[Content Warning: references to sexual assault, childhood neglect and mistreatment.]
We all have a Shadow. It is the part of ourselves that we look away from, the part that we fear, starve and ignore.
We often deny that our Shadow Self exists, we smother it and hide it and run from it, but The Shadow cannot be denied forever. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and there are many ways to work with it, not against it. One approach is to embrace your Shadow Self through kink.
Just FYI: I am not a psychologist, nor do I strictly subscribe to the work of Jung or Freud, whose work heavily influenced and defined the concept of the shadow self. This post is written based on my own experience and opinions and is in no way a substitute for professional mental health care or advice. As always, do your own independent research, think critically and always practice risk-aware consensual kink.
Recognising My Shadow
Admitting to yourself that you have a Shadow is a necessary first step to living in better balance with that part of yourself. What makes up our Shadow Self is not necessarily negative, nor is it inherently bad or dangerous. Recognising that there are parts of our self identity that are under served, and quite possibly misunderstood, even by ourselves, is an important milestone on the journey. My Shadow stems from and is associated with several different facets of myself and experiences I have endured. For me, and I can only speak for myself, tapping into taboos and kinks and learning to work with them and not fear them has been a big part of the process. By finding a better balance and understanding of that Shadow, I have begun to develop a clearer overall self identity. Kink is not a replacement for therapy or other external support, but it is a portal to parts of myself that I might never otherwise access. In order to do that self work I had to recognise that I had certain “dark needs” and predilections that were outside of social and cultural “norms”. By experimenting and investigating those Shadow thoughts I was able to come to terms with the fact that not everything I think, want, believe or do, needs to be “socially acceptable” or understood by everyone around me provided that I am not harming myself or others. Recognising my Shadow Self has allowed me to re-frame personal boundaries, assess past trauma and set new expectations of myself and the people I allow to know me intimately.
For me, recognising my Shadow required some soul searching. I had to make conscious decisions to acknowledge pain and suffering I had endured and suppressed. Taking inventory of your pain is hard work. It is exhausting and can bring to light a lot of fear and doubt. It is also rarely a linear process.
Confronting My Shadow
Once I could see those painful experiences for what they were, I began to look for if, and how, those experiences have shaped me. Then I had to ask myself if the ways in which they had influenced me were serving me or not, and if the behaviours that those wounds spawned were healthy. In the past I have brought some under-developed Shadow parts to kink dynamics and it hasn’t been good for anyone involved.
Parts of my Shadow sometimes manifest in kink relationships as:
- intimacy issues (a result of sexual abuse)
- fear-based thinking, especially regarding abandonment
- a tendency towards co-dependency
- a confused desire for physical pain as an extension of emotional pain
- a fundamental lack of trust in my own judgement
- an inability to see the value others see in me
Accepting My Shadow
In order to fully accept my Shadow, I have to accept that I have hurt myself and others by denying and ignoring the Shadow work that I needed to do.
In past dynamics I have:
- projected my feelings onto my partner
- lied to preserve a sense of safety
- given inordinate amounts of power to my kink partner
- acted selfishly
- been hostile and passive aggressive
- smothered partners emotionally
- displayed and denied a lack of self knowledge and strength
By actively, diligently, working on these aspects of myself and accepting that these issues have existed, I have been able to mostly overcome them and exercise a more balanced (but far from perfect!) approach. Acceptance is forever a work in progress for me and it requires focus to stay in a self-accepting state of mind. The more I practice self acceptance and acceptance of my Shadow Self, the more free my heart is to love, accept, nurture and grow healthy kink relationships.
Integrating My Shadow
Radical self acceptance is hard work, but the pay off is huge. By recognising, confronting, and accepting my Shadow Self, I give myself the opportunity to integrate the Shadow and live more authentically within myself every single day. When I am authentically myself I am more honest, more articulate, less afraid and more trusting of myself and others.
For me, Shadow integration looks like:
- speaking up for myself – especially in intimate and sexual situations
- actively managing anxiety and fears of abandonment with rational thinking
- trusting my partner’s love and intention
- asking for clarification when I’m unsure or insecure
- listening to my body and seeking an ever-better sexual understanding of my body
- separating emotional pain from physical pain
- sitting with my feelings and not constantly oversharing
The Shadow Never Goes Away
Shadow work is intense and ongoing but it can be very fruitful. It’s not a matter of “fixing yourself”, the point is not to eradicate the Shadow, but to learn to live with it more effectively and with grace. I no longer feel controlled by parts of my Shadow Self and kink has been the path to that freedom. I still have tons of work to do, I will still make errors, I will undoubtedly forget to forgive myself from time to time, but I now have a foundation of success and strength to draw from. I’m still a dark and depraved sado-masochist, and I always will be, but I’m working really hard to be a more self accepting, more trusting and emotionally present dark, depraved, sado-masochist.
It’s a long road but I don’t walk it alone; it will forever be me, and my Shadow.
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
~ Brene Brown