For the first half of our lives (and for many, into the second half of life), we build up an idealized false self, and whatever we do not accept about ourselves forms our shadow.
The Idealized Self
As children, we learned which behaviours caused approval and disapproval from family, teachers, and friends. We developed the sides of ourselves that were acceptable and repressed what was not. This formed our idealized self and its opposite shadow.
The characteristics that we denied became our shadow. And, the qualities that hid in our shadow aren’t typically bad; they are just the ones that were not rewarded or approved of by our family system, community, religion or culture.
Your Chosen Persona
The more you have cultivated and protected your chosen persona, the more shadow work you need to do. This is why it is important not to hold on too rigidly to an idealized role or self-image.
Roles such as the good mother, the favourite daughter, the best teacher, or the nicest person are rigid personas to live up to, and they can trap you into an expectation that your role is the only way you are allowed to be.
The more you are attached to your self-image, the more you will have to discover and embrace your shadow self. Yet, it is helpful to know that your preferred self-image is not solid or permanent. It is created through ongoing choices to appear in an idealized way to others.
The growth task in the second half of life involves doing the necessary shadow work to recover the denied aspects of yourself. When you gather all of who you are into one whole, you will recover what the Zen masters call, “the face you had before you were born.”