The Secret of the Shadow
by Jill V. Mangino



As the author of three life-changing books, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Creativity, Brilliance and Dreams (Riverhead Books, 1998), Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life (Harper Collins, 2001) and the newly released The Secret of the Shadow: The Power of Owning Your Whole Story (Harper Collins, January 2002), Debbie Ford has assisted millions in living more authentic and rewarding lives.

I had the privilege of attending her “Secret of the Shadow” workshop last year at the Chopra Center which was featured in the January issue of O Magazine and “The Shadow Process” in January 2002. This was by far the most powerful work I have ever done and my life has dramatically transformed since. Ford’s books and workshops have revolutionized the self-help field. She believes that instead of “fixing” ourselves we should begin to embrace every aspect of who we are and find the gift in all our life experiences, good and bad.

Ford refers to herself as a woman of God and beneath her “strong” exterior is a warm, loving woman whose soulful brown eyes emit a light of unconditional love and non-judgment. Even Oprah loves her so much she asked her back three consecutive times!

I recently spoke with Debbie about her new book The Secret of the Shadow: The Power of Owning your Whole Story…

Jill: In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers you introduced readers to their “shadow”. In your new book you discuss owning our “story.” What exactly is the difference between our “shadow” and our “story?”

Debbie: Our story is the overall drama of our lives. It’s the identity we’ve created that we now believe ourselves to be. Each of us lives inside the story of who we think we are, and this story tells us what we can and cannot do, and how much love, success and happiness we are entitled to.  Our shadow lives inside our stories and is made up of all the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to be. Like every good tale, our stories have a central theme, and this theme is always a shadow belief. “I’m not good enough”,  “No one cares about me”, “I’m unworthy”, “I’m unlovable” and “There is something wrong with me” are all examples of shadow beliefs that become the driving force behind our stories.

Jill: Do you have your own personal “story” or can you give us an example of one?

Debbie: Each of us has our own personal drama, which we construct based on our interpretation of our life’s events. For the first part of my life, my story was that I was unwanted. The youngest of three children in my family, I believed that my mother didn’t want me because she already had two kids in diapers. My sister and brother didn’t want me, I believed, because they didn’t want to share my parents’ love with another child. In the book I describe an incident that occurred when I was three years old that imprinted this belief in my mind.

From that point forward, I attracted people, experiences and situations that validated my core shadow belief and proved to me that I really was unwanted. If I were in a room full of 300 people who all wanted to be my friend, and one person who didn’t, I would gravitate toward that one person because he or she reinforced what I believed to be true about myself. Each of us holds similar unconscious beliefs about ourselves, and these beliefs form the basis of our limiting story.

Jill: Do we typically attract people who mirror our beliefs back to us?

Debbie: Absolutely

Jill: How can we identify what our story or personal drama is?

Debbie: Your story is the excuse you use to justify the condition of your life, so you can be sure that you are in your story when you hear yourself giving reasons for why you don’t have what you want. Blame, resentment, victimization and resignation are all emotions that live inside our stories. While each of our stories has a particular theme, the common song is “poor me.”   When our internal dialog starts to echo the theme of our stories, we should view this as an alarm telling us that we have slipped back into a limited reality and take the steps I outline in The Secret of The Shadow in order to step out.

Something else you can do is to make a list of the ten most traumatic events that happened to you and ask yourself “What did I make that mean for me?” This is another good way to identify the “theme” of your story.

Jill:  Aside from being aware of our internal dialog, how else can we “step out” of our story?

Debbie: One key to stepping outside our stories is forgiving ourselves, forgiving ourselves for our imperfections, for our flaws for our humanity, and for the duality that we are. Instead of hating the unlovable part, instead of saying “I hate that, I’ve got to get rid of that” you embrace it. The minute you can embrace the unlovable part, then the lovable part can emerge. As your internal world shifts your external world shifts. As soon as you are no longer willing to beat yourself up, you will no longer be willing to allow others to beat you up. Ultimately how we get out of our story is to see the story but if you don’t know it’s our story, you just keep trying to fix it. That’s what most of the spiritual path is about… fixing.  We think, if I read 20 more books, go to 12 more workshops, I’ll be able to fix my story and everything will be better. And the truth is your story is perfect how it is!

Jill: And it made you who you are today.

Debbie: Yes — there is wisdom to be gained from our personal dramas. You need to extract the wisdom from the incidents inside your story. The way you get out of being a victim is by finding the gift of all your life’s experiences. You need to ask yourself, “What can this teach me?  How has the feeling that I am unlovable served me? What wisdom has it brought me? What wisdom do I now have as a result of having been abused in relationships? Every incident, every experience, every trauma, wound or heartbreak is always trying to guide us to know ourselves at the deepest level.

Jill: How do we “step out” of our story in relationships?

Debbie: It’s a good idea to take some time to distinguish the story of the significant people in your life so that you can support one another in staying outside the confines of your own dramas. When you are living inside your story in relationship there is never enough, There is the “if only...”story. We say things like “If only he would be different, things would be ok”. Inside your story you are always focused on the other person. You are trying to get some need met, and you are always blaming and pointing your finger. You are sure that you are right about yourself and about the other person too. To have a conscious relationship, both of you need to know each other’s stories. And you must have permission to be able to discuss them. So if you are with a man whose pattern is that he shuts down because he is scared and  feels threatened, and you see him do that, if it’s not distinguished as part of his story and part of the patterns that he lives in, you are just going to try to plow through it.

Jill: Typically what would happen for me in the past is that I would feel him shut down so then I would shut down. His shutting down would trigger something in me and I would take it personally or make it about me.

Debbie: Yes, instead you need to be able to say … “Can we have a conversation about this? When you shut down it makes me want to shut down and go inside my story but I don’t really want to go there.” “Is there something I can do to support you in feeling safe?” “Did I do something that triggered some pattern or old memory that has put you back into your story?”  Just asking that nicely you allow the other person to feel safe discussing it with you. It’s not personal. I recommend that you find a time when you are both clear minded and ask “How can I take care of you when you are in your story,” because we know what we need.

Another side of that is to really look and see who would you be in relationship outside of your story? And create that for yourself. Cut out pictures so you have a visual. Make a collage of what your life would look like. You might be peaceful, it might be that you are fully self expressed. Create the images and start to write down the feelings and the words that represent the “you” you would be outside your story. Then you will have a reference point for what’s available to you outside your drama.

 Jill: Hmmm. I like that idea. I’m all for creating a relationship outside of my story!

Debbie:  Think of it this way… Falling in love is the greatest example of what it’s like to be outside of your story. Because the moment you fall in love and that person needs you, whether it lasts a day, an hour, or ten years, you are usually outside your story. Your internal dialog is… “I love this,” “life is great!” You are in pure possibility outside your story, you see the potential outside your story, you are in trust, you have faith in the benevolence of the universe, rather than faith in fear, or in your insecurities, or your unlovableness.

Jill: I have a friend who is in an abusive relationship and I know that it is because her core belief has to do with unworthiness. Her whole life and happiness is based upon how her boyfriend is treating her that day.

Debbie: That’s because her love is external, not about her or her relationship with God or spirit or the universe. As spiritual beings our quest is to get that connection and that love from within us. We are designed to be able to nurture and love ourselves. Until then that other person always has control over us. We will always feel resentful, scared, needy, desperate and out of control because they really have our life in their hands. What we need to do instead is to be responsible and say, “Wow, that person just showed me how much love is inside of me. What would I need to do today to feel love whether that person is in my life or not?” That’s the quest. If I can love me in that way then you are free to be you. You are free to be upset, to be angry, or to be anything at all. You have to take that love inside because that is where our power and our strength are.

Jill: That is so liberating! Is this The Secret of the Shadow?

Debbie: The secret that is hidden in the shadow of our stories is different for each one of us. Our drama, pain and discontent hide the secret of our light.  Our stories cover up the magnificence of who we really are. Imagine being the keeper of the earth’s rarest and most treasured jewels. As their guardian you would go to any extent possible to protect them. As human beings, we do the same thing with the secret of our shadow. Deep inside we know that we are Godly, that we are holy, that we are Divine.

Our greatness, our magnificence and our light are so valuable that we pile layer on top of layer to protect that which is ours to guard. Because we don’t feel safe to expose this part of ourselves, we continually create drama and chaos to hide that which we know should be protected. When we have finally grown tired of our stories, when they no longer provide us with any comfort, we are ready to uncover the precious gifts that lie within us.

Each one of us is here to contribute a very special piece of the Divine puzzle — one that no one else can provide. When we make peace with our stories we no longer feel the need to hide from our light. We feel safe to stand in the presence of our most extraordinary self and to deliver our unique contribution to the world.

Jill: You certainly have made a unique contribution to the world. What do you love the most about your job?

Debbie: I feel so blessed. What I love most about my job is that I invite others into their own greatness so they can experience a higher order of love, but it’s their own love. They might manifest love on the outside to go along with that, but it’s really their own. The minute you can experience your greatness, the minute you can be in awe of your own humanity and you will experience love at its highest.

Jill: How do you cultivate that for love for yourself?

Debbie: I have a practice I have done for years that I swear has saved my life… I get up in the morning and ask myself “What do I need to do to love myself today?” It might be clean out my drawer, balance my checkbook, get a manicure. It’s not calling my partner and asking him if he loves me. It’s not about getting somebody outside to validate me. Your psyche knows exactly what you need to feel loved, to be connected to that universal love. Outside love is a divine and beautiful blessing, but I think ultimately we have to learn to give it to ourselves. That is the greatest gift of all. Loving yourself as the Divine. As you would love God, love spirit because no matter whom you are with in the moment you are bringing love with you instead of going somewhere to get love. Wouldn’t it be a different world if each one of us brought love with us wherever we went?

Jill: Yeah, it would be pretty amazing!

Debbie: and it’s here. It’s right here and it’s free. All we have to do is ask for love and be willing to receive that love.

Jill: That is so beautiful, Thank you!

 Debbie: You’re Welcome!

From The Secret of the Shadow: The Power of Owning Your Whole Story . . .

Imagine flipping through your favorite cookbook and seeing several recipes for passionate, fulfilled, abundant, extraordinary human beings. Intrigued, you quickly turn to the indicated pages to learn what ingredients would make up such masterpieces, and on the first page you see:

Mix together fourteen traumas, four heartbreaks, a mother who loved too much, a father who was emotionally unavailable, and one cheating husband. Blend in the opportunity to be a single mother with two children. Add four doses of selfishness, a shadow belief that says, “I’m not good enough,” and an ego that screams “I’m going to prove to everyone that I am good enough!” and voila! You have forty-two-year-old Lynda, a perfectly satisfied chief financial officer of a $17 million dollar company!

Or try this one:
Combine divorced parents with twin brothers who badger you on a daily basis. Mix in four years of a bad marriage and one very successful business, six years of depression and one immune deficiency disease. Add a noisy internal dialogue to remind you that there is definitely something wrong with you. Garnish with a deep inner knowing that things will work out if you suffer long enough. Add a passionate love of music and the arts, bake at high intensity for forty-three years and presto! You have Jeffrey, a song-writer and producer of a children’s TV show that teaches kids how to be kind to each other.

Or how about a taste of:
Start with two parents with high expectations and a need to control your every move. Add a heaping dose of inadequacy, twelve years of striving to be the perfect student, sixteen amazing victories, and sixteen experiences of deep emptiness. Add two suicide attempts and four opportunities to be brought to your knees. Sprinkle in a love for math and science and a knack for empathizing with people’s problems. Add an unshakable faith in God and stir in one serving of self-realization. Chill for thirty-two years. Meet Pam, a pediatric psychologist with a holistic approach.

It’s fairly easy to see how your positive attributes contribute to your unique recipe. You can probably appreciate how your talents, your natural abilities and your childhood dreams have added to your life and to the person you’ve become. But the traumatic events in your life — the experiences that left wounds within you — are an equally important part of the mix that will help you become all that you can be. Every insecurity, every fear, every tragedy, every obsession, broken relationship and shameful incident holds clues that are leading you toward your most magnificent self. Blend them together and they will propel you into the unique contribution that you are. If you embrace all the ingredients in your recipe and allow them to be a part of your batter, what will come out of the oven is the person your soul longs to be.

Debbie Ford, author of The Secret of the Shadow, is a coach, teacher and consultant whose work has opened the hearts of thousands, bringing them the gift of self-love and emotional freedom. She is the creator of The Shadow Process, a three-day spiritually-based emotional healing workshop and the founder of The Ford Institute for Integrative Coaching, which provides spiritually-based personal development programs to individuals committed to leading extraordinary lives. The next Shadow Process workshop will be offered in San Diego, CA on June 14-16, 2002. For information about her books, workshops and coaching intensives, please visit  for call (800) 655-4016.

Jill Mangino is a freelance publicist and writer. She can be reached at .

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