Cooperative Communication Skills -- Internet Resource Center
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How to See
by David Richo, Ph.D.

Why do some things upset us so much? We sometimes notice that our reaction cannot quite be accounted for by the stimulus we have encountered. 

A possible way to proceed when you notice yourself strongly reacting to something or someone—with anger or tears or attraction or repulsion— is to S.E.E. what underlies the emotional charge:

Is it Shadow? Ego? Early unfinished business?

Here is an example: A person is curt with me on the phone and it keeps gnawing at me all day:

• Shadow: Am I like that sometimes? Is it in me to treat people that way? Does it bother me that he gets away with it and I do not? Our negative shadow contains all that we strongly detest in ourselves but cannot see. We tend to see this shadow of ours in others: detesting in them exactly what is disowned in us. (Our positive shadow holds our untapped potential. We are admiring in others what is buried and deactivated in us!)

• Ego: “How dare he talk to me that way. Doesn’t he know who I am? I’ll be damned if I let him get away with this. I’ll get back at him somehow.” These statements give us the clue that the entitled controlling ego is enraged at not getting his way.

• Early life re-enactment: “My father talked to me that way and it hurt.”

The curtness of today may be triggering a reminder of a similar wound from the past.

It is likely to be the shadow if you cannot believe you could ever be like this!

It may be the ego if you think: “how dare they...” or feel indignant,

affronted, competitive or vengeful.

It is often early material if you feel grief or powerlessness or if

later you become compulsive/addictive in your reaction.

The way to tell that none of these three is operative is that you can take what happens simply as information. Then you speak up assertively, refuse to accept abuse, and feel compassion for people who believe they have to be mean. The event still elicits feeling that you express and but you soon let go of it and move on. You have not been so strongly affected as to lose your own boundaries.

Strong, out of control, or inappropriate reactions are signals of where your work is. They tell you what needs to be addressed, processed, and resolved in yourself. This is how over-reactions to other people can turn into nurturant responses to ourselves.

Can I maintain myself in a circle of love while including all my fears, my wounds, and my inadequacies?

Can I keep others in my circle of love while they scare me, wound me, or tell me I am inadequate?


From Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side, Shambhala, 1999. The Cooperative Communication Skills Extended Learning Community thanks Dr. Richo for his many contributions to this site and its publications.  His free e-book, Human Becoming, is available through this site by clicking here.  To order Shadow Dance, or other books by Dr. Richo, from bookstores throughout the world, please visit:



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