I recently did some learning about storytelling work, and was struck by something my coach said:
“Every single archetype in storytelling has both a shadow side and light side”.
This basically means that every single character has the potential to be a nobody (or a villain), or to be a hero.
I love this, because I believe depending on how we handle our gifts, every single one of us has the potential to be either good or evil, empowered or disempowered, connected or isolated. Each of us has the potential to either stay stuck and unhappy in our shadow selves or raise up into our light and fulfill our destinies here on earth.
Just to show you a little bit about what I mean, let’s take a look at one of Carl Jung’s 12 character archetypes– The Alchemist.
The Alchemist is a visionary, able to see things others can’t, and lives by magic and wonder. She often has a million ideas, and her biggest fear is that those ideas will never go anywhere. She also fears boredom, being ordinary, and accidentally hurting someone with her powers.
When an Alchemist is in her light side, she’s a true force of transformation and inspiration, both for herself and for others. She empowers others, opens up possibilities where there once were none, turns the ordinary into extraordinary, and creates a sense of wonder and magic.
When an Alchemist is in her shadow side however, she can struggle with low self-esteem. She might feel shame (and even question her sanity) for seeing things others can’t, feel overwhelmed with ideas that she doesn’t know how to manifest, and even use her powers for evil, like by manipulating others.
Does any of this resonate with you?
I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, because I personally identify the Alchemist as one of my main character archetypes, and I suspect the same is true of many of my clients and readers. (Naturally, we’re each a combination though. For example, I’m also a Creator– otherwise I’d never get anything done!)
The reason I wanted to share this with you is that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happens to an Alchemist’s powers when she’s in her shadow side. Some of the literature I read talks about how tempted an Alchemist will be to use her powers for self-gain when she’s in her shadow-side, and how she can hurt people in the process of getting what she wants.
Which is all very well and good when we’re talking about dueling wizards in Middle Earth in fictional storytelling.
But what happens in the real world?
What happens to a little girl who can see things other people can’t see? What happens to a girl with sharper-than-average empathic and intuitive senses, when she realizes that her truth-telling gets her in trouble or could hurt people? What happens to that girl when she realizes she’s either dangerously powerful, or completely insane?
I believe that more often than not, these little girls completely shut down.
Think about it. As a little girl, you had a big loving heart and didn’t want to hurt people, right?
Personally I know I felt overwhelming agony when I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings as a kid.
I remember one time when I was out with my family actually, and a nice lady at the nearby table was trying really hard to get me to smile and be cute. I don’t remember why, but I didn’t like the way she was making faces and doing stupid cheerful comedy bits. After a few moments, I said calmly and confidently “I know you’re trying to get me to smile but I don’t feel like smiling right now, so please stop.”
The look on the lady’s face went far beyond offended or annoyed. She looked devastated, like I had tapped into something deep and painful.
My heart immediately broke and I was filled with guilt and regret. I wished I had just been able to fake a smile and give her what she needed. (That was neither the first nor the last time I would wish for that.)
“I must be very powerful, to have inflicted so much pain on a grown woman,” I remember thinking. “And telling the truth must be very dangerous, to cause a reaction like that. Authenticity obviously comes with a very high price-tag.”
I was six years old.
I felt the same crushing guilt and heartbreak every single time I didn’t want to be friends with someone, turned down a boy who had a crush on me, refused to hug an extended family member I didn’t know, or otherwise didn’t give someone the thing they desired from me.
By the time I was an early adult, I had learned that by being me, I hurt people. In an effort to stop doing that, I abandoned my powers. I stopped listening to my intuition, expressing my emotions, and stopped living my authentic truth. I did all this in the hope that it would keep those around me safe from my obviously-dangerous magic.
Perhaps you’ve been there.
Perhaps in an effort to not hurt people, you’ve opted not to use your gifts at all. If so, then you’ve probably also moved through life feeling incomplete and restless, and unsure why you’re bored and unsatisfied. (Disconnecting from your powers has a way of making you feel utterly powerless.)
Many of you have expressed to me that you once had a keen sense of intuition, or an uncanny ability to read body language, or a giant heart full of love, which has long since gotten you into trouble and been abandoned. Many of you have also struggled with a sense that even when your life is totally great, you feel like something is missing.
Consider the fact that what’s missing might be your connection to your true powers– the ones you divorced as a child or teenager in order to protect those around you.
It’s time to step out of your shadow and into the light.
I promise you, you’re supposed to be the hero of your story.
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