How to Embrace your Kevin

Kevin isn’t a real person. For this post’s purposes at least, Kevin is your dark side. If you have never watched the movie or read the novel We Need to Talk about Kevin, the reference will make little sense to you unfortunately!

Kevin represents everything you can’t see in yourself. The correct psychological term (from Jungian psychology) for Kevin is your ‘Shadow’.

This guide is about how to integrate your Shadow and the benefits of doing so.

The birth of Kevin

Kevin was born shortly after you. Or if you want an exact birth date, it would be the first time you expressed a part of yourself which was met with a frosty reception, or any other kind of negative cue. It may be that you received a dressing down from one of your parents (likely), or perhaps it was some sort of a social snub.

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung linked our dismembered traits and urges to the angst that we experience in adulthood. As the poet Robert Bly puts it in A Little Book of the Human Shadow: “the child puts all of these unwanted parts into an invisible bag and drags it behind him.”

Since everyone has a Shadow, what differentiates us is the degree to which we are conscious of it. The more conscious we can get, the clearer our perceptions become – of ourselves, other people and life.

The benefits of integrating your Shadow extend even further than this, but we’ll start with that.

The hidden power in the Shadow

It’d be logical to assume that the Shadow only contains unpleasant stuff, like selfishness, laziness or uselessness – but not so. We hold positive traits in our Shadows too. I believe that my Kevin contained a lot of creativity and confidence. This happens because powerful characteristics may also have got frowned upon by those who had a hand in your care-taking.

The perils of ignoring Kevin

Carl Jung said that the man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way. That’s basically the problem with ignoring Kevin.

Like a lot of personal growth work, it is a real task to pay attention to Kevin. Integrating your Shadow isn’t remotely fun. Who enjoys examining their flaws, weaknesses, neediness and envy? Focusing on our strengths is much more pleasant!

But the reality is we cannot reach our full potentials without trying to integrate the Shadow. If you choose to stay unconscious of your Kevin, he’ll exert control over your thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions. Kevin is credited with being behind many self-sabotaging behaviours.

In their book, Embracing Ourselves: the Voice Dialogue Manual, Hal Stone and Sidra Stone, say “the energies we continue to disown will return to us in some form to plague us, defeat us and cause us stress. These disowned energy patterns behave like heat-seeking missiles…they demand our attention through the discomfort they cause on impact.”

Remaining unconscious of the Shadow hurts our relationships with our partners, family, and friends. Failing to integrate your Shadow impacts your personal development across the board, because it is just too large an obstacle to self-awareness.

Your dark side can be a strong catalyst for making positive changes. Ignoring Kevin means you’ll miss out on that transformation potential.

In fact, it is said that the Shadow is nothing short of the doorway to our individuality, because that’s exactly what it was formed to eradicate. The Shadow is identified as key to finding passion and purpose. Jung says that no growth is possible until the Shadow is adequately confronted, which involves more than merely knowing about it.

Another way to consider this is that every disowned self has a perspective you are missing. Your disowned self can be a source of ideas, inspirations and solutions to the challenges you continually face.

3 benefits of integrating your Shadow

Let’s have a tangible list on the benefits of integrating Kevin. (And I promise not to use the word ‘authentic’).

1. A clearer perception, improved experience of relationships

This was the very first benefit I began to notice when I started to integrate my Shadow.

As you come to terms with your darker half, you see yourself more clearly and you stop attributing behaviour or traits to other people. You see people as they are, instead of as you are.

As a result, other people’s behaviour won’t trigger you as easily. You’ll also have an easier time communicating with people and you should notice an improvement in your relationships.

2. Better health

Psychologists have made the link between the Shadow and actual physical health conditions such as headaches and fatigue. Integrating your Shadow may result in an improvement to your health, as you stop repressing emotions and desires that are longing to see the light of day.

3. Increased creativity

Integrating the Shadow is associated with an unlocking of creativity. As psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers found, creativeness is a spontaneous occurrence in mentally healthy individuals.

How to recognise what’s in your Shadow

I first learned about Kevin during my mid-twenties. I was on holiday in Turkey and my chosen reading, it probably won’t surprise you to learn, was a book called The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. It was a book all about Kevin.

Since then I have been working on and off to integrate my Shadow, and here are the ways I do it. There are alternative methods to the ones I use, which I will detail too.

1. Pay attention to reactions

Pay special attention to things that annoy the shit out of you, and any excessively emotional reactions you have about other people.

This, I am sure you are already aware, is known as ‘psychological projection’, which is a defence mechanism. As Jung is often quoted saying, “everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Let’s say that I am profoundly irritated upon displays of selfishness in others. If I simply discount my reaction as being entirely the other person’s cause, I keep my unconscious unconscious. I continue to feel irritated, but much more importantly, I miss out on the wisdom from doing self-inquiry into this.

If instead, I ask myself what my story is about being selfish in life, or if I ask what selfishness sometimes allows a person to do, things might start to get quite uncomfortable. I might be led to the thoughts that being a bit more selfish might give me the freedom, happiness or success I crave deep down. And then I might ask myself what I would do if my selfish side was allowed to be in the driving seat, so to speak.

I have found that I do not always understand all of my emotional reactions initially. But the key step is shifting the blame from outside and taking ownership over your reactions to people and life. It is similar to practising responsibility.

At the end of each day, take five or ten minutes to reflect on your interactions with others and your related reactions.

2. Look on the other side of your strengths

Another way to skin the cat is to look at the qualities that you are very identified with (basically the things about yourself that you are the most proud of). Make a list. Then, highlight the opposite and try to identify it within yourself.

For example, if you identify with being a mentally strong and disciplined person, you may be repressing a vulnerable side. You may be missing out on the effects of embracing your vulnerable side: intimacy in your relationships, a greater self compassion, etc.

I used to identify with being empathetic and ‘nice’, which concealed some stronger qualities such as confidence, assertiveness and leadership. I began to embrace those aspects of myself as I sought to understand my emotional reactions to others around me.

And my biggest clues? Envy and romantic infatuation, which are both forms of projecting.

3. Look at your parents’ Kevins

I’ve got no proof, but I believe that we can inherit Kevins. That’s because our parents (or whomever brought us up) cannot model the traits that they disowned, and are therefore likely to – consciously or otherwise – reject them in you.

Ask yourself what the strengths are of the people who brought you up, and what their own denied aspects are.

4. Use personality models to hunt out your Shadow

Although it is not their most used purpose, models like the Enneagram and Myers Briggs can clue you in to your Shadow. They help you to see the missing pieces.

With Myers Briggs, your Shadow is basically the four cognitive functions you aren’t using (if you have no clue what I am talking about, then you might want to read this). But there is also a theory that the fourth (sometimes called the ‘aspirational’) cognitive function in your stack is in your Shadow.

Each cognitive function has a sort of superpower. I encourage you to look at the cognitive functions you don’t use, and ask if you are easily able to take on its perspective (or whether instead it is totally alien to you).

For example, let’s say you do not use ‘extroverted feeling’. Ask yourself whether you have a blind spot for the emotions of others, and whether you can adopt the perspective of having a focus on other people’s needs and emotions. The point of doing this isn’t to change who you are, it is to assist you in becoming more psychologically whole.

With the Enneagram, clues to the Shadow might be found in the unhealthy characteristics of your stress and integration types, and the main strategy of your dominant type. (If this is all Dutch to you, I recommend that you read this guide).

As a type 7, my main strategy is ‘gluttony’ (which is something life excess), so it may be an ability to be moderate that repress in my Shadow. I am a head/fear type, so that clues me in that I have some vulnerability in my Shadow too. Given that vulnerability brings with it the power to create intimacy, that’s not a situation I want to continue.

5. Other methods

One other method that I have come across, but that I have yet to use personally is the use of archetypes to figure out what it is you are hiding and repressing. Certain archetypes have been identified by researchers as commonly repressed psychological characters.

Similar to this is the concept of disowned selves, detailed by the Stones in their book, Embracing Ourselves, which I already mentioned. I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it if you are exploring integrating your Shadow.

Jung said that our dreams are a key way to learn of the Shadow self, however I have yet to use my own dreams for these purposes.

How to integrate your Shadow

When you integrate your Shadow, you won’t become the trait you’ve been denying. You’ll just be less trapped by its influence.

1. The no fuss method

You can integrate your Shadow by catching projections, and reclaiming dispossessed traits as I described above. You’ll need to stay with your exploration of projection situations until you reach a new understanding and perspective on the traits that you may have disowned.

2. Ken Wilbur’s 3:2:1 process

For those of you who appreciate a bit more structure, try the 3-2-1 Shadow Process developed by Ken Wilber, the developer of Integral Life Practice.


3:2:1 Shadow Process:

Step 1: Select something you want to work with. Choose someone with whom you have a strong emotional charge, whether positive or negative.

Step 2: Imagine this person. Describe those qualities that most upset you, or the characteristics you are most attracted to. Talk about them out loud or write it down in a journal.

Step 3: Dialogue with this person in your imagination. Talk directly to them as if they were right there and tell them what bothers you about them. Ask questions such as: What are you trying to show me? What do you have to teach me? Imagine their response to these questions and speak it out loud.

Step 4: Become this person. Take on the qualities that either annoy or fascinate you.

Step 5: Embody the traits you described earlier. Use statements such as: I am angry, I’m jealous, I am radiant.

Step 6: Notice these disowned qualities in yourself.

Step 7: Experience the part of you that is this trait. Avoid making the process abstract or conceptual: just be it. Now you can re-own and integrate this quality in yourself.

3. Talk with your Shadow

If you don’t like those processes, you could experiment with an active dialogue with your Shadow side. So chatting with your selves, basically!

There are various protocols for working with your disparate parts – the one I am familiar with is the Stones’ Voice Dialogue.

Summary

The philosopher Alan Watts said “to be is to deceive” and that our confusion over our reactions arises from our failing to deeply understand them. (I suggest you have a listen to the video I included above if you haven’t already – Watts’ perspectives are on point as ever). 

Attempting to embrace our various denied aspects as life serves us them on a platter is not a light-hearted pursuit.

But the rewards are great. For each reclaimed aspect of ourselves, we get a new level of freedom and fearlessness, and ultimately a more joyful and meaning-rich experience of life.

At the very least, you should feel a whole lot less irritated.

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