Navigating the Shadows: Unpacking Childhood Self-Doubt

in Reflections2 months ago (edited)

Shadow Work Continued

As a brief introduction, I started doing shadow work, a psychotherapy that goes over traumas, past experiences and the like to uncover your shadow, or the subconscious mind that reflects your personality. There are various prompts out there for people to begin journaling, so I took one that stood out and formed it into a reflection for readers interested. I began today with the following question:

What made me start doubting myself as a kid?


The Uniform Doesn't Unify Students, When One Kid Wears It

I think the first thing that ever made me truly self-conscious was my school uniform. My mother still explains herself from an air of vindication. I was made to wear one, without fail, because my mother is a traditional West Indian woman. Now, she wore them when it was compulsory that all students wore them. I, however, an American born elementary school student did not have to wear them anywhere other than a private institution, which I attended so briefly I only remember the asphalt playground on which we played during recess.

Apparently, school isn't about fashion or identity. If kids wear uniforms, they don't have to worry about sporting brand names and focus on what's more important, getting an education. I recite my mother's rationale to highlight how little liberty I had in my own identity from a young age. This tension most likely formed the cracks where insecurity and self-doubt seeped into my mental.

Otherwise, I didn't hesitate much. Whether my love of reading came from the illustrated children's dictionary my mother read with me on occasion or not, I cannot say. But, reading aloud in class didn't scare me. I just despised the questions from students about why I didn't wear "normal clothes".

My mother's glib suggestions for responses to my peers didn't help, either. What- am I gonna tell a bunch of elementary schools a light blue button-down, collared shirt, navy blue tie and dress pants with black dress shoes are normal? Maybe for my first day at Vertafore, or some other Fortune 500, such formal attire would fit. To run around at recess, I needed Reebok's. To get a passing grade in gym, only sneakers were needed. Imagine nearly failing P.E. on behalf of your Caribbean mother's stubbornness?


Aspirations So High I Feared The Fall

Aside from the uniform, self doubt came from great expectations. I don't blame Charles Dickens, except for the agony in my freshman year of high school. Insecurity came from these near-commands to be the best. Maybe a language barrier prevented my mother from just telling me "go for it", but she completed her Master's in medicine. My mother knows what to say. More accurately, I felt an immense pressure to perform because coming back with anything less than 100% earned a lecture.

In my adult years, I realize my mother imparted a fair bit of an inferiority complex into my thinking. Or rather, her awareness of the discrimination Black people faced in the past and even presently, heavily influenced her messages to the puerile mind of this author in his formative years. She was giving her best rendition of some sentiment echoed popularly in the television series Scandal (2012-2018). I was surprised to find online that even Michelle Obama spoke to it, too.

You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.

I don't know how my mother or the larger Black community came to repeat this thinking, but needless to say, I did not want this message after getting a B+ on a book report in the seventh grade. Am I ignorant to the history of discrimination people of color face? No. Does making generalized statements about doubling your efforts in regards to other people's bolster confidence? No, not really. So, dear readers, you and I agree that even if it was meant to inspire in its own motherly, deterministic Black way, my mother may not have accomplished her goals.


Comparison Is The Killer Of Joy, My Friends

I didn't take so much of what she said away, as I tried to shake the creeping insecurity that in some, inconceivable manner that I was less than my peers. I already didn't consume enough content featuring protagonists of color to feel good in general. The idea that I might have to go harder than I already was just did not take over the years. Perhaps now, an ideal of increased work ethic might resonate, but since my formative years, a different axiom made much more sense.

Work smarter, not harder.

My first run-in with the concept would come at time that I sat too close to the TV to watch cartoons. I only did that because the cacophony of cooking, my parents conversing, or the Haitian music my dad played from his computer speakers seemed to reverberate throughout. Yet, I subscribed immediately. Why work more when you could work less by being clever?

I loved the concept. I loved it so much, I misinterpreted it much of the time and slacked off instead. Where I did succeed, however, I used systems, leveraged rules, all when I had no idea there were concepts for my efforts. I took this one trick I learned about memory from an Advanced Placement Psychology course in high school. Apparently, consolidation takes places while you sleep, so the secret to especially retaining material was to cover it before bed and get a full night's sleep! Even anecdotally, I noticed better learning and understanding.


I still don't subscribe to the idea that work ethic boils down to our differences. In fact, hard work sets you apart altogether, so the comparison unknowingly kills the joy of effort, struggle, failure and success. I don't want what I do to be a benchmark. I am only in competition with myself. I can be better than I was yesterday. Now, around 3 decades of life, I shed self-doubt by reminding myself the one I want to overcome looks back at me in the mirror.

Moreover, it's fair to say that I truly doubted myself as a kid, especially when I was compared. These experiences shaped my past, but they do not have to shape my future. The child I was yesterday has shaped the man I am today. I still believe, though, that the man I am today does not limit himself to his past. With what I learn and practice today, I have the power to shape the man I wish to be tomorrow. This journey into self-discovery, spurred by the happenstance of encountering shadow work on Pinterest, aligns with my current focus on self-improvement and growth. Each reflection on my past brings me closer to understanding the intricacies of shadow work, and I invite you to share your own insights on this transformative journey.


That was a lot, I understand. Thank you for reading my sentimentalities.


This is awesome man. Shadow work is so important and so many people fail to see the importance of it until way later in their lives. Keep at it and you will turn into the best version of yourself.

Thank you. Seriously, I only did this on a whim and figured it made interesting writing prompts. When I looked into it, the pull got stronger. I was hooked- I wanted to resolve my differences and potentially straighten out any crookedness my past bent me out of shape into. We all like to think we're alright, but let's face it- trauma affects and changes us. I'm learning how powerful it could be to reflect about things both major and minor to us, if for nothing other than our own peace of mind.

You can buy a shadow work journal online and it is really helpful. My sister and wife have been using it and it has really helped them work through so much stuff. It is really beneficial for preparing yourself for mushroom trips as well and you get so much more out of your trips when you are working on yourself.

Sometimes when one has really gone so high up, when falling can be devastating when it falls and it can really be a tragedy

It's true. I really thought I was above many things in my past. How humble I became after I was brought down by those very things.

Some people still worry so much about the discrimination that black people faced but if song take us anywhere
We gotta move on!

Yes. If you keep looking at the past, you cannot move forward. It's important to to forget our past, as well, or we will soon learn from history. It makes a fine balance that is difficult to follow, I will admit. I'm no better than my mother, for my own reasons. I write, in a way, to reflect on myself and maybe improve.

This was such a brilliant read. I'd never heard of the term "shadow work" until I came across this, however, it's an activity I've found myself unconsciously performing. I also love how eloquently you described such intricate aspects of your past.

Do you also consider that your mom enforcing a uniform on you when it wasn't mandated could have instilled a sense of confidence and individualism in you?

I often think about past events that seemed somewhat plain and consider how they could have had both an adverse or positive impact on me. The ball could always swing either way.

I'm humbled you think so, Karin. It was not easy to write, though the exercise appeared simple enough. Thank Pinterest for putting it in my path, I suppose. I found a lot more on the subject once I began searching. Now, the alternate perspective you're suggesting is something I hadn't considered. It could be true, that her actions had consequences, intended or not, which ended up positive. Yet, for what it's worth, there were times her choices did not agree with me, without a shadow of a doubt. She is my mother, so ultimately, I cannot condemn her for her choices- I have no grounds to speak on, for I have no children I reared. Still, I can comment that while outcomes and much more remain uncertain, many choices she made I would not follow suit. Yet, I can't speak on the future either; maybe some events force my hand as well, and I behave as my mother once did. I like how you put that- the ball could always swing either way. I tell my friends frequent that life, like a lot of games, are just a roll of the dice.

This was an absolutely amazing read, thank you for sharing so much of who you are in this blog! Shadow work has been so important in my healing process in life, I wish everyone knew about it. This prompt in particular is a really potent one, as evidenced by all of the things it brought together in your mind!

My heart goes out to young you in your uniform feeling insecure, and also to your mother who felt like she had to push you to find every advantage possible. That's a lot of pressure to put on a kid, and I can understand why you are revisiting it as you approach 30.

So far, my 30's have been ALL about processing things from decades ago that I didn't before. Heh, it's cathartic, sometimes painful, and often refreshing... Shadow work is a wild ride I think haha!

It was tremendous to read how you've shook off the weight of many of these expectations, and left room for yourself to thrive.

I am only in competition with myself

Gold. Cheers to self-love 😄

It was a pleasure and a challenge, an interesting combo that makes me lean towards doing it again. I feel just like you. After writing this, I've just wanted to show everyone I know what it can do- just like how I reacted to crypto, in general, and this platform, in particular. I didn't expect to get into so much, but my siblings and I, now much older than we once were, come together in our young adult years to discuss our childhood and upbringings. I hope to at least share these concepts with my sister, as she's halfway through college at the moment, reckoning with changing friendships and growing apart. I appreciate your compassion. I know I explained myself at least, if you can understand I just felt as though I was under a lot of pressure. And, truth be told, while I joke about my past and tease my mother, I have forgiven her for the choices she made that I disagree with. I couldn't even blame her; how would I have behaved? That question provokes me not to assume I know exactly what to do and when. I plan to stay on this wild ride, because while I may've reached a resolution in this particular post, other prompts I have responses for show me that healing is a process and journey that never ends. I am grateful mine has begun and includes this activity, shadow work, on the path.

Comparison is a great joy killer that truly everyone of us must abstain from. Very dangerous

I'm doing my best to mind my tongue, because just as I didn't enjoy comparison in my youth, I feel that no one does. I should not compare anyone, though life often makes this difficult to adhere.