When I first discovered shadow work, things weren’t going well. I felt disconnected from spirituality, from the divine, and from myself. I thought I was doing everything right, but things just kept going, well, wrong. So I reached out to one of my favourite spiritual teachers via email, and to my delight, I got a response.
‘I think your higher self is trying to tell you something inside you needs your attention – have you looked into shadow work?’
I had never heard about shadow work – and likely, neither have you. But if, like me, you’ve been out of balance, or feeling lost, and nothing brings you inner peace – shadow work might just change your life.
SO WHAT IS THE SHADOW?
The concept of ‘the shadow’ comes from Jungian psychology.
The shadow exists in our subconscious, and is made up of all the parts of ourselves that we have tried to repress or that we’ve learned to view as ‘negative’ or ‘undesirable’- either because they don’t fit into our egos (who we think we are) or because society has told us these parts of ourselves are ‘inappropriate’ or unacceptable.
This shadow manifests itself into our behaviours or beliefs in subconscious ways – causing us to do or say things that we feel are ‘out of character,’ or to form strong judgements and dislikes without understanding why.
If you’ve ever done something that’s made you say ‘I don’t know why I did that – that’s not me!’ – Boom. That’s your shadow self.
Some examples of behaviour that comes from the shadow self might be:
- Judgment (strongly judging others without compassion or empathy)
- Projection (pointing out flaws in others that you yourself possess or are insecure about)
- Anger (having a quick temper or becoming disproportionally aggressive)
- Blame (an inability to take responsibility and blaming others – even for your own actions)
We live in a society where there is a lot of pressure on us to be ‘perfect’ and most of us started learning to hide parts of ourselves as early as childhood. Repressing parts of who you are stops you from fully accepting yourself or practicing self love – and the shadow will still come out – only in ways that you don’t want it to.
If you’ve ever felt strong hate, jealousy or judgment, you’ll know that it just ends up hurting you and draining your energy – and this comes from the shadow.
On a spiritual level, our souls WANT us to heal all of the wounds that have caused the shadow self – they want to heal from the times we’ve felt we’re not good enough, or memories we have that are shameful, or emotions we’ve been taught not to express.
That’s where shadow work comes in.
WHAT IS SHADOW WORK?
Shadow work is the process of making the unconscious conscious, and becoming aware of these hidden and repressed aspects of ourselves, exploring them, forgiving them and accepting them.
Shadow work is a kind of self-development practice – it’s a way for us to explore the parts of ourselves that we perceive as ‘darker’ – for instance; greed, selfishness, jealousy, or violence – and learn to manage and heal them.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SHADOW WORK?
I know it can seem scary to face all the parts of yourself that you have repressed or tried to hide – but shadow work is there to heal us, and is ultimately a freeing and enlightening experience.
Our spiritual self is going to keep trying to get our attention to make us deal with this subconscious imbalance – we might become sick, or not be able to manifest the things we want, or lash out in unexpected ways towards others.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — Carl Jung
Ultimately, trying to hold onto our ego by repressing parts of ourselves will take up our energy and keep us from finding happiness, peace, and enlightenment.
Learning to fully embrace, love and celebrate ourselves heals us emotionally and spiritually, and make us better able to connect with the spiritual world around us, and to be receptive to the divine and higher powers.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH SHADOW WORK
There are a few easy ways to get started with shadow work.
Meditation is one of the best and most powerful ways to connect with your shadow self. Once you are in a state of meditation, reach into your subconscious and start to ask it questions.
You can ask your shadow self questions like:– Who are you?
– Why are you here?
– What do you want from me?
– What do you need me to see?
And just observe what comes to the surface without judgement.
You can also just reach out to your subconscious and ask: “Show me a memory that needs to be healed”
You’ll be surprised at how effective this can be – sometimes you repress memories and parts of yourself so much that it’s not until you’re doing shadow work that you actually see things clearly and realize how much they have been affecting you.
- EXPERIMENT WITH ART
Art is a great tool for self-discovery and shadow work – you can use any medium that suits you to start to explore what you think your shadow self looks and thinks like.Use collages, or mind maps, or painting, to start to piece together things that resonate with you or that come out of your subconscious, and keep examining any ideas or words that come up.
Focus on whatever creative output speaks most to you, and just lose yourself in the process – the subconscious is all about going with the flow and letting curiosity take over.
- OBSERVE YOUR THOUGHTS AND ASK YOURSELF ‘WHY’
Start to become aware of your judgments, strong reactions, beliefs, dislikes, projections – and ask yourself why you feel that way.This is the most important part of shadow work – becoming self-aware. When we start to unpack our behaviour, we can wonder WHY we think that way, and where this is coming from.
If you have a powerful dislike of something, break it down, and explore it. Why do you feel like that? Do you ‘hate’ that celebrity because they proudly showcase a personality trait that you yourself have repressed? Do you always accuse a colleague of being ‘lazy’ because you’re scared that people might think that about you?
Every time you find yourself judging, projecting, or having a strong reaction or belief – stop, observe yourself without judgment, and dig into why you feel that way. Not only will this make it easier for you to understand yourself and start healing, but removing this negative energy that you feel towards others will make you feel so much lighter and free.
Journaling, like mediation, is a great way to start to look at your thought process, or delve into ideas that you didn’t realize were there.
Journaling prompts you can use to get started:– Who do I think I am?
– What makes me ‘me’?
– What are some things I hate?
– What are some things that bring out a strong reaction in me?
– What am I scared of?
– What would I dislike others to think of me?
Really examine and dig into ‘why’ you have those answers – you’ll start to find deep connections in your behaviour that link back to you being told in the past by yourself, or society, that something about you was ‘wrong’ – and you can start to forgive and heal this part of you.
- BREAK DOWN YOUR EGO
Your ego is a story that you tell yourself about who you are.As people, we can sometimes have trouble accepting each other (and ourselves) as complex, multi-faceted beings, and so in trying to create a story that meets the high standards in society, we always end up repressing parts of ourselves, because the ideal is unrealistic.
Start to break down and explore your story about ‘who’ you are, and start to question why. Look at any examples of behaviours that don’t match up to that story, and you’ll see your shadow self, and you can start to see and accept yourself as a complex being.
COMPASSION IN SHADOW WORK
Shadow work isn’t always easy – it can be hard to see the whole truth about yourself and accept that you’re not quite who you thought you were. But this is partly because of society’s perceived ideas about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people. We live in a time where people expect perfection, and things like ‘cancel culture’ tell us that any ‘undesirable’ trait is ‘bad’ or ‘unforgivable.’
The important thing to remember with shadow work is that you are a complex being, and what you do is not who you are.
We have a tendency to use our actions to define ourselves – or allow any behaviour that doesn’t quite fit into our moral code to make us feel like ‘bad people’ – so instead of facing that side of ourselves, we repress it and ignore it.
“But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” — Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion (1938)
In actual fact, becoming aware of this side of ourselves means that we are better able to control it, heal it, change it or choose not to act on it – and to do this we need to view aspects of our shadow selves with neutrality – not with judgment. The sooner we learn to embrace ourselves as intricate beings with lots of different sides, the closer we are to happiness.
Be sure that you’re kind, patient, and understanding with yourself as you explore your shadow and start to accept your true self. You need to show yourself the love in order to feel whole, and when you do start to heal and reconnect with yourself, the results are beautiful.
If you want to learn more about Jungian Philosophy and how to practice Shadow Work, this is a great resource.