Shadow Work: Why Am I This Way?

Here are my other posts about Shadow Work: What is it, Minding My Damned Business, and Trauma Letters.

A friend of mine asked me a very serious question the other day and it led me to do some thinking.

“Why am I this way?”

She hails from a loving home filled with good memories and lots of love, very much different from my own dark and abusive past.

However, she’s grown up insecure and she was unsure why- she didn’t feel she had a reason to be, considering how happy her childhood was. She didn’t have the same obvious reasons as I did (like abuse and trauma), and therefore she couldn’t get to the bottom of her own self-worth- which, according to her, was very little.

You see there’s a huge misconception in today’s society that those of us born into good homes are without reason to be insecure, withdrawn, hurt, mentally ill, or even a bit broken. We seek out the reasons for our issues as if our lineage must be full of darkness to feel at ease with being imperfect.

However, what many of us don’t know is that even in healthy homes, there are roles played by children and parents in an effort to maintain a balance of happiness. As children we slip into these roles without understanding their consequences, simply because our existence revolves around making our parents proud. As we grow older, the roles become more clear and we begin shoving aspects of ourselves that don’t fit these personas into the Shadow. A lot of times, even though we grew up in a home that is seemingly “perfect”, the roles we were given are based off our parents needs- not our own, leaving us to feel at odds with ourselves and potentially insecure as a result.

Psychology has many different labels for the roles that children take on in “functional families”, so we’ll just go over a few here to show you that you don’t have to have come from a home filled with abuse to need Shadow Work.

The Baby:

A child who has always been the “baby”, may never grow up, forcing bits of their identity that allows them to seek self-worth into the shadow. The Baby, in psychology, is the child that is seen as weak, dependent, vulnerable, and immature (1). Often instigated by the mother, this child is one who does not do much for themselves, and instead has things done for them. As this child grows up, the Shadow part of themselves is all aspects of individuality, self-discovery, and self-protection. This person may then find themselves insecure about making decisions on their own, or may even find that their self-worth is very low because they weren’t allowed to develop it for themselves.

The Rescuer/Protector:

A child who was always the “protector”, may never feel safe, forcing bits of their identity into the Shadow that allows them to take risks and seek rewards. The Rescuer, in psychology, is the child that is often seen putting others needs before their own (2) and taking on the responsibility of an adult at far too young an age (1). This child is anxious about conflict, but will not let others suffer before themselves- living with a guilt that is unlike any of the other roles. As this child grows up, the Shadow part of themselves is all aspects of giving up control, while their ego constantly manifests an enabler. This person may find themselves insecure about relationships, conflicts and resolutions, and familial guilt, not to mention anxiety over pretty much anything.

The Hero/Golden Child:

A child who was always the “golden one”, may never feel they’re allowed to mess up, forcing bits of their identity that are imperfect or improper into the Shadow. The Hero, according to psychology, is the child that often carries the honor of the family on their shoulders (2). This child overcompensates for their inadequacies with boldness and leadership qualities. As this child grows up, the Shadow part of themselves is anything that is vulnerable, frail, or makes mistakes. Therefore this person may find themselves insecure about failure, constantly afraid to mess up, and undoubtedly a perfectionist that has little patience for other’s imperfections.

The Scapegoat:

A child who was always the “scapegoat” may never feel they can do anything right, forcing bits of their personality that allows them freedom from pain into the Shadow. The Scapegoat, in psychology, is the child that is (without reasons of their own) at “fault” for the parents’ anger (1) and is often seen as needing help in areas of behavior or mental stability (2). This child compensates for their inability to make their parents proud with humor, projection, and overwhelming honesty. As the child grows up, the Shadow part of themselves is anything that makes them an individual- compensating for their childhood indiscretions by becoming a chameleon for other people. This person is always insecure, anxious, and generally suffers from mental illness derived from never feeling loved.

Other Roles:

Other roles in family dynamics include but are not limited to:

The Mediator: The child who keeps the peace, shoving parts of themselves that are rebellious or self-serving into the Shadow.

The Switchboard: This child is constantly aware of what everyone is doing and why, shoving the parts of themselves that deal with self-mediation into the Shadow.

The Lost Child: Unlike the scapegoat, this child is often “forgot about” , shoving aspects of themselves that are bold and impressive into the Shadow.

Each of these roles has different and varying degrees depending on the household and many adults may find that they were once several of these roles at once. Again, because we take on the roles our parents needed us to take on, in order to maintain a balance in the family, we often shove aspects of individuality into the Shadow in hopes to be recognized as their offspring.

Now that we’ve recognized these roles, we can begin working through them without wondering why we feel the way we do even if we grew up in happy and healthy homes. We do this by asking “why”.

Why does my friend feel insecure in her life as an independent woman? Because she was always the baby, and the pieces of her that thrived on individuality are stuck in the Shadow. Her self-worth is tanked because she’s never been allowed to be herself; always relying on her mother’s approval to dictate what she needed to do or whom she needed to be.

And from there, we continue on, asking ourselves why until we’ve gotten to the root of the issue.

Why was I mad at the cashier who spoke to me condescendingly?

Because, it made me feel my presence was a burden. And I remember feeling that way when I was younger, as I was the scapegoat. I was always the burden.


What role did you take on? How does that affect you now, into adulthood? What aspects of yourself did you shove into the shadow?

Until next time, my friends…

(1)- “Some Roles Children Play in their Families“; Nancy Rollins, M.D., Joseph P. Lord, Ph.D., Ethel Walsh, M.S.W., and Geraldine R. Weil, Ed.D.
(2)- “Family Roles“; Inner Change