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Boxing our shadow

Updated: Jan 24, 2023


Scott Kiloby coined this term ‘boxing our shadow’ which I really like. This describes the process of psychological projection, which was most likely first talked about by Sigmund Freud and then further developed by Carl Jung. Having some awareness of our mind’s tendency to project is very important, particularly for the process of shadow work.


Whenever someone really irritates you or triggers you, remember that the mind can get stuck in boxing or resisting/pushing away your shadow, which is something unresolved within you. This does not mean that the initiating trigger should not have upset you. I am not saying that we should never be hurt or upset by anyone, and if we are in an unsafe, hurtful, or manipulative situation then no amount of inquiry will release the emotions you are feeling telling you to set a boundary or leave the situation. But if there is a person who keeps triggering you emotionally and causing reactivity, then stay open to the fact that this is something within your shadow that is being triggered. Like an unresolved wound, our deficiency patterns can and will be triggered by other people. Anger will often come up as defensiveness to protect, or maybe the anger will just be turned inward and become shame.


It is important to stay mindful during moments of being triggered, even though it is the last thing you want to do. When triggered, the safety programming is online and will direct all your attention onto some person or situation. Blame is the name of the game, and this keeps the anger going which feels protective. But this is externalizing the pattern onto the world around you and does not actually resolve it. Even though it may really seem like it’s this one person who is making your life miserable or this one situation at work or whatever it is. Our minds can get very obsessive, which is how you know that you’re stuck in a program. Again, if someone is hurting you there’s nothing wrong with getting upset and setting boundaries. But if your mind is fixated on this person, always irritated by them, etc. then there is something deeper at play.


Whenever you are in such a situation, try this:


Pause, feel into your body, noticing areas of tightness and being with those sensations for a bit.

Then bring up the person or situation that is triggering and notice how the body responds. Where did you notice the tightness? Maybe in the jaw, chest, or belly. Without trying to get rid of anything, just allow that tightness to be there.


Then introduce an opening question: “what does this mean about me?” or “what is this really about?”


See what words comes up, and see if those words connect to the tightness you are feeling. Does it connect? Trust your body. If not, try again and wait. Let the words come to you. Once you have the right words, you will know. Your body will confirm it.


Once you have the words, maybe a deficiency like “failure” or “stupid” or just an emotion like “anger”, you can then start allowing the resistance that is protecting. Do I want to be ____ ? Am I ok with this?


Then just allow that resistance, see what words connect to the sense of “no” that is trying to push away. Simply by allowing the words, the resistance will release. Making room and being willing to hear those words is all that’s needed.


Essentially we are asking, what is it about me that this person or situation is triggering? If a person is triggering you, then they have some quality of behavior that a part of you needs to protect against. Another way to do this is to picture the person and see what word connects to their behavior. Keep it simple, like “hurtful” or “selfish” or “mean” etc. Trusting your body to confirm if the word is accurate. Then once you have that word, bring it towards yourself and notice the resistance. “Am I ok with hurtful” for example? Feel and allow any resistance that says “no”, and see what it has to say and give it your attention. Connect with the part of you that needs to protect from this and letting it be here, it will integrate.


As you get closer to the charged pattern, your mind may show you memories from the past that relate to this. This is the evidence for the pattern, the reason why it is charged. You do not need to go into all those memories but no need to push them away either. Just notice how those images are confirming the words, and especially the resistance to the words. Like “I don’t want to be hurt” may have a lot of memories from the past where you were hurt, but if you just let those memories be and come back to the words, stay with them, repeat them a few times or just look at them visually, let them be true and just be patient, you will feel the charge release and start to feel neutral.

Then go back to that person that was triggering and see how it feels now. Is it neutral or is there something still there? Is it the same pattern? Check in with your body. If so, just allow those same words again. But if it feels different, then bring in the opening question again. “What does this say about me?” Rinse and repeat until the person is fairly neutral to you.


This doesn’t mean you will start to really like this person now and want to be around them all the time. But doing this, staying open to what they are triggering within you, will bring in more equanimity and less reactivity to the situation. Being triggered is always an opportunity to resolve something within you, to support a part of yourself that is clearly needing some attention and acceptance, which is something only you can give to yourself.

Close relationships in particular, like with your partner or family, will definitely trigger the deepest fears we have such as fear of rejection and being alone (see the Big Fears post), so it’s important to be mindful of this and be willing to do inquiry when needed to see what’s actually being triggered, rather than getting caught up in blaming and arguing which will never truly resolve the underlying pattern.

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