Black and white portrait of a woman doing shadow work - her eyes are closed and her face partly obscured by shadow.

What is Shadow Work? |

Demons. Shadows. Skeletons in the closet. We all have them. And you can’t just get rid of your shadow, no matter how far you run. When the sun shines even brighter, the shadow is often more apparent.

Everyone carries a dark side, even if we don’t like to admit it. Shadow work can sound scary, and some parts of it may be rather uncomfortable, but it is necessary work to uncover true joy and peace in life. It’s sort of like Star Wars – if we let our “dark side” run rampant and uncontrolled, our lives will feel chaotic. This can manifest as issues with mental health, diseases, feelings of low self-worth, addictions, scarcity mindset, and other mind/body health issues that can affect overall quality of life. Our shadow self often harms our life, in ways that are unconscious to us at the time, as a habitual reaction to particular places, people or things. Our shadow self blocks us from acting for our own greatest good and can prevent us from reaching our true potential in life.

The idea of the shadow self was first conceived by Carl Jung, a 20th-century psychologist from Switzerland. In his field of psychology, the word ‘shadow’ refers to hidden parts of our being. This may be parts of ourselves we try to repress because they make us feel sad or wounded. This is the side that we don’t show society, such as when we are at work or school. It can also indicate how we internally perceive ourselves as being weak or in pain – that we feel the need to hide these parts of ourselves. Carl Jung believed in the integration of the shadow side so that our full self is acknowledged, and we can live in a balanced way.

‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’
Carl Jung

We often go through life attempting to hide our shadows. That’s what society tells us to do, right? At some point in our lives, we discovered what pain was and started to repress that feeling. Most likely this happened as a child, sometime when growing up. Then we begin to tell ourselves the story that it’s not okay for anyone to know our struggles and battles, that we have to be “good” all the time and that any negative emotions we feel are not “right”. In hindsight, we will see those internal battles as what helped us further our lives and our vision of success. The truth is that we wouldn’t know our greatest success or potential if we didn’t fight our greatest battles.

This means the shadow must be acknowledged. This is the basis of shadow work.

Shadow Work – Essential to a Fully-Lived Life

If we just focus on the “good” sides of the life – that which feels light, joyful, easy, and happy – life will feel very one-sided and lacking in depth. Classic shadow signs are anger, blame, laziness, but can also be insecurity, co-dependency, or even independence. Life is a multifaceted experience that desires to be experienced from all angles to be understood and lived fully; the good, the bad, the light, the dark, the pretty, the ugly, and all the grey areas in between. If you continue to bury your shadows, you may feel fractured and compartmentalised. You may never actually move past them to see what else life has to offer.

Confront Your Shadow

The pain and suffering we see in the world around us are often mirrored by our internal pain and suffering. We all have these aspects within us in one way or another. Let’s say, for example, the road you take to work each day is littered. You can either take action to work with your town to face the issue, inform people not to litter, and enforce a solution, or it can continue to be sullied and get worse.

The same goes for our internal dialogue. If our minds and emotions become polluted, then we may not be able to think clearly. Our emotions may lead us astray and cause us to act out unknowingly. An internal clean-up must happen, as well as a re-wiring of your internal dialogue just like in the situation with the road. If we ignore the problems all around us in everyday life, the pain and suffering will continue. It is only in facing our difficulties that true change can be made, and the hope of peace can prevail, inside and out.

Shadow work may seem counterintuitive on the outside because you will have to face your pain instead of running away from it. The process works by allowing yourself to feel and understand the painful aspects of yourself, so they become fully integrated, instead of treated like a castaway. It takes courage and an open heart, which are valuable tools to learn along the way.

Why Master Your Shadow Self?

We can start to work with the shadow side of ourselves to create positive change in our lives. It is a form of self-examination.

Shadow work is an introspective psychological practice that anyone can do and can lead to a more fulfilling life. When working with the shadow, you may have moments of awakening that lead to greater authenticity, creativity, and emotional freedom.

Other benefits include:

  • Improved relationships through understanding yourself and accepting others
  • Increased energy and improved immune system
  • Overall enhanced state of wellbeing and mood
  • Better communication with others
  • Ability to set boundaries in your life
  • Cease the cycle of self-destruction

How to Use Shadow Work in Your Life

To engage fully with the broad spectrum of life, there are a variety of techniques you can utilise to begin your shadow work journey.

Writing, or journaling, is one of the best tools to start with when engaging in shadow work. This is a way to record all of your thoughts and feelings so that you begin to become aware of your unconscious self. This could include journaling about specific ways you react to certain situations and people. You will begin to see if there is a recurrent emotional or behavioural pattern in your life.

Once you begin to recognise these patterns, you can increase your internal dialogue with yourself in the moment (like having a conversation with yourself, and no it doesn’t mean you’re crazy!) or through meditation-type exercises. These types of shadow work may include using particular archetypes to define shadow parts of yourself so that you can better understand them.

For example, you may feel conditioned to overwork yourself when it comes to your job – you bring problems home, don’t shut off, work when unnecessary, etc. What is the opposite of that? Allowing yourself to relax and let go of your problems. If you can define this side of yourself that you are repressing (your ability to relax), then you may become aware of moments that you need to take it easy to prevent burnout or any other kind of mental suffering or anguish related to your work life. In the end, you will find more peace with your job!

Through this work, you can decipher and decide which patterns and behaviours no longer serve you so that you can move forward with enhanced awareness. Instead of reacting to life all the time, you can play its game and respond to life instead. You don’t have to suppress hurt feelings or run away from painful experiences – they are simply tools that are begging for growth. Shadow work helps us to accept that which we’ve found unacceptable so that real change, healing, and transformation can occur.

One of the most important things to remember when engaging with shadow work is to be compassionate with yourself. Not all of the answers may come right away, so wherever you are at in the process, allow yourself to accept all parts of yourself, shadow and light alike. The transmutation of emotional pain and discomfort with conscious awareness is the alchemical nectar that precedes any transformation.

‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
Rumi

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