didn’t want to claim it for myself. Now I see it was a projection. I can be arrogant. I can feel I’m smarter than you. Or more spiritually evolved. Or in better shape, etc. etc.

You can see that this is a juicy shadow for me to claim. I can feel and see how much I have repressed, hid, and denied this about myself. Let’s look at the last two.

Righteous: My ego enjoys being right. It seems to be one of the hallmarks of the egoic mind. I can want to be right about the most ridiculous shit. Have you ever caught yourself arguing with your significant other and think to yourself, “What the hell am I arguing for here?” That is righteousness, in action.

Ruthless: I can be harsh and lack compassion at times. I’ve displayed this behavior more times than I’d like to admit.

After this exercise, I felt more light-hearted. It was insightful to see myself in someone like Dick Cheney. I also felt more connection and less fear and loathing. And I felt gratitude for being taught this lesson.

Groups of people are often the target of projections. I hear it on both sides of the political spectrum. Here is a list that you can work with if you are having a difficult time starting this exercise. It’s far from exhaustive it can help you find people who trigger you so you can do the important work of owning your shadow.

List of possible people or groups of people to do shadow work with:

Conservatives; liberals; poor people; rich people; Donald  Trump; Nancy Pelosi;

immigrants; minorities; white people; men; women;

gun owners; LGBT;  politicians; socialists; capitalists;

artists;  businesspeople; the French;

addicts; environmentalists; the military;

hippies; chronic complainers

See if you can work through the list. Which groups get a rise out of you? Which brings up contempt or a hidden aversion?

Then, take some time to honestly examine if you possess one or more of the same qualities. You will often recognize that you do, if you’re honest. That’s when a pivotal shift begins to occur. Soon, you may see your so-called “enemy” in a completely different way.

You start to understand that you really have no enemies. You never did. Who is “over there” but more of yourself? You’ve begun to embrace the human race, warts and all. And that, my friend, is unconditional love.