We are born with all the human traits; greed and generosity, productivity and idleness, and, organization and spontaneity. However, in order to be accepted into our childhood family we learned very early which qualities were valued more than others and which were perhaps, not even allowed.
We may have been told, ‘Don’t cry’ or ‘You’re the responsible one.’ This one-sided limiting attitude sends some traits deep into our unconscious while prizing others. Parts of us are now seen as ‘good’ while others (e.g., crying, being reckless) are now deemed ‘bad.’
These so-called bad traits are called shadow material. When we see these traits in others or in ourselves, we become uncomfortable, anxious and even upset. This occurs when someone ‘pushes our buttons,’ when we talk incessantly about something or someone, or when we scold ourselves for spilling something.
This intense emotional reaction that does not fit-the-crime is called projection. What underlies such a strong reaction?
Let’s take the example of being at a four-way stop and observing a driver doing a rolling-stop before proceeding safely through the intersection. You immediately feel agitated and are in disbelief as to how someone might do this. Do what? What exactly are we upset about?
In this scenario, we might feel shock, resentment and anger. We may think, “How dare they not follow the rules” or “That’s not fair!”
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Remember, if this is shadow material, we are reacting to a trait that we do not accept. If we were truly comfortable with sometimes not following the rules or understood that sometimes life is unfair, then there would not have been such an intense reaction.
We can go further here. Ask yourself, “How do I follow the rules too much? Where am I breaking the rules and don’t admit it?” We might outwardly adhere to rules, but inwardly, something inside us (our soul) is letting us know, “Hey, that’s not so bad. Let’s try that once in a while.”
We can also project strong favourable emotions onto others. For example, we may enviously admire someone for their creativity and yet not realize our own. In this case, we ask, “Where am I creative? Where in my life do I need to introduce some creative energy?”
What bothers us about someone is actually a quality we have not fully owned. When we face our shadow traits, it allows us to be more compassionate and accepting of our self and others.