The power of shadow sides: Hidden treasures brought to light

By Martin Thoolen,
Published at 11 August 2016.
Read 5 minutes.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious”.

(C.G. Jung)

This article is an invitation to shed some light on our own shadow-sides as a coach or facilitator. If we have the courage to explore this within ourselves, our facilitation craft and impact on customer will increase for the better.

Treasures in the shadow

Talents, competences and sides that live in the shadow of our ego are known as ‘treasures in the shadow’. For example, there are ego sides, such as the instinctive, manipulative or patriarchal side. These are sides that we may prefer not to have and that we easily condemn in others. For instance, it is difficult to remain neutral towards an angry client if we do not know or even acknowledge our own anger. Before you know it, you are thinking: ok, losing your job is really tough, but they don’t have to scream like this? Or imagine that you are a coach who really hates manipulation and regards integrity as paramount. You will experience a customer who always presents soppy excuses for why he never carries out his assignments as a major challenge.

But there is also treasure buried within our soul. We love passion and drive, but we prefer to avoid spiritual pain. Because who wants pain? So we push it away (unnoticed). And at a certain point you no longer even know that it exists. Until the calling of our soul becomes louder and incessant. Career coach John started to feel increasingly irritated by clients telling him about their trip around the world in great detail. ‘I would like to do that, but I cannot just leave my work. And my work is fantastic.’ And then I had a client telling me about their fantastic world trip for the third time. “What riches, wonderful”, said John to the client. But there was a storm raging within John that would not abate. After three mirrors presented by clients he could no longer repress his intense desire for new adventures. He shared this desire at his place of work and six months later the time arrived – three months unpaid leave in America.

Why do we not use a part of our strength?

We are ashamed of our shadow sides, we are afraid of them or are just ignorant of their existence. For example, we don’t want to gain a reputation as a coach who is angry or dominant. Wouldn’t that be a direct threat to our image? Our ego prefers to receive appreciation or approval. It wants to belong and be found special. So we bury anger or dominance and, unfortunately, also fail to utilise their strength. We do not dare to set boundaries, say valuable but unpopular things or take sufficient space. That is a shame! In my first book  'Wealth for free!' you'll see how these motivators can hold you captive and how you can release the wealth in these hidden treasures in more detail.Imagine that you frequently run fifteen minutes over time with your clients. ´Why do I do that actually?´, you may ask yourself. ‘Otherwise they might think that I watch the clock and they might like me less.’ The next reflection may be: What would be so bad about that? ‘Then they might take me less seriously, they may prefer to go to a different coach who gives more time and attention. And who would I be if clients can find me nice and less nice? Well, actually I find it more important that my process is really useful to them, not whether they like me.’ Then you no longer have to fish for appreciation from your client. That creates clarity and air, and saves you time.

And then something about soul pain. This is often absolutely not the favourite subject of career coaches. We are afraid of facing our own, deep wounds, think that the pit is too deep or fear that the pit is only filled with misery. So we prefer to keep a lid on it and lose contact with our vulnerability. Precisely while we want to coach our clients with heart and soul, and devote attention to strength and and vulnerability. Janet told her coach, Joy, with absolute conviction: ”It is nothing for me, this job, I just don’t belong in an office.” She had been a senior consultant for many years, her colleagues were happy with her, but she drove home with an increasingly empty gaze. Her soul longed for something else. To which Joy said: “It’s nice that they are so satisfied with you, maybe it is temporary and you can change something in your work.” Janet exploded: “I said that I am totally sick of it! You are like my partner, he tries to minimise it as well.” What was going on here? In a coaching session with us Joy discovered what was eating at her: she had to accept an increasing work load and space for creativity was decreasing. She was unable to coach her client effectively because Joy suppressed her own dissatisfaction, precisely as her client expressed dissatisfaction. You can coach your client as far as to where you are, so there is every reason to occasionally take a look at your own soul pain.

Shadow sides as gifts to ourselves and our clients

If we coaches shine a light on our shadow side we release new strength, energy and talents for ourselves. And with this we also give our clients a chance to transform their shadow sides.

Light on ego

If we know our strategic side it is easier for us to coach clients in relation to strategic choices. Integrity was paramount for coach John. He was averse to manipulation and he thought that strategy was a dirty word. Until he discovered that he also occasionally used manipulations such as small lies in order to prompt a positive outcome. Or that he would flatter people in order to get something done. He looked right into his own shadow with blushing cheeks. After acknowledging this he moderated his judgement and saw that strategy can help you to achieve your goals. When a HRM manager asked him whether his coachee was suitable for his job he realised that he was being manipulated and was able to calmly reply: ”I cannot give you any information about that.” You also dare to occupy more space and your judgement of self-promoters is far less harsh when you integrate your patriarchal side. And when we have given our anger a space we are better able to understand it and coach it in clients.

In a world where performance and success are paramount a great many people seek healing in mindfulness, yoga or meditation. If that or something else helps, that is fantastic. And how wonderful would it be if we coaches give the being side dagelijks more space every day. Then there is a healthy balance between effort and relaxation and we stay healthy. And if we also use our being side more, in addition to the performance side, our interventions are more effective.

Career coach Angelique wants to get results fast in a maximum of four coaching sessions and deliver top quality. She is frequently impatient if clients do not hurry up. For example, she said to client Peter: “Great, two network meetings, but I think that you could have done five in the last two weeks.” Peter increasingly feels that he is not doing it right and his self confidence decreases. During our coaching sessions Angelique discovers that she is too pushy and that she is unwittingly discouraging Peter. When she used her being sideshe could be a little more relaxed, and this prompted Peter to act independently. Networking became a piece of cake.

Light on soul

“If you know the sound of your soul you can also hear the sound of your client’s soul”

we allow our soul to cry once in a while, we automatically give our clients permission to do the same. Soul recognition of your client can bring enormous relief and release new energy, whether a client has been bullied, has never really dared to pursue their desire or has always felt ignored. Like Enzo, a sad figure. His father was addicted to alcohol, his parents had divorced when he was six and he felt ignored by his father. He had suppressed the pain that this caused for years. When he turned forty he realised that he looked for the appreciation that he had not received from his father from his colleagues and manager. Begging for that appreciation he worked a lot of overtime, was always ready to help others and was temporarily happy with compliments. But the secret desire for appreciation kept rearing its head. When Enzo fully accepted this, the tears flowed and the healing came. Now he could start to see himself more, appreciate himself more and make career choices based on his own compass.

Tips for treasure seekers

  • Have some guts: dare to let go of the dependence of recognition, belonging and wanting to be found special.
  • Acknowledge yourself in your perfection, imperfection and everything in between.
  • Continue to study your own judgements, so that you do not allow yourself to be influenced by them.
  • Make space for your own strength and and vulnerability. Preferably every week.
  • See when something really rubs you the wrong way. Dare to look at your soul pain and banish its discomfort. A little mildness towards yourself works miracles.
  • Dare to make interventions that are right, but that are sometimes uncomfortable (for your ego).
  • Feel what you desire deep-down and listen to this feeling.

In short

See if you can regularly turn towards instead of against the shadow sides of your ego and soul. Accept the temporary discomfort and treat yourself and your client to the strength, energy and talents of shadow sides. Not only you, but also your clients will experience new wealth. What a gift!


Martin J.M. Thoolen MSc. and Wendy Y. Hobbelink MSc.
Originally published in Career Vision (DutchMagazine, August 2016)


  • De weg van de minste weerstand  Robert Fritz  90-202-4989-0
  • Rijkdom is gratis! Wendy Hobbelink & Martin Thoolen 90-819281-0-6
  • Flow. Psychologie van de optimale ervaring Mihalyçsikszent Mihalyi  90-5352-508-4
  • Embracing Our Selves Hal Stone & Sidra Stone  90-71298-01-9
  • The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle  1-57731-480-8
  • Ontmoeting met je schaduw Conny Zweig & Jeremiah Abrams 90-6325-428-8

Martin Thoolen

My 30 years of professional experience as an awareness coach, clinical and organisational psychologist has enabled me to help thousands of clients in Personal or Collective Leadership. Both groups and individuals, in coaching sessions, training courses, leadership development and organisation development programs, retreats and seminars.
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