Shadow vs. Sin

Having talked about sin in two posts in a row, I thought I’d highlight an important distinction. This is prompted by my reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upwards, which I mentioned in a post the other day. In the book, Rohr talks about our shadow.

The term “shadow” is familiar to many of us. Our shadow is what we refuse to see about ourselves, what we try to hide from both ourselves and others.

What struck me most in Rohr’s discussion was his comment that it would help many Christians to understand the distinction between shadow and sin. “Sin and shadow are not the same. We were so encouraged to avoid sin that many of us instead avoided facing our shadow, and then we ended up ‘sinning’ even worse – while unaware besides!”

What he means by that is that our failure to recognize and get in touch with our shadow ends up tricking us since our shadow is always disguised as good. Rohr explains

The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, justice, of “I am doing this for your good” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance.

Thus we need to learn to be alert to the exposure of our shadow self. Rohr gives one good hint for recognizing such moments: look for situations where you have a strong emotional reaction that seems to be out of proportion to the situation at hand. That is a good signal of your shadow self. Such moments offer good opportunities for reflection.