Going On a Date With Your Shadow

by Joe Bunting | 9 comments

I closed my eyes, and what I saw made me cringe.

A little kid, maybe ten or eleven, sat against a wall watching some other kids his age doing tricks on their skateboards. He wore short red shorts and roller blades on his feet. When he got up to skate around the black top, the other kids pointed and nudged each other, laughing at him. Their shorts were baggy. He nearly tripped and fell several times. Embarrassed, he sat back down to watch.

I opened my eyes, shuddering.

The little kid was me.

A Date with My Shadow by SamikRC

One of the best theories about creativity I know comes from a psychologist in Hollywood named Barry Michels. Michels sees a cadre of the most famous of the Hollywood famous. Michels teaches them to embrace their Shadow.

The Shadow according to Jung is “the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.” In a March interviewwith the New Yorker, he says the Shadow enables and empowers us to create.

“If you can really know your own Shadow, you start to know the Shadows of everyone. People who can write that way start to articulate universal themes, which not only makes them more successful on that level, but it’s a more gratifying endeavor.”

Maybe you need to get to know your Shadow better. Michels prescribes his clients an exercise to get to know their Shadow. In his interview with the New Yorker he tells the story of a stunning model who saying she couldn't talk to the other mother's at her kids' exclusive private school because of her shame at “trailer trash” roots. He says:

“Go back to the parents’ meeting where you froze up; re-create all those shaky feelings you had.” She nodded. “Now, push the feelings out in front of you and give them a face and body. This figure is the embodiment of everything you feel insecure about.” I paused. “When you’re ready, tell me what you see.”

There was a long silence. Jennifer flinched suddenly, then blinked her eyes open. “Ugh,” she said grimacing. “I saw this 13 or 14 years old girl, overweight, unwashed. Her face was pasty and covered with zits . . . a complete loser.”


Now it's your turn to get to know your Shadow. Re-create a moment recently when you felt shame, shy, embarrassed. Close your eyes. Imagine those feelings personified.

Once you've got something, start your timer for fifteen minutes. Go on a fictional “date” with your Shadow. What would the two of you do? What would you talk about? Where would you go?

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


  1. Anonymous

    What am I doing babysitting this kid? He wears glasses and is almost completely socially unaware, like he’s not even paying attention. How do I even talk to him when he is always staring at his iPhone or reading some book.

    “What are you doing?” I ask him.

    “Reading a blog by Seth Godin. He has some interesting ideas about book publishing.”

    “Okay?” We walk down the streets in downtown in silence. He shuffles along two steps behind me, bumping into people because he doesn’t watch where he’s going he’s so immersed in his book.

    “What are you reading now?”

    “Harry Potter. I just saw the last movie and am re-reading all the books.”

    “Sounds… awesome.”


    “Can’t I just go home? I really want to finish this tonight.” He was only halfway through.

    “No. We have to hang out remember?”

    “It’s just so stupid.”

    “You think I want to hang out with you? Not that we’re really hanging out? You haven’t looked up since we got here.”

    He wasn’t listening. I looked back. He had his iPhone out again. I stopped and snatched the phone. He was playing Angry Birds.


    “I’m taking this.”

    “You can’t take that. It’s mine.”

    “I can’t take you anymore.” I threw the phone into the street. A black car ran it over. “Go ahead. You can have it back now.”

    He started to cry.

    “You’re… you’re a… a bully. Asshole!” He stopped and looked into the street at his crushed phone. His glasses ran down his nose and he pushed them up as he wiped the tears from his eyes. He turned his back on me. He started to walk away.

    “Shit,” I said. “Some date.”

  2. Cory Cone

    One of my shadow’s is over thinking small or relatively insignificant moments in my life. Here’s a story of a recent example.

    I sat outside on our front porch watching the smoke from my cigarette puff upward in the muggy, hot air. It was a nightly ritual to smoke, and sit silently before going to bed. Generally, I would sit and think about how much I wanted to quit smoking. I hated it, my wife hated it, and everyone hated it. That must mean they hate me, right? No, that’s ridiculous.

    I turned on my phone and loaded a Facebook app. May as well browse through any status posts from the last fifteen minutes. I never reply, but it’s something to do. There was one from my mother; posted eight minutes ago.

    Happy 62nd birthday to the best husband in the whole wide world. I am looking forward to our fun weekend together. I love you forever.

    Oh no. I forgot to call. I thought his birthday was tomorrow. Without hesitation, I dialed my parents number. It was only ten thirty, and she had posted eight minutes ago. They’d still be up.

    Mom answered.

    “Hey mom.” I said, trying to hide my nervousness. She’d be sad that I forgot to call. “Is Dave around?”

    “He’s right next to me. Here ya go.” She said, in her playful way when we call about birthdays. I heard a hint of something else as well. Disappointment?

    Dave took the phone. He is my stepfather, and a wonderful man. I’ve always felt very strongly about letting him know how much I love him. It can’t be easy to be a step father, and I like to let him know, when I can, that he’s a great person. So naturally, I felt pretty bad about forgetting his birthday.

    “Hey bud!” He said, as cheerful as ever.

    “Just wanted to wish you a happy birthday!” I said. I felt horrible. How could I have forgotten? “Late night tonight, just got home.” I lied. That felt bad. “Wanted to make sure I got a call in before you hit the hay.”

    “Well thanks.” I could tell he was smiling. He’s always so happy. “I really appreciate you.”

    “Did you get my gift? I tried to time it so it’d arrive today.”

    “Not yet, but I’ll keep my eyes out for it.”

    We talked for a few minutes about Baltimore and the new car my wife and I were interested in buying. After, he gave the phone back to my mother.

    “So,” She said. “Wanted to be the first one to call, huh?”

    My heart sank. In a flash I realized that I hadn’t forgotten. Mom had simply posted early. She loves celebrations and it is not unlike her to be unable to resist posting a birthday message before bed the night before. In an instant I went from feeling heavy with guilt to drowning in embarrassment.

    “Yup.” I said. I didn’t know what to say. I told her I loved her and we hung up.

    I went inside. It’s just an early birthday wish, right? Doesn’t matter right? My wife laughed it off but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did Dave think I was sucking up to him? He hadn’t remarked that I had called on the wrong day, which means he was being nice and trying not to embarrass me. That was kind of him, but I still couldn’t help feeling like a total piece of crap.

    Rationally, it was an insignificant birthday call. It didn’t matter. To me, however, it was a breech in sibling, parent conduct. I had, mistakenly, wished our step father happy birthday before the appropriate day. I had stuck my nose out and cheated. Would this effect how Dave thought of me?

    In the words of my wife: “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you take these things way too seriously.”

    • Cory Cone

      Sorry to those who read this. Will separate paragraphs with an extra space next time.

    • Joe Bunting

      Fixed it for you!

    • Joe Bunting

      From a craft perspective, this is excellent. You paint a very clear picture not only of your surroundings and the conversation, but of your frame of mind.

      From a personal perspective, we all feel like that sometimes. It’s called shame, and it happens to everyone, although some people experience it more than others. Check out this amazing TED talk by Brene Brown. She’s a baller.


  3. Kiki Stamatiou

    Conflict With The Self
    By Kiki Stamatiou a. k. a. Joanna Maharis

    Throughout most of her life, Dominica had always been plagued by her own insecurities. On the first day of high school during her freshman year, looking into the mirror hanging on her bedroom wall, she applied her make-up, through the glass bottle containing the makeup unto the floor, collapsed and cried, while trembling, and rocking back and forth.

    “I ugly,” she shouted, “I thought over the summer, my flaws would disappear. The acne is cleared up, but my stupid fat nose is still there, and so are my crooked teeth. I don’t care how bright and white they are. All these things make me look so ugly.”

    Her mother walked into the room, helped her up from the floor, saying, “Dominica, what
    are you doing? You should be heading into the kitchen to have some breakfast, and start heading outside to catch the bus thereafter. I don’t want you to miss the bus on your first day of school. It’s a new beginning for you. You’re in high school, now.”

    “Big deal. I can’t go out with friends or to any school functions looking the way I do. I’m still ugly. Why did I have to be born an ugly duckling. I hate the way I look. My nose is too fat and ugly. Even with makeup, I can’t hide any of my flaws,” Dominica stammering while walking over to her bedroom door, punching it with her fist.

    “Calm down, dear. You need to take some deep breaths. Clean up the tears from your eyes, go into the kitchen, and have some breakfast, so you can be off to school when the bus arrives,” her mother advised while picking up the pieces of the broken bottle from the floor.

    Dominica didn’t eat breakfast. Her stomach was so upset, it was like a whirlwind stirring in there.

    Heading outside, she waited for the bus in the driveway with her two brothers, and some neighbor kids.

    Turning her head to the left, she saw the bus heading down the road in her direction. She and the others formed a line, and climbed the bus steps when it approached them, making a complete stop.

    Dominica took the seat to the rear of the bus, slumping over on her seat, hoping to hide her face. However, she was approached by her friend Lara, who got up from the seat across from her and came to sit with her. “Hello, Dominica. Did you have a great summer?”

    “It could have been better,” Dominica muttered in a whisper.

    “Why so down, Dominica? This is our first day of high school. You should be excited,” Lara suggested while setting her duffel bag onto the floor of the bus in front of her.

    “I hadn’t grown into my face yet, like I hoped I would,” Dominica grumbled while gazing out the window, staring back at her house as the bus took off.

    “What do you mean by that? Dominica, there’s nothing wrong with your face. It’s just your opinion. Your skin looks very healthy, and your makeup is applied beautifully. Cheer up. Things will look better once we arrive at school,” Lara giggled.

    © Copyright, Kiki Stamatiou, 2015

  4. Will

    I avert my gaze from her, and pretend for a few seconds that she’s not really there. She’s just finished another endless monologue on her favourite TV shows, and the bizarre obsessiveness with which she returns to the subject nauseates me.

    One blissful pause – then she uhms, loud, nasal and monotone. She wants to say something.

    I look at her again, trying not to wince at the exaggerated expressiveness of her angular, mannish face. Those horrible buggy eyes stare back at me through spectacles.

    I sigh. At least her teeth are straight.

    “Are you angry at me?” she asks. Her grammar is always poor, especially when it comes to matters of conversation.

    I think quickly. It won’t do to be too sarcastic with her; she wouldn’t be able to tell anyway; but if she could, her feelings would be hurt and this excuse for a date would become even worse. I would take pity on her. Everyone always took pity on her. Something about her clumsy, lumpen body made everyone react the same way to her, I thought.

    “I’m not angry with you,” I say quietly, “but I wish you would tell me where you’d like to go, instead of rambling about Cartoon Network.” A bitter remark about her age-inappropriate interests barely escaped my lips.

    “Oh! Sorry!” She almost yelled. “Can you go buy candy-floss for me?”

    I wince at her loudness. I hurry off to buy the treats, glad for an excuse to be away from her.

  5. Karla Phillips

    “I see you’re still in your pajamas.” I stared at Shadow over the top of my book. She was wrapped up in a blanket and half-asleep on the couch. “Remember, we’re going to Penney’s to buy pants today. I’ll read one more chapter and by the time I’m done, be dressed and ready to go.”
    Shadow shifted, pulling the blanket in tighter. “Don’t fucking tell me what to do.”
    “If I didn’t tell you what to do, you’d never do anything,” I told her. She groaned, but sat up, tossing off the blanket to the side. I went over the checklist in my head: anti-depressants? Taken. Folic acid? Swallowed. Coffee? Drank a medium cup with sugar and creamer. But somedays Shadow will not be satisfied. This time, I predicted it. There are triggers that cause Shadow to want to take over and shove the rest of me into a back corner. The idea of clothes shopping is certain to get Shadow’s attention.
    She stared at the clutter on the coffee table. Clutter that she certainly wasn’t in charge of cleaning up. “What’s the hurry? We can go to Penney’s tomorrow. Or the day after. Whatever.”
    “It’s best if we just do it today and you know it. We’re going.” I braced myself.
    “What’s best is what I say is best! And what I say is best is staying home and relaxing!”
    “And doing what with the day exactly? You’ll just sleep it away and not accomplish anything. I know what you’re afraid of. You’re afraid of leaving the house because once I become engaged in something, your influence fades.”
    Shadow’s eyes flashed yellow. I used to be afraid of her like this, but over the years I’ve learned that this is when she’s afraid. She reacts to fear with anger. “You’ll never be rid of me. You’ll always have to fight me.”
    “But I don’t always have to lose. Now get dressed.”



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