Halloween is here. It’s a time to put on masks and walk around pretending to be someone we’re not. Sometimes, though, our choice of costume ends up inadvertently showing people the truth about who we are.
The masks we wear are meant to present ourselves in a completely different light and obscure the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want other people to see. Often, though, these masks end up revealing our secret self.
With the seemingly innocent choice of a Halloween costume, we manage to show people things about ourselves that we didn’t mean them to see. This happens because on the one had, we want others to see us (and love us) for who we truly are, but on the other hand, we’re afraid of how people would react if they were to see our true self.
Everyone has a “shadow” side of their personality. Most of us try to hide this side from everyone else. The thing is, it’s a normal part of every person’s psyche, containing all our embarrassing thoughts and feelings; our shameful desires, longings and urges; our secret hopes and fears; our true beliefs, attitudes and opinions.
We want our shadowy secrets to stay hidden so we do our best to make sure that no-one sees them. Still, we long to be accepted for who we really are, so an inner conflict arises within us. This conflict drives us to make unconscious choices that inadvertently reveal our shadow side; for example, wearing a Halloween costume that broadcasts a secret longing, wish, hope or fear.
The fear of judgment and rejection is what makes us want to hide these shadow aspects of our psyche, but the need to be seen, known, and loved for who we truly are is often stronger than our fear. This powerful desire to be seen will cause bits of the shadow to leak out “accidentally on purpose.”
The shadow leaks out through Freudian slips; through the ways that we behave while intoxicated, or through the Halloween costumes we’re compelled to wear. No matter how much we try to hide; no matter the masks we wear, we can’t help eventually revealing the truth about what’s in our shadow.
I’m reminded of the trailer to Season Two of Stranger Things. It shows Will Byers keeping a big, dark secret from his family and his community. He’s back at home now but his experiences in the Upside Down have changed him. He’s trying to hide the truth about the strange things that are happening to him, but his secret can’t help leaking out.
Will stays silent at first because he’s frightened and he doesn’t understand what’s happening to him. In real life, it’s common for us to keep secrets about ourselves because the contents of our shadow can make us feel confused and afraid. Often, we avoid telling others because we don’t want to make things real to ourselves. Certainly, that’s the case with Will Byers.
For him and for us, the answer is to compassionately face and accept our shadow side, so it doesn’t have to be our fearful, shameful secret. When we do this, we stop the accidental leakage of our shadow-material and we gain control over when and how we express this part of ourselves. It becomes even more crucial when our shadowy secret has a potentially negative impact on the other people in our lives.
Will doesn’t want to face what’s happening to him, but continuing to wear the mask of an innocent boy is dangerous to everyone. The sooner he accepts the truth about his shadow, the more choice he gets over how and with whom he shares his secret. The same can be said of some secrets in relationships.
For example, if one member of a couple is struggling with a serious and shameful addiction, the sooner they come to terms with it, the sooner they can share the truth with their partner. Instead of risking the relationship by being accidentally found out, they can take control of the narrative, build trust and move toward healing.
For many of us, including Will Byers, it’s crucial that we face our shadow and accept it as an integral part of who we are. Ultimately, this acceptance will enable us to make conscious, deliberate choices about how and when we reveal aspects of our shadow to the other people in our lives.
When we’re less fearful or judgmental toward these dark, or uncomfortable aspects of ourselves, we’ll be less likely to hide them from ourselves. As a result, it’ll be far less likely that we’ll inadvertently leak out parts of our shadow through the Halloween costume we choose to put on this year.
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