I am not a mechanic. I know how to change the oil, replace a tire, and add windshield wiper fluid, but that is the extent of my auto mechanic skills. To prove my point, one time, when my radiator was low on fluid, I opened the oil cap of my vehicle, stuck in the garden hose, and turned on the water. It took me about 30 seconds to realize I was pouring water into my engine and not the radiator. I called my brother, a mechanic who lives on the other side of the country to ask what to do. After laughing at my lack of mechanical skills, he was able to help me learn how to change the oil (and water) of my vehicle while walking me through the steps over the phone.
When I needed to purchase another vehicle for my family, I enlisted the help of my brother. He just happened to be visiting me at the same time that I was in the market for a good used vehicle. Having his help was amazing because the last time I bought a used car, I picked out a lemon.
I am so grateful for my brother. Unfortunately, because he does live thousands of miles away, if I have car problems, I can’t call him up to have him run over to help me figure out what is wrong. The other day, while I was driving my vehicle, the engine light turned on. I knew my brother wouldn’t be able to diagnose the issue over the phone and so I took it into the local auto parts store where they did a system check on the vehicle.
The results were printed out on a 3-foot long strip of paper with a bunch of words that I could understand grammatically but made no sense to me mechanically. I had no idea what to do with the information. I was certain that this list of problems meant it was going to cost me a ton of money. I decided that this was way over my head and so I took the vehicle to the local mechanic for a second look.
It turned out that there was a crack in my gas cap and a replacement was on it’s way. The light went out and I continue to drive with a smile on my face.
It occurred to me that when my shadows show up, it is the equivalent to the warning light in my vehicle flipping on. When the shadows show up, it is a warning that something has happened and an adjustment needs to be made.
The Shadows of Shame show up when a wound has been hit. Their job is to help me “cope” with the pain using the various facets of shame. And these coping strategies never work out well.
Whenever I talk with people about the Shadows of Shame, they always ask, “How can I make these suckers go away?” It is a legitimate question.
Using the analogy of the engine light, we can ask the same question, “How do I make this engine light go away?” The answer — deal with the issue that caused the light to turn on in the first place.
Now, I have other options, of course. One option is to ignore the engine light. I did that once with my 1974 VW beetle. I was traveling home from doing some counseling in a city about 45 minutes from where I lived. About half-way home, the engine light when on. I decided to ignore it and continued to drive home. Then when the oil light came on, I continued to ignore it and kept on driving. Until the car suddenly shook violently and came to a rolling stop. Apparently, there was no oil in the engine and the engine froze. Not only did it freeze, the piston actually rammed right through the side of the engine. The mechanic said he had never seen anything like it before.
I have chosen to ignore my shadows before. It doesn’t turn out well for me or the people around me. I become more irritable. I start looking for ways to numb. I start to feel anxious or depressed.
Another option that I have is to argue with the warning light. I could yell at the warning light. I could express frustration that it always seems to turn on during the most inconvenient times. I could express my wish that it just go away. That doesn’t usually work either. In fact, I have never found that that works — at all.
When I started to understand that the Shadows of Shame were not my enemy, but rather a warning light, it shifted how I dealt with them. Now, when my Impotent One shows up and whispers, “You are not going to be successful with this. This isn’t going to work out for you.” I recognize it as a warning light. Something has been triggered. In this case, my fear of rejection. Once I recognize that my rejection wound is a little raw, I know what I need to do. I reach out to a trusted person. I share my fear and I talk about what is happening.
As I do that, my friend or loved one offers encouragement, reassurance, and faith in me. It soothes the wound in a healthy way and the warning light turns off. The shadow goes back into the dark corner and leaves me alone.
The far more effective way of dealing with the engine light is to actually figure out why it came on and then do something about it. Sometimes, it may be difficult to understand why the Shadows came out. Just like me taking my car to the local auto parts store and getting a readout of gobbledygook, you may need some help figuring out what is actually going on. Talking to a trusted friend, speaking with a therapist, journaling about the issue, or even asking for help from your higher power are all ways of investigating what is going on underneath the surface that brought the Shadow out.
My experience has been that when the Shadows show up, the underlying issue is usually not that big of a deal. Our shadows magnify the seriousness of it, just like the 3 yards of paper from the engine checking machine, but most of the time, it is something much more simple — like replacing the gas tank lid. Getting some reassurance, some connection, some validation, appreciation, or even just a hug can go a long way in turning off the Shadows of Shame.