Letting go of the shadow figures

I did a CCC class yesterday on the ego’s use of the past. More specifically, it was on what the Course calls “shadow figures.” These are our images/memories of key people from our past who didn’t give us the love and special treatment we wanted.

I tried to make the class a bit more practical than past discussions of shadow figures that I have led. As a a result, I found it hitting home more, for myself and others. Today, I tried to boil its practical import, and wrote the following:

Most of us are telling ourselves this story about how we are moving through life, about the relationship between our past and present:

“My past wasn’t ideal. I didn’t get the treatment I really should have really gotten, and definitely not the treatment I wanted. In many ways, it was very painful and truly unfair. I don’t dwell on that a lot, but I do want to improve my circumstances now. I want to get treated better than I did in the past. I want to be with people who give me those things that the people in my past refused to give, or at least did not give enough of. Who doesn’t want a present that’s better than the past?”

The Course, however, would say that this is a cover that hides our actual guiding story. Can you, therefore, see yourself moving from the previous story to the one below? Can you try to acknowledge that the following story has actually been the one you have been living out?

“I see my past as one of victimization. I believe that key people in my past refused to give me the love I should have had. As a result, I view my identity as having a gaping hole, with the material to fill that hole lying in their hands. I therefore carry these people around with me, hoping to ‘show them.’ In the present, I find myself ‘inexplicably’ attracted to people who remind me of these shadow figures. If I can get the current people to give me the love I was denied, then it’s as if the shadow figures have given it to me, and I have won. That is the purpose of the vengeance theater I have been staging.

“I see my past victimization as one big I.O.U. which grants me the right to take vengeance without guilt. That, indeed, is how I relate to the present—as a place in which to take vengeance on the past for what it did to me. The current people are meant to pay for the sins of the past, sins they themselves had no part of. But that doesn’t matter to me, because I am actually in relationship with my shadow figures. When I talk to the people in the present, I am talking to my shadow figures. And when I hear the people in the present answer, I hear my shadow figures speaking to me. On an emotional level, then, I am literally living in the past, in a fantasy world of my own making. I am still back there, locked in a perpetual private struggle with my shadow figures, forever trying to wring from them the love they so wrongfully withheld. I keep hoping to win this war, to ‘show them’ once and for all, but mostly my new relationships just repeat the patterns from the old relationships, so that with time I merely add new shadow figures to the attic overhead.”

And if we can acknowledge, at least in part, that that has been our actual guiding story, can we go one step further and embrace the following?

“I acknowledge that this has been my guiding story and I find it repulsive. I want to step out of the past and start living in the present. I renounce my belief that my past has power over my identity. I deny that those past people hold my identity in their hands; only God does that. And I acknowledge that the past itself is over; it no longer exists. How, then, can I live in it? I forgive the people in the past for not playing the role I assigned to them. And I forgive the people in the present for not acting their part in the vengeance theater I scripted for them. I want to leave the past behind and truly be with them in the present, not as actors wearing masks, but as real people. I want to discover all the potential that lies in us entering into a holy encounter now.”

9 Comments

  1. Jo Chandler
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Dear Robert,
    This article really hit home for me this morning. Yesterday I attended a writing workshop in which we were asked to write in class about an incident that changed our spiritual path. No matter how hard I tried, my piece fell flat, and I felt like a failure, especially in light of the wonderful accounts others shared.

    After reading your piece, I believe my writing fell flat because, as you put it, “I see my past victimization as one big I.O.U. which grants me the right to take vengeance without guilt.” My topic was indeed setting me up to take vengeance without guilt. I mean, after all, the Kindergarten teacher I wrote about did me wrong and should pay for her crime.

    I was pretty blue this morning. I asked for guidance, not thinking it would come because I felt so “blocked.” All of a sudden I was missing you and the Circle and felt drawn to your site. And here is my answer, my explanation. My writing fell flat because it was it was inauthentic and untrue. I hadn’t failed. I had succeeded. And by turning to HS for guidance, I was given my answer. Hope this makes sense.

    Thank you so much, Robert.

    Love,
    Jo

  2. Robert Perry
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Jo, yes, I totally understand what you’ve said. It’s weird how those old grievances can keep us in chains. I’m really glad your guidance led you back here. Seems like it’s been a while. It’s good to see you back.

  3. Margaret Kim
    Posted May 6, 2013 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Robert,

    I am reading your article from over seas in Korea. I was actually thinking today how I am replaying my past with authority figures in my life. That I want to “show them.” This really hit home. I have been struggling with a particular person at work and have had intense negative feelings towards her as well as encounters. In the moment of the encounter with this woman, it’s really difficult to see that I am living in the past.

    “I forgive the people in the past for not playing the role I assigned to them”- this statement is really difficult for me to swallow. My brother has hurt me a lot. And I can’t see how I have assigned a role to him. This statement seem to say that his abuse was something of my fault. For I have expected him to be a decent human being. I know this is not what you mean, but I am not sure what you mean by this statement. Would appreciate it if you would clarify. Thanks.

  4. Jeannie Nadel
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh my. You have hit SO many nails on the head…

  5. Simon Kutassy
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Hello Robert,

    I am new to the CofA site and I have to say I am very thankful for such an insight on my first visit.

    I grew up in a home where I was quite dominated at times and wanting to please I have actually split off part of my own mind as that shadow figure and I can see it is one thing that causes me to fight myself and act out old patterns rather than release the ancient emotion / split thoughts within. I can see when I have been near the emotion /split in the past I have reenacted scripts finding guilt within because by some warped logic I think ‘I need’ to defend that split painful part because it actually feels like who I am because it is so familiar and so terribly painful to approach – but I have been approaching it with ‘guilt and punishment’ in mind – so guess how I have experienced it – as guilt and punishment…

    Confused indeed – In just a few months ACIM has revealed to me deep patterns of inner guilt /self analysis that I have hung on to in a way other ‘therapies’ have not. The references to specialness which is a modern day curse reveal how we seek specialness as if this ‘earns connection (read ‘approval’)’ – what a crazy proposition and yet not in the language of the ego. I can see how I grew up serving my parents own guilt and kept twisting myself into shapes ‘for them’ (I forgave my father several years ago very directly for his at times harsh treatment of me and we are now good friends rather than bickering ‘enemies’ each wanting to connect but not feeling ‘worthy’ of each others love). My message was simply – I only ever wanted to connect with you but you always shouted at me and punished me. This released him from his own guilt and we have been on close terms ever since. Really I was only ever upset because I loved him and was sad I seemed to upset him but at that time as a child it caused great emotional confusion within me and caused me to relate to others very fearfully later in life and be a very poor communicator. It has also lead me to be critical of ‘control’ behaviour in others which I am increasingly realising is my own sense of needing to ‘control’ myself for others and naturally resenting this unnatural state. My judgement then has isolated me and made me more bitter and more judgemental – seeing then the harsh witnesses to my own judgements the nasty cycle continues.

    This article really highlights how I actually hang onto my own shadow images of myself as well as of others. The script just keeps getting reenacted because I respond to the shadow images. The course has shown me that I must choose differently if I am not to keep reenacting the same patterns. I am actively communicating a lot more on many issues now and realise I cannot and do not need to ‘sort myself out’ . I see how ‘ideally’ the love of God radiates through us and from us to others – reminding them of themselves as we look past their errors. In a sense we do not need to keep looking back at ego ourselves and trying to ‘correct it’ – One thing to say this – much to do to practice it but a ‘direction change’ is underway for me as I seek to look out and forward and less within at the old shadow figures. The shadow figures will dissolve in the light.

    This is such a useful way of looking at this idea – and I can see me reflecting on it often when I grasp at old ways of reacting and looking back rather than looking out and forwards.

  6. Tertia Mank
    Posted February 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Dear Simon,
    Welcome! Fairly new on the site and in the CCC (which I can very much recommend) as well, having received a warm welcome of some of the members, I know of the love and the joy there is in all when newcomers arrive. Thank you for sharing part of your journey in your comment! The insights you’ve gained and your awareness of things sound remarkable. I love how you uncover our tendency to equate connection with approval. It brings clearly to mind that we seek acceptance for connection, yet through trying to be approved of, lose sight of the us that needs to feel accepted as it is in order to connect. Sometimes it feels like our own valid needs beneath the ego get to be overlooked instead of us recognizing the ego as merely defense against pain in unhealed levels that need to be reminded of His (and our) Love and Care. But the message we give to ourselves when judging the ego is a repetition of what gave rise to it originally. The Course really asks us to look at the ego, but not without Him, so not without mercy, in order for the part of us that needs healing to remember His Love and accept healing so the defenses/illusions/ego are no longer considered necessary to keep us safe, and thus disappear of themselves. Confusion gave rise to them, clarity restores to our awareness the fact we could not help but misunderstand things emotionally as a child, unless we grew up with parents manifesting perfect love all the time, yet although our defenses seem to bug us now, they originate from a time we couldn’t understand why we didn’t feel well and sought answers and ways to cope with it or find release somehow. I love how you describe the healing of your relationship with your father. Yet early experiences often have deeper level components that don’t get solved by present events. If you find the cycle continues despite insights and best efforts, and would like to look at it with me, (through writing back and forth, for I live in the Netherlands), please ask the CofA for my e-mailadress or how to contact me (which is already easy if you joined the CCC). I consider the Course central to my learning, but defenses can make us misinterpret parts of it, and I feel grateful to have also learned much of PRI, which doesn’t contradict it, but helps us to add reason to our interpretation of what it says. It has names for the different defenses we use, making it easier to recognize which one is activated and how to turn within for healing, and you might benefit from the Course-adapted, experience-based version I have to offer. For, remembering the light increasingly, I feel asked to share it. We need not add to our pain by fighting ourselves or our defenses. But we do need to learn how to see them, I believe, in a way that helps Him restore our wholeness to our awareness. One defense can activate another, making it feel like a mess. Yet there is a way out that does not require rejection, but helps us let go of illusions gently as we remember, deep within, what safety, unconditional love and serious care are like. The need to feel well is a valid need, but if part of us couldn’t help but forget how it feels, it needs help to remember. Through contact with the purpose of healing He can reach that part amazingly effectively, as I recently experienced again. I feel gently guided, although it’s a process, and I can’t say I feel completely fearfree yet, but I guess that’s why my welcoming you has turned this in a lengthy offer to be of service, for I would love to see you and others experience gentle deep healing as well.

    Loving blessings,
    Tertia

    • Simon Kutassy
      Posted February 15, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Hi Tertia

      thankyou for your reply. I was looking at joining and will follow that up and get in touch. I related to much of your reply in that I am using fearful old responses as old emotions surface and this is very confusing. I would very much appreciate assistance in this in Acim terms. My mind trends to race which makes connecting with spirit very difficult and it is like being stuck in a deep dark hole. But I am much lighter overall despite a lot of confusion at the surface. I look forward to corresponding with you.
      Thanks
      Simon

  7. Source Code
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    I joined this site because I need help with my situation. This article pretty much describes it. I stopped talking to my abusive family for the most part, about 6 years ago. However, everyday, I experience agony from the past. It sounds cliche, but my family completely destroyed my career and my life. They were and are extremely emotionally abusive people. They treated me with hate and disdain, and sabotaged my career which has always been the most important thing to me. Basically I ended up living on the streets because of it.

    So my family invested money into my older brother’s business while leaving me on the street to suffer and die. They never cared about me in the slightest. Despite the fact that I’m considered to be the smartest one with the most promise. As well as the most virtuous one in terms of doing good for the world. My goal has always been to invent new technologies as well as succeed as a performing artist. And most of all work toward world peace and pacifism. I guess because I’m a good person and highly intelligent, they felt the need to abuse me even though I always needed all the help I can get for my career.

    I’m currently in the process of suing my older brother’s business for $100K. The idea initially was that they raise the money for me first. Otherwise I would take it to court. Regardless of whether I win or not. It’s at least something I can do. So that even though I’ll never get justice for it, at least I can get something out of this whole horrible situation.

    I don’t want it to get to me though. I really want to be free and to heal my mind. It’s very difficult because the horrible mistreatment I received from my family has really affected me in a bad way. And on a daily basis to the point of self mutilation. And this isn’t what I ever wanted. I wanted to be free, doing good things for myself daily, working positively towards my career goals. Yet instead, I ended up on the streets feeling bad about what happened to me. Nobody helping me. No real family. Nobody acknowledging my capabilities. And emotionally abusive family that has spent my entire life calling me names and putting me down.

    And CIM is about healing the mind. So that I can look beyond all of it. I read, I study, and pray. I still get affected really badly.

  8. Laura Birnbaum
    Posted December 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Hello, This article really hit home for me. I have experienced some very painful things in my life and have come to the conclusion after almost 20 years of studying the course that I was a willing participant in all of it. By taking responsibility for what has happened to me I have been able to forgive those who have hurt me most (including myself), been able to move forward and to experience peace like never before. I stayed stuck until I let go of the past and existed only in the present. The present is, after all, the only thing that truly exists for me while in the illusion.

    I am a work in progress but the progress that I have made has been a miracle that I have been able to experience over and over again. Suspending judgement has been the key in all of my relationships past and present. Loving , not judging and forgiving has brought me a peace that I didn’t believe existed until I experienced it first hand. I have been unable to remain in peace in all situations but by studying the course on a daily basis I am making progress that sometimes still shocks me.

    I encourage all who have experienced hurt and pain to study the course daily. The course truly brings about amazing change in your life if you study it and then apply it to your daily life.

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