Shadow as Symbiote

Paul M. Petro
3 min readApr 10, 2021

Shadow as Symbiote

“To confront a person with their Shadow is to show them their own Light”
-Carl Jung

You know the one. That voice that creeps beneath the surface, the one that laughs at you when you fall and whispers in your ear to make the wrong choice. The Shadow seems to delight in your suffering, and appears to want only to make sure that you stay weak, stay tired, stay… less. What the hell is going on here? Why do we have this part of ourselves, and how do we GET RID OF IT?? Feels like that’s the right answer, doesn’t it? Something inside is hurting you, slowing you down, holding you back… so the first urge is often to destroy it.

However…

As is the case with many things, what is presenting on the surface is different than what is underneath — layer upon layer down in your psyche. What if we chose to lean into the Shadow instead of attempting to destroy it? What is it really trying to tell us, and where did it come from in the first place?

I’ve thought about this a fair amount over the years, and what I’ve found to be the most useful explanation of what the Shadow is, is this: it’s your survival mechanism. The Shadow is an integral part of you then, and it should be partnered with, not abandoned. When you’re giving yourself a hard time about something you did poorly, for instance, that’s just you trying to protect yourself from failure. The method may not be pleasant, but the principle is a good one.

So, if a parasite is something that infects and causes dis-ease, sickness, or even death in its host, then yes we should absolutely look to avoid infection and we should also absolutely eviscerate any infection we find. The problem is, I think that we tend to see the Shadow as a parasite, not a Symbiote.

A Symbiote is something that makes its host better. The host provides a place for the Symbiote to live, grow, and be nourished, and in return, the Symbiote enhances the host’s life in some way, or in many ways. In the case of the Shadow, I think that there’s a tremendous opportunity to do just that — make it your Symbiote.

But how?

Well, it starts with setting the Intention to connect to the Shadow, to listen, and to learn from it. You have to be the one who initiates the contact, and you must be the one to step up and lead both you and the Shadow through the process. You’re the CEO of your life. You can do it.

After you’ve set your Intention, just listen. The next time you hear that voice start to chirp about how you did something wrong or fucked something up or fell on your face, engage with it. Create a safe space for it, then ask it questions. Maybe something like, “I hear what you’re saying, and I’d like to understand your perspective better. I really appreciate you trying to keep me safe, but when you speak to me like that I feel really awful. What I’d love to do is figure out a way to see things from your point of view, so I can do a better job of making choices.”

Yeah, it’s a little weird. And yeah, it might feel a bit awkward at first. But the prize at the end is turning that Inner Critic into an Inner Coach, ala Jack Canfield’s suggestion in The Success Principles.

There are plenty more exercises like that, so if that one doesn’t work for you I can suggest others. If you DO choose to engage with your Shadow, I’d love to know how it goes for you, and if you’d like to know more about this topic, please let me know!

Cura ut valeas,

-Paul, XO

--

--