Everywhere you go people maintain strong beliefs that shape their cultural and social interactions. General opinions about a certain culture, race, sex, political ideals, or spiritual views have a great impact on society as a whole. Yet, not everyone has the same view about such matters as interracial marriages, LGBT, abortion, or even how you should raise your child. That’s why, when you are on the receiving end of these beliefs, you can accumulate collective shadows from as early as childhood. These shadows define who you are today, robbing you of a fulfilled life. If you want to understand the concept of the collective shadow and how you can de-clutter from your current pile of collective shadows to live a meaningful life, this article is for you!
What Is a Collective Shadow?
A collective shadow refers to those lingering memories relating to unpleasant events that took place at different stages of our lives. These events are due to a deviation of beliefs stemming from your immediate family, immediate culture and society, or the global community. Think of all those childhood wounds or intergenerational traumas you may have gone through when you were a victim of racism, homophobia, or stereotyping in your school, workplace, or overall community.
How you manage these wounds dictates whether you will live a fulfilled life or become a restless soul. More so, you may turn from being a victim to a perpetrator, projecting your perceived inferiority on those you see as morally deficient because, naturally, your mind will refer to these layers of psychological junk in all your decision-making.
The Sources of Collective Shadow
Below are some ideologies that plant toxic memories making up an individual’s collective shadow:
- Human trafficking
- Religious discrimination
Ideally, the source of a collective shadow is any ideology that looks down or rejects a certain group or individuals. And, some people deal with two or more sources at the same time. For example, a child who is a victim of human trafficking may end up in a region where racism is rampant.
A collective shadow results in an unpleasant character-forming in a person involuntarily. More so, many victims hardly recognize the shadow as the root cause of their prejudices towards minority groups. In turn, you may have an interpersonal conflict or even a fully-fledged war as witnessed in many countries across the globe.
Hence, deal with any shadow elements you have as early as possible. Expect a layered process that may start with you but not necessarily end with you. For example, Nelson Mandela’s contribution towards ending apartheid in South Africa took more than his effort to accomplish. And, the movement against apartheid goes on now even in the absence of this former president.
The Shadow Work
Shadow work entails confronting all the past atrocities, horrors, and tragedies that have created a blind spot in our unconscious mind. If you are under the guidance of a spiritual leader, a teacher, or a mentor, chances are that they have brought up the need for shadow work in your life. For these leaders encourage their followers, students, or mentees to reflect on what is lurking in their lives.
Spirituality Denying Shadow Work
There is a growing tendency for spirituality to cover up the need for shadow work. For, the layered process may evoke feelings of disgust, shame, anger, or getting defensive. Hence, many spiritual leaders use such phrases as:
- Collective shadows are the victim’s karma
- The shadow elements are the victim’s reality
- Their spiritual work focuses only on the positives
- They want to encourage the “good vibes”
- The victim of collective shadows brought it on themselves in the first place
- We live in an illusion whereby everything is love and society is inherently evil
The above opinions are far from true. For example, attributing the shadow elements to karma dismisses the victim’s pain. And, focusing on the positive aspects of life is an avoidance approach that hinders conflict resolution. More so, these notions can create more collective shadows in the victims that seek guidance from the said spiritual leaders. Yet, when done with compassion, shadow work is achievable.
3 Ways to Unravel the Collective Shadow
#1: Be Receptive to Others
Did you grow up exposed to stereotypes on sexuality, spirituality, or certain medical practices? Seek knowledge on these ideologies. Accommodate those you view as not fitting in your circle. Do this by spending more time with them to hear their perceptions. Chances are, the effects of a long-overdue misunderstanding or unresolved conflict are being passed on from one generation to the next. Therefore, be the one to break this chain.
#2: Examine Your Role in Perpetuating the Beliefs
Once you identify your collective shadow, ask yourself how your actions are sustaining these false beliefs. For example, who are you following on social media? Take a closer look at the people you listen to, the friends you have, the activities and people you financially support, the feelings you have toward certain groups. Think about the ways you could be perpetuating old and unhealthy ideas and beliefs. By questioning your actions, you become able to see how even you could become a source of the shadow elements for future generations.
#3: Acknowledge Your Responsibility
One way or another, each of us unconsciously internalized parts of the Collective Shadow. When you drop your ego, you’ll be able to clearly see your participation in the Collective Shadow.
Whatever you did, own up to your mistakes by recognizing them as lessons. Approach the person you hurt and seek their forgiveness and forgive yourself for not being your best self in particular situations. It’s okay to be imperfect and say the wrong thing. What matters is what you do after you learn that you’ve made a mistake. Only a few of us are able to take the responsibility to correct the impact of our utterances. Finally, learn to be humble, apologize, and take sincere steps to open your heart and mind.
Collective shadows pile up over time, becoming a disruptive thick layer that impacts the rest of our lives. They define who you are today, and how you view anyone that is of a differing opinion or belief. So, if you realize that you are holding on to dysfunctional beliefs from your traumatic past, engage in shadow work to remove these layers of lies. Start by listening to those of a contrary opinion to yours. Check how your collective shadows are provoking biased decision-making against minority groups. And, in humility, acknowledge those you hurt.