The Game of Hide and Seek, or How to Build a Shadow


images-2One day Miss Berry, my first grade teacher, announced that we were to have blood tests. In a few days we would go to the school nurse who would prick our fingers, squeeze out a drop of blood, apply it to a glass slide, and then we would come back to our rooms. It wouldn’t really hurt very much she said. Just a momentary pinprick.  We must take these permission slips home, have them signed by our parents, and bring them back.

That afternoon as I rode home on the school bus, I made my mind into a wordless, imageless blank. Almost of its own volition, my right hand crept into the pocket of my dress where it found a small crumpled piece of paper.  Just a scrap of paper. I looked in determined fascination at the passing scenery, ignoring the hand that secretly tore the permission slip to shreds in the darkness of my pocket.  I shifted the unimportant pieces of paper to my left hand, which moved slowly and casually to the open window.  I looked at the chattering, fidgeting children in the bus and forced myself to smile and speak to the child sitting to my right (usually I kept to myself) as I ignored the fingers of my left hand that casually opened and allowed the scraps of paper to slip stealthily into oblivion.

“My mother decided not to sign it,”  I told Miss Berry when she asked me for my permission slip. “She’s a nurse, so she’ll prick my finger herself.” As I sat alone in my corner of the classroom watching my classmates file back from the school nurse, each with a cotton ball between thumb and middle finger, I felt a deep sense of shame.  But I willed myself to ignore it and banished the tiny ugly creature from which it came to a dark corner of my unconscious self so neither I nor anyone else would see my shadow.  I was a good girl, I told myself.  And I breathed a sigh of relief because I had escaped the pain of the finger prick.

images-3Such is the morality of youth. Honesty is not very important to vulnerable little girls for whom the most pressing need is to survive with a maximum of need fulfillment and a minimum of personal discomfort.  At this, the earliest level of human morality, “good” is anything that protects us from pain and punishment.  “Bad” is anything that hurts or gets us into trouble.

At six, I knew it was wrong to lie to my teacher and not to tell my mother about the blood test, but my need to avoid pain had top priority.  Because this need was so strong, I had no recourse but to ignore and deny the truth I knew at a deeper level:  I had broken some rules that were important to the adults in my life.  I had lied.  I had been bad.

And so, like all children, I learned to play the game of hide and seek.  Hiding my secret badness behind a wall of denial became a way of life for many years.  I believed that because I conformed in public and gained the approval of the people in power, I must really be good, regardless of how I thought or acted in private.  In other words, I didn’t know how to separate the game I played and the mask I wore from the way I really thought and acted when unobserved by others, which, of course, was not always “good.”

There’s nothing abnormal about this in children.  In fact, research into moral development indicates that we all pass through this stage as we wander through the murky forest of ignorance toward the light of moral maturity.  Only we must be careful not to stay there overlong.  Years of hiding and feeding the tiny ugly creatures we created as children can transform them into walking, talking conscienceless monsters; and nothing on this earth is more dangerous or devastating to humanity’s hopes for peace and justice than the fearful, dishonest, single-minded, self-interested shadow of a mask-wearing adult in a position of power.

UnknownWe have to stop our finger-pointing. The real enemy is not out there:  it’s right here inside you and me.  It’s our very own shadow. Fortunately, each of us has the power to take away its power. We do this by committing ourselves to an ongoing three-step program of observing, acknowledging, and forgiving:

(1) pay attention to your inner life so you can see your shadow the next time it shows up,

(2) acknowledge the truth of it to yourself and others,

(3) forgive yourself for being human.

Welcome to the human race.

Image credits:  Google Images

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Fascinating essay, Jean. I would call it embracing our shadows and struggling to find ways to make them useful—or at least not harmful to ourselves or others—and, at best having them become spurs to our good sides to work hard at making the world a bit better. Much to think about. Thank you!

  2. Dear Jeanie,
    I love this article and found myself nodding throughout with deep resonance. Brilliant telling! You narrate your stories so well and with such a clear, concise voice that today your words have nudged me into remembering my own ‘girl, interrupted’ years as a teenager.
    I recall for years (decades even) how I condemned that teenage girl who lied, cheated and stole from others/Self and in hindsight realise (we are always learning I love this!) how I had built up my own shadow … creating within much pain, suffering and inner conflict.
    You’ve prompted me to remember her in a new way as I confront and integrate more shadow. I love how you normalise the ‘lies’, humanise them, stop the finger pointing. I have a photo of her somewhere, tucked away … time to seek her out I think! This is amazing, thank you so much!
    Blessings, Deborah

    1. Hi Deborah,
      I’m very pleased to know this article brought back old memories and helped you see yourself from a new perspective. As we grow older, those of us who mean well can find it so hard to forgive ourselves for just doing what we had to as children to survive without breaking, especially when it departs from the conditioning we received from a strong and overly strict and judgmental religious upbringing.
      The point is not to judge ourselves, regardless of whether we were overly conforming or rebellious, but to see and understand and forgive that suffering child who was simply reacting instinctively to her fear and pain. I think the main psychological task of adulthood is to face the truth about the inadequate, sometimes toxic, parenting we received, and grieve as much as we must for as long as it takes.
      As Jung’s quote above reminds us, this is extremely difficult and takes more courage than most of us have. But we’re made in such a way that we must face our shadow before we can get past it to the True Self it obscures. You’ve already discovered that art is the way through, and it’s obvious to me that your beautiful and insightful poetry is doing its healing work, not only for you but for those who are lucky enough to have discovered it.
      Blessings, Jeanie

      1. Can I weep with love? Can I? Can I?! Oh dear Jeanie thank you so much, for within your words my ‘girl, interrupted’ finds more of her freedom. I have never been able to articulate how difficult it has been to forgive myself and understand that I was just doing what I had to do to survive, often to eat. The shame of it all crippled me for years.
        I truly believe that your ability to write clearly and in such an open and heart-warming way helps so many of us from remaining trapped by our earliest wounds. Yours is a most precious gift. ‘Forgive the suffering child’ brings fresh tears. Your words, like Jung’s shall go with me all the days of my life, enriching me in ways for which I lack all words.
        I’m going to find that picture of me as a teenager and post it later! Thank you so much for your kind-hearted words.

  3. Jeanie, One of the reasons I like to stop in here to see what you’re up to is because I know your authentic posts will always beckon me to look within and express my own voice. How clever you were to avoid that painful prick…and brave. And creative. And honest to face the Shadow and befriend it. All traits that serve you well today. Hugs, Jenna

    1. I love, love, love your generous and insightful response to my childish avoidance tactic!! Yes, in retrospect I can see that I was clever, brave and creative. Thank you for that sweet gift. I’m still smiling. Hugs, Jeanie

    1. Thank you, Francesca. It would, indeed, be nice if WordPress had a “translator” app, wouldn’t it? I never thought of that. Yes, self-development is a universal issue and imperative. I believe peace, especially world peace, is impossible without it! Many thanks for writing. Jeanie

      1. Absolutely, Jeanie. Peace, world peace, starts with the peace of (personal) mind.
        This is just an example of the multi-lingual website I thought of: or the language menu is on the right. And many more smaller sites like that which are giving the readers an option to read in a tree-four at least languages.
        Maybe? You could accomplish that?
        Of course, the sites mentioned above is eCommerce, but something simpler could be done at a very or no cost at all, as I hope. Staying just with the basic Euro languages, perhaps. Then, I am sure, your audience would grow internationally. I’ll be the one, out of many as I am sure, who’d posting the link to your site onto many other websites with the self-conscious communities.

        1. Thanks again, Francesca. I really appreciate your encouragement and making the effort to send me examples. I’ve asked my social media trainer friend to look into this for me and thanks to you we might be able to get this up soon! Blessings, Jeanie

  4. I’m also kinda choked up Jeanie, thank you.
    How to respond in a few words .. I was enchanted from the word go (which actually started “One day, …”). Then I had some thoughts and feelings about the 6 yr old who was suddenly rebellious and told a fib. I too thought it was a very creative way of avoiding pain, even though it was a mere pinprick! And tricking yr teacher – and mother – in the process … wonderfully rebellious, well done! And of course the symbolism of Briar Rose and the pricking of her finger …
    I would have felt shame too if I saw my buddies coming back with a cotton bud between their fingers and no doubt would have carried that shame a long time … but a little bit of guilt never did anyone ever harm if understood in a broader sense –
    My childhood is a blur – I know that we were a normally dysfunctional family, neither good nor bad. Educated, well-fed and housed, each generation carrying their past generations, down to us, somehow in the genes. Much left unsaid, unspoken … And if we need to excavate our childhoods to expose our wounds and thus begin healing, then this is, as you say, a task requiring courage – bucketsful. My deepest admiration to those who under-go…
    And your emphasising, so gracefully, the gift that healing can bring and how it impacts on not only us, as individual, but those around us and ultimately on the world level. Let this be our politic …
    I loved all the comments and your responses to each and every person. I got a bit more choked up with yours and Deborah’s conversation. slfuch’s comment is thoughtful and lovely …jcowles’ comment, your conversation with Francesca is lovely too. Yes! to having translations of your posts in different languages!
    Thank you Jeannie for this very powerful post indeed. Your writing about it all is such a gift that you pass on so graciously and prod us, gently, a little. It is up to each one of us to check out our shadow, all the time. We have to, if we wish for peace and justice in the world. Shadow: both Friend and Foe .. (You could have added that we could use our dreams to assist!)
    So much for a few words – 🙂

    1. Oh my, Susan. I’m deeply touched by your thoughts and emotions, and that you took the time to let me know how this piece impacted you. This is a huge gift. The generous-spiritedness in this, and the preceding comments is overwhelming and more than compensates for the effort that has brought me to this place. I feel so lucky to know you–the kind, intelligent, gentle, understanding and affirming soul that you are…in fact, that all of you who share your thoughts here are. Let this way of connecting with others “be our politic.” I love that phrase. From my soul to yours, thank you. Jeanie
      Oh, I meant to say that I never once made the connection between this experience and Briar Rose!!! This really provides a new and exciting avenue for exploration. Thank you so much for that!!

        1. You’ll love this: I just finished ordering The Annotated Brothers Grimm, having searched Google and found an amazing discussion of the symbolic meanings of Briar Rose! I feel much excitement about the extraordinary parallels between this story and mine. Thank you so much for guiding me in this direction. I feel a few more pieces of the puzzle sliding into place!!! Thank you.

  5. Oooo, am so pleased that the brief note on Briar Rose and the pricking of the finger pricked and prodded something Jean! Thank you for letting me know! 🙂 🙂

  6. Thrilling, Jeanie. Thank you. I love remembering (who can forget?) the times I was bad to avoid pain (stinging eye drops, for one) and how I got better at sneaking around and hiding. In high school I lead two lives, one with my wild boyfriend and one as student council president and all A student. The Queen of Compartmentalization.
    Yes to the Briar Rose/ Sleeping Beauty association. I love Susan’s comment.
    My shadow example of the week: I had a tax conciliation conference today because of denied business expenses. I spent weeks allowing my shadow to stir the hot pot of projection. “How do they dare call my writing a hobby and not a business? I’m a victim of the unfair system–blah, blah, blah. When I got to the jail-like state office building, the mediator and state auditor were polite, kind, and–surprise–conciliatory. We talked. Before I had time to state my case, the auditor said she’d spent time at my website, looked at what I’m doing, and had already decided to drop the challenge. Once again I learned the danger of letting my shadow take over and run me around in exhausting circles.

    1. “The Queen of Compartmentalization.” I love it. Also your “shadow example of the week.” Perfect! What makes you so different from the millions of others who have made this exact same projection onto “those people” —i.e. the tax collectors of old, the IRS, auditors, clueless governmental officials, etc.—is that you eventually saw it for what it was, an aspect of your shadow, and can now laugh at yourself for having projected it and taken so long to recognize it.
      As we both know, that shedding of the light of consciousness into the dark places of our inner world, that lightening up, is exactly what we’re meant to be doing. However, as we also know, and as you so gracefully note in your wonderful comment, it’s a slow and never-ending process. Fortunately, the more we engage in it, the easier it gets.
      Thank you for being such a wise, generous-spirited, and authentic companion on this journey! Jeanie

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