Book Review: The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Book Review: The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford


Many of us on a “personal development” or “spiritual” path harbor the secret hope that, one day, we’ll be “fixed.”  If we work hard enough at visualizing what we want, pushing our comfort zone, saying affirmations, or whatever we normally do, one day we’ll get rid of all the parts of ourselves we don’t want.  We won’t get angry or sad anymore; we’ll give up our addictions, we’ll overcome fears that hold us back in our work and relationships; and so forth.

Although we don’t usually admit it, this desire to fix ourselves rests on the belief that right now, as we are, we’re “broken.”  The anger we have trouble controlling, the shame we feel when we try to sell our services, and so on are “wrong,” and our self-improvement journey is supposed to make things the way they “should be.”  In a sense, our personal development quest often grows out of our dislike for ourselves.

Debbie Ford’s discovery of this feeling in herself, and how she changed her perspective, gave rise to The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.  Debbie’s personal growth journey started when she decided to overcome her drug addiction.  For several years, she went to spiritual retreats, took transformational workshops, and read personal development books. 

In the process, Debbie let go of her addiction, and also changed many of her relationships and values.  There was just one nagging problem—as Debbie puts it, “I still hated myself.”  Debbie still saw herself as full of flaws she needed to “get rid of,” and it hurt to feel that way.

How Debbie Discovered Her Shadow

Debbie’s way of thinking changed in the midst of yet another personal growth workshop.  One of the course leaders, Jan, suddenly said to Debbie “you’re a bitch.”  Debbie felt mortified, because Jan had seen a part of Debbie that she’d always disliked and tried to hide from the world.

But Debbie’s feelings changed as Jan went on.  “If you were building a house,” Jan asked, “and the contractors were running over budget and were three weeks late, do you think it would help to be a little bitchy?”  Debbie realized the answer was yes—that being a little pushy and demanding in that situation would actually be helpful.  As they explored the question more deeply, Debbie realized there were many situations where letting her “bitchiness” out, rather than repressing it, could actually be empowering.

This began Debbie’s deep involvement in what’s often called “shadow work.”  Each of us has parts of ourselves we’re ashamed of and want to conceal from the world.  Maybe there’s a side to us we see as overly weak, aggressive, stupid, geeky, crazy, or something else. 

C.G. Jung called this part of us “the shadow,” which to him meant “the person you would rather not be.”  When we dislike and hide our shadow, we may keep the world from seeing it, but we also create suffering for ourselves.  Hating part of ourselves, as many of us know from experience, is a recipe for misery.

When we embrace our shadow parts, we start to see the value they have to offer us, and how they help us deal with situations we face in life.  For example, embracing the part of us we see as “weak” may help us get emotionally vulnerable with others and connect with them more deeply.  Or, allowing the part we call “stupid” to emerge may help us occasionally stop thinking and relax, which can be a huge relief.

How to Do Shadow Work: An Example

Debbie provides many different exercises to help us own our shadow, and I’ll share one of them here to give you a taste.  Debbie offers a long list of words that many people find offensive, such as “loser,” “jerk,” “bum,” “wimp,” and so on.  She asks the reader to look down the list, and affirm that they are each of those things—saying “I’m a bum,” “I’m a loser,” and so on.

As you do this, she says, notice which words bring up an emotional charge for you.  When you come upon a word that has you tense up inside and feel offended, you’ve discovered a shadow part of yourself that it may be useful for you to get more connected with.  In other words, you’ve found an aspect of yourself that you’ve been labeling in negative ways and pushing away.

And ask yourself:  how would it actually serve me to be that sometimes?  How could it actually be good for me to let my inner “loser,” “jerk,” “idiot,” or whatever else out on occasion?  As I found for myself, this is an intense but deeply rewarding exercise.  This, I started to see, is what loving yourself is about—not trying to mold yourself into a “good,” “improved,” or lovable person, but allowing every aspect of yourself to be, without judgment.

It’s important to add that this kind of work is all about having choice.  When we disown parts of ourselves, those parts can’t help us in moments when they might be useful.  For instance, if Debbie didn’t have access to her aggressive “bitch” part, as she calls it, she wouldn’t be as good at protecting herself from being taken advantage of. 

When we acknowledge and accept all parts of ourselves, we start having the choice to let those parts come out when they’re needed.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be a “jerk,” “stupid,” or anything else all the time.  We simply get access to, and compassion for, those parts that we didn’t have before.

All in all, Debbie’s book is a great introduction to shadow work, free of confusing psychological jargon and complete with many powerful self-awareness exercises.

19 thoughts on
Book Review: The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford

  1. Evan

    For personal transformation (rather than just doing/being more of the same) I think shadow work (whatever it is called) is indispensable.

    No judgements? Well, not exactly (it is possible to own our judging self too!). My experience after owning a part of myself that I previously disliked is better. This is some kind of judgement. It also leads me to other judgements like: this was a good thing to do, I may want to do more of it, self-development that doesn’t have room for this (like goal-setting and achievement path – which may be valuable in its place) are superficial by comparison.

  2. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Evan — that’s a good point, it’s important not to judge our judgmental self as well. And not to judge our judgments of the judgments made by our judgmental self. :)

  3. Robin

    Hi Chris – this looks great, and I like the exercise you outlined very much. I think I’ll try it!

    I’ve done things like this before, but the focus of this is a little different. At one workshop we did some exercises to get in touch with out deepest uncomfortable thought about ourselves – for example, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m not wanted” – and then did a “coctail party process”, where you all walked around the room and introduced yourself to people using your thought – it was so funny and empowering.

  4. Jannie Funster

    Yes, it is interesting this shadow work. In my experience, the pitfall lies in focusing on it instead of the light, which leads us exactly where we want not to be.

    The whole self name-calling, labelling, seems interesting, allowing yourself to be those things or at least accept the possibility of their existence. That aspect piques my interest about the book, makes me want to know more about how she addresses the concept.

  5. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Robin — I appreciated the story about the workshop — I get the sense (and I imagine the whole point of the exercise was) that we’re all introducing ourselves to each other that way anyway, without being conscious of it, a lot of the time.

  6. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Jannie — yeah, I know what you mean, sometimes saying “I’m making a great contribution to the world” can be harder than saying “I’m a jerk.” If you want more information about Debbie, you may like her new movie — or at least you’ll be amused by the trailer, which is totally over the top! It’s at

  7. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    Chris, I love this post! In the past few months I’ve had similar thoughts about my “shadow self.” Last year I would have rejected anything that wasn’t totally imbued with what I thought was the whitest light. This year, however, I recognize that all of me is okay — every last part of me. Even the judgmental parts.

    Learning unconditional love has brought me to my knees in this way, showing me that truly, everything and everyone is worth loving… Even my shadow self.

  8. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Stacey — thanks, that’s an interesting question. I imagine she’s written about that issue somewhere or another — my guess would be that she would say that it doesn’t do any good to hate the part of ourselves that is okay with being overweight, or maybe even wants to be — that disliking that part doesn’t make extra weight go away, but only creates misery, and that letting go of the hatred for that part can actually free up energy to do whatever we want to do to change our lifestyle.

  9. Evan

    Hi Stacey,

    For me it is about lightening up on myself because ‘there’s nothing I can do about it’. I’ll be interested to hear if you find the same thing.

  10. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now

    I never really thought of this as a dark side, but I can see your point. We label these less flattering parts of ourselves as bad. We should be more accepting of every part of ourselves. When I first read your list of words they didn’t resonate with me. For a split second I thought I was above those negative labels. I knew better so I waited a few seconds and stupid popped into my head. I hate that word.

    I think that there are days that I need to accept this part of myself because I know I can’t be smart in everything. I should be a little stupid in certain things, that’s what being human is all about. Thanks!

  11. Giovanna Garcia

    This sounds very interesting, and I am going to have to spend some time to try it. I am always open to learning more.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  12. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Karl — I like the way you put it, that you can’t be smart all the time — how exhausting it would be to force yourself to be! This came up recently at a talk I was giving — a woman said that she was afraid that if she quieted her thoughts, she would become stupid. I get the sense that’s the way a lot of us think — that having a busy, constantly thinking mind equals being smart — but if that goes on all the time it can be a big source of suffering.

  13. Amanda Linehan

    Hi Chris – In the beginning of your post when you talked about wanting to “fix” yourself, I starting thinking about all the focus I put on “getting” sometimes. Getting to a certain accomplishment, some result or maybe the development of a quality or characteristic I want. When I focus too much on “getting” and not enough on the “process of getting” I start to feel a little off key.

    The idea I like that this post describes is that you can shift your focus from “getting” to accepting. We all want to get somewhere, and that is fine, but you are also fine as you are. :)

  14. Evelyn Lim

    Wow…this sounds like a great book to read. Thanks for the explanation here! Coincidentally, I have also been looking at my “shadow” self. I have been asking myself what my shadow self is about. I usually use Emotional Freedom Technique to help me address any issues that surface. Yes, I do realize the importance of embracing the negative parts of myself as well. Great tip on the using of choice!

  15. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Amanda — it sounds like you’re seeing that you already have all the qualities you want, and it’s just a matter of seeing and acknowledging that they exist. That sounds inspiring to me.

  16. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — I hope we get to hear about your shadow explorations on your blog — I’ve really been enjoying your posts lately about the work you’ve been doing on yourself.

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