This is an essay I wrote as the foreword to my Self Love + The Shadow Workbook, available here.
The brain is one of my favorite things because a) it adapts, b) for something so well-engineered, it can be pretty silly, and c) there's usually a backup. We hear a lot about catastrophic brain injuries, but we don't often hear about how our brains will have backup areas to pick up functional slack. (Think of a parent who always has snacks.)
Love, reward, and safety can all be felt in different ways in completely different areas of the brain. Fundamentally, we need some basic things, and our brains will seek them out any way they can. We all contain a multitude of what can be termed "psychic dispositions" – these are described as archetypes. Our behavior is our attempt to influence our world in order to have needs met. If we behave a particular way and our needs aren't met, the brain will iterate and innovate. It will influence behavior to become more extreme. The extremes are referred to as The Shadow.
This is where those psychic dispositions, archetypes, come into play. There are usually a couple of ways humans act habitually, depending on which situations they're placed in. We each have a unique shadow side, created from the interaction of our archetypes, our lived experience, and even familial trauma.
For instance, you could have had an experience of being rejected as a young child, made to feel as though your needs didn't matter. As a response, you could come to believe that you are unloveable. Consequently, you could become fiercely determined to make sure no one else you encounter ever feels that way. As a result, you could begin to embody the Rescuer archetype (one of many), going on a crusade in every relationship and environment to save everyone, regardless of whether or not they need or want saving. Your brain, though directing this behavior, will also take the behavior as a directive.
It will mold itself around this behavior, busily increasing its efficiency to act in this way. It will build pathways to bypass logic and evidence that you matter to make sure you leap in to affirm others at your own expense. It's not particularly sustainable, yet I would be surprised if you do not know people who have lived their entire lives this way.
Since the brain is so responsive and yet so easily tricked, you can game your brain. Through frequent reinforcement, habit building, and proper nourishment, you are entirely able to reprogram your mind at any point in your life. If you are tired of your Shadow being in control, now is the moment to reassert control as a whole individual.
We cannot jettison our Shadow; in fact, we should be proud of it. It helped us survive. It helped us meet our needs. The sole requirements to gaming your brain are commitment, receptivity, and intentional action. If I call myself Keyoncé enough, I begin to believe it. I choose to be pleasantly delusional until it becomes my constant truth. Your brain has a host of pathways waiting to be transformed, built, and rebuilt at all times. (If you're ever feeling basic, go Google "neuroplasticity" and be amazed.)
You are your own Big Government – heck, you're the Mafia: you get to select which infrastructure projects get resources. Wouldn't it be much easier to a) stop fighting yourself at every turn and b) throw your resources at what can take you further? To do this, we have to take steps to integrate the Shadow. We meet it, we confront it with love. We validate its role in our lives and when it comes out to play. We ask it, compassionately, why it is acting. We recognize what need it is trying to have met and choose to meet it a healthier way.
I urge you to go forth and flood your brains with love. Flood it with love to the point it no longer recalls what it was to feel itself to be without it. Have patience with yourself. In doing this work, many of us will be without examples and without environmental support. Your Shadow has taken you far: appreciate that. It is time to go further.