Saturday, December 3, 2016

Romancing the Shadow

Most intimate relationships have some version of this story: one partner (or both) turns the other into a parental figure. . . We call this downward negative spiral the roller-coaster ride because the lovers get on at the same place, seem to spin out of control, but end up getting off at the same placeand nothing has really changed. (p. 158, Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zweig, Ph.D. and Steve Wolf, Ph.D.)

Whatever their other reasons to seek coaching, more than half my clients have relationship issueswhether married or single. I'm not a therapist or credentialed in relationship coaching, so stick mostly to helping them look at personality styles and subtype dynamics in their relationships.

However, Romancing the Shadow is full of practical advice for Jungian shadow work personally and in relationships of all kinds (as well as at work and in mid-life). So I'm culling out a few gems on how we bring parental complexes to our relationships.

First, I'll admit I can see I married my father, thinking I'd found his opposite. Dad, a style Eight on the Enneagram, was a military officer and stern disciplinarian, with whom I always felt a distance. I remember agonizing rides while he drove me places in early high school, where neither of us could think of a word to say to the other. Dad wore his toughness on the outside, so when I met my first husband I was immediately taken by his quiet demeanor and intelligence. A style Five, I now believe (he's long deceased), he was sweetly romantic while we were courting, and we talked at length about ideas, but that personality style's tendency to hoard emotions began before long to feel very much like interacting with my father. 

Unfortunately I was young and naive, hadn't studied psychology yet, and was years away from learning the Enneagram, so in my eyes he was "the problem," having no notion that projections of my own shadow were keeping me from seeing that relationship as an opportunity for consciousness.

In their analysis of one couple, Zweig and Wolf suggest "The couple's parental complexes are shadow-boxing with each other. . . they can put on the brakes only by taking responsibility for their own feelings, romancing their projections, and moving out of the past into present time." 

The solution, of course, lies in waking up, first acknowledging that no one person is "the problem;" both people contribute their part to feed the self-fulfilling downward spiral. Then being alert for cues that one's own shadow has been hooked andinstead of reacting as usualdoing something different: describing what's happening inside you and asking for space or support or conversation to help you move through it in a way that doesn't perpetuate the cycle. 

I don't take these suggestions lightly, nor do I expect you to do so. But what relationship have you ever had that was easy, day after day, year after year? You know the pain of compromise, you know the depression of defeat. Romancing the Shadow will help you engage in the disquieting task of shadow work, and find true relationship in the process.
Seeing itmeeting the shadowis the important first step. Learning to live with itromancing the shadowis a lifelong challenge.

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