Your Shadow: Don’t Leave Home Without It

By: Patrick Williams, EdD, MCC, BCC

(a blog drawn from my new book, Getting Naked: On Emotional Transparency at the Right Time, the Right Place, and with the Right Person)

Are you aware how often we greet our friends and say, “how ya doing?” and don't really expect an answer of truth. And when we are asked the same question, the typical response is “fine” or “good”. These could be true, but sometimes, there is more truth below the surface.

It’s good to be NICE, but sometimes, we have lots of crap going on in our life or things from our recent past may come back to haunt us. What life mistakes might you have made, or actions taken that, looking back were not healthy or loving. We think only focusing on the positive makes us a nice person, but healthy people express all emotions and embrace the wisdom that come from anger, disgust, whatever else.

In psychology, that which we hide in our secret internal closet is called the Shadow. But the shadow of our personality is also where we hide our dreams and aspirations, that we have been afraid to share out loud. And other human screw ups that we feel shame, regret, or embarrassment are also stored there. The key to understanding the shadow is that it does not have a be a personal storage unit. It just holds stuff that if the light is shined on them, they ca be dealt with and take away their hold on us.

There are times and places (with a trusted listener) where we need to get things off our chest, share our naked truth, to a nonjudgmental listener). Usually that brings a sense of relief and an understanding that, getting your truth into the light, changes what you can do with it in the present.

Think of this. Instead of the concept of ‘process of elimination” could you consider a ‘process of illumination?”

And here’s the truth: either you own your shadow, or it owns you. You can try to ignore, hide, or deny it, but until you embrace and make friends with it, you will be missing the key to optimal living as the shadow contains what needs to be unlocked and freed, both what is holding you back and what will propel you forward to a more fulfilling existence.

Jung wrote in 1963,

The shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part, inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious (Diamond, 96). The shadow is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded.

But the view I want you to consider is that it is so much more … as I have tried to emphasize, what is also hidden in the darkness are the uniquely creative and parts of who you are to yet be revealed. It is a yin/yang relationship of good and bad, powerful and scary … But it is just the shadow … and archetype that is not real, a metaphor that can be useful, rather than constraining.

What greatness in you is unspoken, undiscovered? Human development, in my view, is more about discovering than it is uncovering and recovering. Too often we have created a view that we must have something wrong with us. We begin to engage in personal archeology and dig up and then rebury the deep secrets that don’t fit the narrative we live with. I instead want to shed light on the positive and unrealized aspects. Come out into the light. Your shadow is with you all the time, even when the sun is not shining. Perhaps that is what enlightenment is, shining the light on what could be rather than what was.

So when you really want to ask, “how you doing?” to a friend, see if you really want the truth and if so, set a time to listen. Friends who are always nice and unraveled do have things in their personal storage closet that need to see the light of day. Truthful sharing with the right person, at the right time, in the right place is needed to live more courageously vulnerable, which is part of being fully human.

Download a free chapter of Getting Naked at or listen to previous calls when Pat discussed Shadows:

Your Shadow: Don’t Leave Home Without It (audio)

Ways of Engaging Your Clients with Shadow Coaching and Whole Day Visioning Sessions (audio)