The Fire Paradox

The Fire Paradox - Beth Wonson

Last night I was watching the frightening news reports on California’s many wildfires when I heard the most amazing statement: “We are looking at The Fire Paradox as a tool for reducing wildfires.”

The Fire Paradox? I had to know more about such an intriguing term, especially as I’ve been spending time considering and coaching around the negative impact of snuffing out our shadow aspects!

The Fire Paradox is a methodology of managing fires that has been used in Europe for centuries. It is the understanding that fire is both friend and foe, and sometimes the best way to manage the devastating rampage of a wildfire is by creating more fire. How frightening is that idea?

The core tenets of The Fire Paradox are:

  • Reinstate fire in its role.
  • Give fire its place to help reduce intensity and frequency.
  • Learn about fire and how fire shows up, moves, and extinguishes.
  • Identify risk zones proactively.
  • Let fire do its work. I immediately contacted my editor and said, “Hold off any more work on my shadow aspect article! I’m intrigued with The Fire Paradox, and know it is has a powerful message!”

What Are Shadow Aspects?

Carl Jung refers to our shadow aspect as the sides of our emotional self that our conscious ego can’t or won’t see. Shadow aspects are most often referred to as resentment, selfishness, guilt, anger, greed, denial, and mistrust.

In my own journey, I’ve learned that welcoming the shadow side into the light is the pathway to self-awareness and, ultimately, to self-love. By embracing my shadow aspects, they are less likely to jump out at me from the darkness when I least expect it.

In my work with others, I witness so much relief and forward movement when, through gentle facilitation and coaching, my clients are able to engage in an exploration of how they extinguish or repress their own shadow aspects.

The truth is that the parts of ourselves that we deny are also the ones we see as moral deficiencies in others. This tendency to negatively judge others who share our shadow aspects is one of the primary causes of isolation and disconnection. It is also a place where relationships break down, teamwork and collaboration are stymied, and creativity and innovation are snuffed out.

Interestingly enough, when I work with people who are frustrated about how they repeatedly leave a partner only to end up choosing a new partner with the same characteristics, those characteristics are actually part and parcel of the shadow aspects the client is most resistant to looking at.

The same is true for bosses or coworkers. Conversations with clients having that experience often go like this:

Client: “Why do I always end up working for people who take advantage of me?”
Me: “Hmm. I’m not sure, let’s look at how you feel about putting your own needs first.”
Client: “What? That is so selfish.”


A pathway to changing the energy and power of shadow aspects is to pay attention to what brings up feelings of shame and guilt in you. Ask yourself: “What do I most fear I will discover about myself if I really get to know and understand the fire power of my shadow side?”

The Fire Paradox and You

With the shadow aspect in mind, consider how the tenets of The Fire Paradox relate to your life:

  • What could be different in your life if you stopped bracing against your shadow aspects and, instead, applied The Fire Paradox?
  • What might move?
  • How might you move forward?
  • What if the slow-burning fire that lurks in the shadow side of your consciousness is what’s actually holding you back from connection, achievement of your dreams, or health and wellness?
  • What if these shadow-side characteristics or emotional aspects – once uncovered, given their place, explored, and embraced – actually have the potential to move you forward at the speed of light?

Lighting Yourself Up

When we welcome our shadow aspects into the light and identify the risk zones proactively (e.g., Where might I get triggered?), we diffuse their negative charge.

With welcome, we take away the fear and opportunity for a sudden flare-up to catch us unaware, to hijack us in our work and in our relationships, to lead us deeper into shame or guilt, and to impact our desired success. For the people I work with, the most shocking news is that shadow aspects can actually serve us well in life.

Consider the employee who loved their work so much that they gave their all, committed nights and weekends to their job, never said No, and they suddenly find themselves resentful and burnt out.

Sometimes this is a person who comes to me to get assistance in finding a new line of work or a way to find their passion, other times they are sent to me because they are lashing out in anger at their coworkers.

They initially complain to me about how no one works as hard as they do. They label coworkers who use their vacation time as “unmotivated” or “not committed”. They tell me, “Yes, I get angry at coworkers. I’m the only one working around here!”

When this employee can explore the selfishness shadow aspect, they find that creating boundaries around their own time and energy is actually the healthy side of selfishness. They apply The Fire Paradox by putting the fire to better use!

In letting the fire work with the fire, they discover their negative energy around others appropriately caring for themselves is diffused. They begin to practice small amounts of “selfishness” and see where it actually serves them well. In the space formerly consumed by anger, resentment, venting, and guilt, they instead find creativity, innovation, and joy.

Changing the energy of your shadow aspects takes time and practice. In the beginning, it is deeply uncomfortable and perhaps daunting. It feels like a new pair of leather boots that haven’t yet become supple and fitted to your individual feet.

Over time, however, the original joy and connection return. Space is cleared for connection, creativity, and innovation. Just like with using fire to manage fire, you can use selfishness to reinvigorate!

Applying The Fire Paradox

Use this simple four-step technique and reap the benefits of The Fire Paradox in your own life:

Step 1: Identify the shadow

Take a few moments and consider a trait you find prevalent and intolerable in others – one that makes you angry. Be brave and name the first one that comes to mind.

Feeling stuck on this step? Create a list of the top 4 things you value most, and then consider the shadow side of each one.

For example, generosity as a value may have selfishness as a shadow aspect. Truthas a value may have deceit as a shadow aspect.

Step 2: Bring it into the light

Now make a quick list of where in your life that trait or shadow aspect has actually helped you, protected you, or helped you get something you needed.

For example, if you’re working with selfishness as a shadow aspect, was there a time when you were selfish that made it possible for you to ask for and receive what you wanted and needed?

Step 3: Practice and play

Identify a place where that shadow aspect could again serve you well right now. Play with bringing it forward and putting it into play. See how it feels. What is the result? Where else can you sprinkle it? Play with your shadows.

Step 4: Reframe it!

Shift your thinking by celebrating that shadow aspect as a newfound strength. Allow yourself to acknowledge the aspect or trait you considered a deficit is actually positive when applied appropriately.

Want more practice working with your shadow?


P.S. Over the past few months there have been so many weather and environmental disasters that are impacting communities around the world. Our hearts go out to the first responders as well as those whose work and home lives are impacted.