Your 10 Shadow Archetypes: Illuminating The Shadow Sides
There’s nothing a shadow loves more than the spotlight. That’s when it really gets its time to shine — or, rather not shine.
Shadow Selves. They’re like belly buttons. We all have them. And some of us are more prone to proverbial, ‘navel-gazing’ (i.e. self-reflection) than others. Yet there’s one thing to be sure, the unexamined shadow will catch up to you. And even if you don’t notice, it can stand behind you, mocking you, for the rest of the world to see. The funny thing about shadows is oftentimes other people see them when we don’t, especially when our eyes are turned to the light. I used to let it drive me crazy how people who were hyper-focused on ‘staying positive’ and ‘being kind’ could be so passive aggressively negative and cruel, and be truly and totally oblivious to the ways their shadow reared its head outside the bounds of their peripheral self-awareness.
Meanwhile, the people who really let their shadows come out to play can routinely surprise you with some sort of deep kindness or illumination at their core. Still, neither full submission nor willful ignorance to our shadow is ideal. There is, of course, a balance to be struck. Like the groundhog who is known for its divination powers in predicting the length of winter or the quickening of spring, we don’t always recognize our own shadow; and, that can be scary. And, like the groundhog, we may be prone to duck back in our comfort zones, rather quickly. And, sometimes that’s okay. Shadow work is not ‘pie’; and, there is not always room for it. Shadow work is best approached during times of growth, times of opportunity, and times of relative peace and calm. If we try to approach it when we are already down and out, we can get sucked into it like a black hole.
That is not to say there are not times when we hit rock bottom and we are absolutely forced to face our own shadow under less than ideal circumstances. It’s just best not to let things get that far. A shadow is a reflection of that within ourselves which blocks light. Our shadow is the product of resistance to illuminating forces, even forces of good, which are not, or have not always been, good for us, or good to us. Just with any sort of personality or character, there are some key shadow archetypes. We’ll begin exploring them here with a (non-exhaustive) list of 10 archetypal shadow types.
1) The Jack-in-the-Box Shadow
We’ve all known a person who was meek and mild-mannered, impeccable in their humility until they gained some sort of fame or notoriety, at which point they became insufferable. Was this who they always really were, deep down inside? Maybe. Or, maybe, their shadow grew in pace with their light, desperate to keep up – and, often like their owners, desperately tired of being ignored. These people are vulnerable to thinking their shadow has earned its place in the sun – even at the wheel – after sometimes decades of submission.
2) The Trickster Shadow
Sometimes our shadow selves are deeply rooted in our childhoods, in trauma, or even in the ‘absence of trauma’. The latter point is interesting. Human suffering is not distributed equally. And those who have managed to escape its insufferable gaze may never really understand the depth of suffering experienced by other beings. This can lead to shallow worldviews, shallow grasps of spirituality, and shallow perspectives on the plights of others. These shadows are some of the most elusive because they don’t cause the same obstacles that other sorts of shadow selves can cause (i.e. those which are more prone to force a reckoning).
Rather, the shadow self of those uninitiated by trauma is extremely powerful because it takes a strongly guided conscious choice to face them – and, even recognizing that choice is elusive, shadowy to them.
3) The Oppressive Shadow
Other shadow selves are cultivated in less innocuous ways. A man who has been abused may compensate by developing a tough, abusive, exterior – imprisoned by their own shadow, like a cage. Facing the shadow of toxic masculinity is having a moment; and, from my feminine gaze, it does not seem to be an easy task. Sometimes the shadow is too visible, too obstructing, and, too consuming to face. And thus, it masquerades as reality. However, those who visibly oppress others, are often likely internally oppressing themselves, and subjecting themselves, to the same degree of cruelty.
4) The Shadow With a Cause
Sometimes our shadow selves serve us SO well that we even mistake them for our life’s calling. This is the shadow of the angry activist, the holier-than-thou idealist. There is always an injustice that needs their rage or criticism, and far be it from them to deny it. This shadow is rigid; it’s hard to wrestle with because it doesn’t bend. It’s brittle, though and, usually unsustainable. The shadow with a cause is doing the right things for the wrong reasons. And, while there are times it may serve the world and the owner, it can consume them more fully than almost any other. And, they will (usually) never, ever, see it coming; and instead, follow their cause to its and their own spiritual ruin.
5) The Underdog Shadow
The underdog shadow has internalized a narrative of a victim conspiracy. This shadow is much like ‘poverty consciousness’; it convinces its counterpart that it is meant to stay oppressed by society, that it will always get the short end of the stick, and, even (less consciously) that it needs pity from others to feed off of. It is a vampire shadow. While it feels like a victim, it victimizes others into providing its underdog supply – which can take the form of reinforcing narratives of lifelong abuse and the futility of ever healing, rewarding the underdog shadow with the instant gratification of ‘feel better ‘ tokens of affection, and thus pulling it into a cycle of addiction to validation.
6) The Secret Superiority Complex Shadow
Some people who seem the most truly selfless, harbor a secret shadow which feeds their ostensible and consistently high integrity and self-esteem with a deeply guarded belief in their own inherent superiority. This shadow is one of the hardest to recognize from the outside. It is guarded carefully by its owner because its invisibility is maintained by constantly being outshined by their behavior.
People with this shadow are often drawn to positions of community leadership and are seen as selfless, oases of kindness and calm in a chaotic and cruel world. It’s probably one of the most comfortable shadows. These people empathize with the suffering of others and respond to it with their cultivated low key perfectionism. And, they’re good at what they do because of it. It’s different than the ‘shadow with a cause’ because it is not loud, angry, or overly critical. But to be sure, it’s very much alive and can be triggered in the most unexpected ways, by the most unexpected things, in the most unexpected circumstances.
7) The Self-Absorbed Shadow
This can be a tricky one because it can manifest as someone devoted to self-improvement who has a high consciousness of how they come across to others, and thus masquerade as a high consideration of others (without recognizing the limitations thereof). The owners may have solid and charismatic confidence, or they may have a crippling sense of self-consciousness.
Either way, they often have unique and special skills – honed in the vacuum of their intense self-absorption. For these personalities, shadow work can go either way. Their self-absorption can push them to dive intensely in and integrate the shadow; or, it can hold them in an eternal shadow-boxing match because what could be more magnetic to the spirit of self-absorption than an eternal battle of ‘I against I’?
8) The Shifting Shadow
The shifting shadow is both maddening and curious. Some people have a fluid sort of shadow which takes the form of whatever shadow is dominant in their immediate environment, or in the context of a broader conversation, even. One might assume that this sort of shadow would be associated with a weak sense of self in general, but surprisingly, this is not always true. And, that is another way this shadow evades us. This archetypal shadow often attaches to powerful people who manipulate their shadow (if subconsciously) to serve their climb up the ladder of influence in any given situation. They even get to say, ‘Hey, that’s not my shadow because of [insert past situation which proves it wasn’t]’. But make no mistake; it is, for now.
9) The ‘Poor Them’ Shadow
This shadow is constantly pointing its finger away from itself, but not in a spirit of blame. Its owners embody a sense of being ‘a helper’. The poor them shadow can destroy someone’s life with a quickness. If you’re always projecting on and cultivating pity for others, it’s easy to miss when your own life is falling to pieces. The ‘poor them’ shadow keeps its owner from helping themselves, almost quite literally, because they convince themselves that other people’s problems are always deeper and they take on a rigid (though they don’t experience it as rigid unless it is directly challenged) identity of a martyr. This shadow is insidiously dangerous because its owner’s life can crumble around it and they will still be focused on those they see as ‘beneath them’, while at the same time being of no real help to anyone.
10) The Monster of a Shadow
‘The Monster at the End of This Book’ was a Sesame Street, Grover-centric, classic. Spoiler alert: Grover lives through each page in increasing fear of the monster at the end of the book only to find out it was him all along. What is a monster? Let’s stick to the Grover analogy and assume that the monster is merely a little different, not necessarily scary or evil – maybe even cuddly and cute.
People who have a monster of a shadow may never find this out though because somewhere along the way they internalized the idea that their true self was so ‘monstrous’ (i.e. ‘different’) that it was to be feared, escaped from, and avoided at all costs. This shadow can belong to a vast spectrum of personality types because it provides a blank template to build a false self upon because literally, anything is better than facing, let alone being, the monster within.
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