Offense and Shadows

In the last few years I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am a very angry person. I may not be prone to visible outbursts, but it doesn’t take much to make my blood quietly creep up to boiling point.

I often find myself letting loose an internal tirade of expletives at inconsiderate fellow motorists; regularly catch myself thinking, “what did he mean by that?” to the most innocent statements from others.

I am prone to seething on the inside with the ‘inconsiderate and selfish’ I rub shoulders with daily.

But I’m sure most of the things I ‘get offended’ by were never meant as ‘offense’, so why do I take them as such?

So why do we do it?

I’ve rambled on in the last few blog posts about “Falling Upwards”, the new book by Richard Rohr. I’m afraid today you’re in for a barrage of quotes from him, because I’ve found his wisdom so helpful, so here’s the first:

Richard Rohr

“Ken Keyes so wisely said, “More suffering comes into the world by people taking offense than by people intending to give offense.” The offended ones feel the need to offend back those who they think have offended them, creating defensiveness on the part of the presumed offenders, which often becomes a new offensive – ad infinitum. There seems to be no way out of this self-defeating and violent Pin-Pong game – except growing up spiritually.”

I realized some time ago that the person I’m hurting the most with this habit of anger and offense is me. Usually the objects of my anger don’t even know about it, and if they find out they invariably either pity me, mock me, or ignore me. I’m the one who potentially loses sleep over this stuff.

And I’m tired of it.

I like my sleep.

I want to grow up and move past what feels like a very base and childish response to life. So perhaps the obvious next step in my spiritual growth is to pay attention to the things I am offended by and, one by one, ask the question why?

Why am I so angry?

What am I really so angry about?

Usually, I think especially in men, anger is actually a sign of fear, so perhaps the better question to ask is ‘what am I afraid of?’

Some more from Richard Rohr:

“Invariably when something upsets you, and you have a strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the moment, your shadow self has just been exposed. So watch for any overreactions or overdenials. When you notice them, notice also that the cock of St Peter has just crowed! The reason that a mature or saintly person can be so peaceful, so accepting of self and others, is that there is not much hidden shadow self left (there is always and forever a little more, however! No exceptions. Shadow work never stops.)”

Carl Jung

Rohr subscribes to the Psychological ideas of Jung, who suggested each of us has many layers to our person. On the very outer layer sits our ‘persona’, and this is the person we create to show the world; the personality we want everyone to believe we really are.

At our core however sits our ‘shadow’ self. This is the dark part of ourself, the selfish, needy, dangerous part of us which drives us towards our greatest evil. Interestingly it’s the shadow which often drives us to create the persona in the first place, and we will use any and all energy to protect the reality of this game from others.

To be a well rounded, spiritually mature human being we need to realize that both the persona and the shadow are a lie, but before we can do that we have to acknowledge that they are both there, see them for what they are, and then settle into life long ‘shadow work’.

Rohr also says:

“I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it. In my position, I have no other way of spotting both my well-denied shadow self and my idealized persona. I am actually surprised there are not more clergy scandals, because ‘spiritual leader’ or ‘professional religious person’ is such a dangerous and ego-inflating self-image. Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, you can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere”

A few blog posts ago I told you about taking some kids on a youth camp a few years ago. The speaker got up on the first night to tell them that (and I quote) ‘non-christians are dead, demonized, deranged and demented’… and he took 50 minutes to yell that at us! He seemed very, very angry that there were people out there ‘behaving badly’ because they weren’t Christians. I mean really angry! He was offended by them!

I remember thinking his anger was very strange.

Earlier this year, I heard that this same guy had been removed from his church because of sexual impropriety… and I wasn’t at all surprised. It makes perfect sense. As Rohr says, any time we are too anti anything, too offended, it is likely that it is saying more about us, than about the object of our offense. In other words offense is often a sure sign that we haven’t dealt with, or often even acknowledged, our own ‘shadow material’.

So coming back to me, because this doesn’t really work unless you make it personal.

I think some of my shadow material is that I’m afraid people don’t value me. My ego is afraid people are not taking me seriously, or not thinking me worth their attention.

It’s ugly, but it’s true.

And I feel that needy thing clawing for attention often, pricking my anger if I ignore it, and then creating offenses to release that anger. The problem is (and it always was) that I need to acknowledge this ‘shadow’ that demands love and attention from those around me; remembering all the time that they too are likely wrestling with their own shadows.

Except God.

He has no shadow to wrestle with and so is able to give love completely. Jesus calls Him my ‘Heavenly Father’. Now my earthly father was a pretty poor example of unconditional love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it exists.

I suppose I just need reminding that I already have it. I have love. I’m not perfect, and that’s ok. No one else is perfect either; we’re broken and wounded, some just hide it better than others. We can’t rely on each other to give us our sense of worth, or we’ll just condemn ourselves to the dizzying highs and lows of daily human interaction.

We have to root it somewhere else.

And this is what Grace is really: knowing the immovable love of God which tells me I’m worthwhile.

Which tells me I’m ok, even though I always have a long way to go.

I’m 33 now, but I still feel like a kid in this and need to remind myself of this stuff constantly. I need to remember that I have to ground my being in the broad reality of life, and in the unmoving grace of God. I need to remember my shadow and take it seriously. I need to remember others are wrestling with the same. And I suppose it starts with being aware of the things I take offense at, and beginning to let them go by reminding myself of the Truth.

Maybe use it as an exercise this week: each time you find yourself offended at someone else, try stopping for a moment and asking yourself what is really going on.

Seeing as I’m on a Rohr-quoting roll, I’ll leave you with this thought:

“The general pattern in story and novel is that heroes learn and grow from encountering their shadow, whereas villains never do.”

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8 Responses to “Offense and Shadows”

  1. Marius Brand 28. Nov, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Hi Sean, always appreciate the honesty of your writing and you can never quote too much Rohr! Just a quick comment on the shadow though. According to Jung the shadow is not necessarily all dark, selfish, needy, dangerous and evil. It is a common mistake to think of the shadow in moral terms as the bad part of oneself (the “flesh”). Rather it is all that we do not want to acknowledge about ourselves. This could be dark and dangerous but is not necessarily so. Sometimes it can be good things that we do not want to accept, like our weakness, vulnerability, doubt or mortality. I think pastors often get themselves into trouble when they do not get in touch with these parts of themselves. And when the shadow is denied it is acted out or projected on to others.

    As for God not having a shadow, Jung wrote a book called ‘Answer to Job’ in which he argues that God does have a shadow! Interesting question that: does God have a shadow side (not an evil side) and if so what does it contain??

  2. Sean Tucker 28. Nov, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Thanks Marius. Great food for thought:)

  3. Cheryl 28. Nov, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I have finally owned up to the ‘shadow work’ in my own life a few months ago, once I started owning my life story.

    And yes Marius, I am discovering that there are parts of my shadow that are actually not bad at all – its just parts that I didn’t think fit into the ‘way a Christian is supposed to be’.

    I tried to just repress those aspects of myself that were labelled ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ but its only when I finally started engaging with my own truth that I began regaining my power!

    It’s both a wonderful and scary place to be – because your carefully constructed ‘outer’ persona wants to preserve the mask at all costs, while the shadow self is determined to pull it off!

    So this internal struggle is a universal one and I think that the mainstream church is doing a great disservice to people battling with these real issues by whitewashing individual struggles with pious platitudes.

    We don’t want to pretend anymore.

    We don’t want to have to wage private wars in the dark anymore.

    I hear you Sean – we finally want a triumph on the battefield of our souls… but that means that we actually have to be courageous enough to step out of the sidelines and be willing to bear all – the good, the bad and the ugly – for all the world to see.

  4. Louis 30. Nov, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Good stuff Sean, in fact we need to continue this over our next coffee session.
    I agree whole heartedly with what you are saying here. It is something I’ve been struggling with myself for so long. But its only since my own “Big Bang” that I was able to see how misguided my “anger/offence” has been (and at times still is). Thanks to O’l Father Rohr and Matthew Syphus with their wise words and guidance.
    Finally being able to acknowledge my “Shadow self” and give it a good hard look every now and again has really scared/shocked me at what is in there. Yet with that said it has also allowed me to slowly become free of its hold or rather its control, as its hold is rather tight and as you pointed out, it always will.

    Which brings me to consider this at another level or direction. If I may…
    “Do you think that this “need” for recognition/approval/Love not only lashes out when its not fulfilled, but actually in some twisted way also lashes out when it is? So rejecting the very thing the “shadow” desires
    But why? Is it because if the “shadow” were to have its needs met it would loose its purpose…its existence?
    Just look at how the only woman I Loved whole heartedly is the one who would never recognise/approve or Love me regardless of how hard I tried, even long after she divorced me.
    Come to think of it, she possibly suffered from a similar “shadow”. Never being able to recognise/approve any act of recognition/approval/Love I showed her. The more I did the more she pushed me away, to the point of divorce.
    And the opposite appears to also be true…the women who have recognised/approved/Loved me are the ones I’ve hurt the most by rejecting the very thing the “shadow” claims to desire. Thus supporting your point about “Me” being the one I hurt the most.

    This possibly presents a whole other side of the “shadow”.
    And maybe, just maybe its only desire is to exist. But masked in various guises so not to be discovered and maybe overcome.

  5. Sean Tucker 01. Dec, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    Deep stuff dude! Looking forward to that coffee:)

  6. Terry Stenz 22. Nov, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    I was googling for Ken Keyes quote–which I first read in “Falling Upwards”–and came across your blog post. I’m a Rohr fan anyway, so I love hearing how his work has had an impact on others.

    God bless you, Sean.

    P.S. I’m not a big fan of seeing my name attached to comments. First name only, please.

  7. Terry 22. Nov, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    In regard to the name thing…I guess never mind. I didn’t expect the post to show up right away. :-)

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