Today I will be breaking down what is shadow work and the benefits this practice can have.
Carl Jung was the first psychologist to propose the idea of a ‘shadow self’- those parts of us such as personality traits and core wounds that we deny and hide from.
Everyone has a shadow self, and the more you deny it the stronger it becomes, and the more likely it is you will project it onto others.
Jung believed that we do not see others for who they are, but instead through the lens of our own shadow.
For example, the core wound of abandonment, if suppressed and unaddressed, can be projected onto others – you might assume every person who gets close to you will abandon you, and see all of their actions from this perspective, regardless of that person’s real intent.
Shadow work, then, is taking an honest look at ourselves – at our weaknesses, our faults, our core wounds and toxic behaviours.
It is facing them, learning from and integrating them into our personality so we can be more whole and authentic in our actions.
It also helps us to have more empathy for others – by looking at our own shadow we realise that often the people who hurt us simply cannot or will not integrate their own.
Disclaimer: I am not in any way a certified therapist, therefore all the advice given is from my own experience and should not be taken as medical advice.
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What is Shadow Work? – Ultimate Guide!
We all have our own demons that we fight in an effort to live out the best version of ourselves.
Through our upbringing, life experiences and the healing work our soul needs from past lives, we have shadows, demons, skeletons in the closet, whatever you want to call them.
This may be parts of ourselves we try to repress because they make us feel sad or wounded. They can also reflect how we internally perceive ourselves and ways in which we try to play small in society.
In my opinion, these demons are here are teachers to help elevate our consciousness, help us strengthen our relationship with ourselves, build compassion and help us evolve into the highest and best versions of ourselves.
As we heal and evolve, our ‘dark side’ and shadows become more apparent. If we suppress these demons or let our dark side run without being attended to effectively, our lives will turn into chaos and we’ll remain stuck in our spiritual evolution and physical health journey, keeping our wellbeing stagnant and ridden with toxicity.
Not attending to the healing of our shadows can manifest in mental health issues, diseases, feelings of low self-worth, addictions, scarcity mindset, and other mind/body health issues that affect our 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.
Through integration of our shadows, fully acknowledging our full self, we can live harmoniously and abundantly in our lives.
Society, especially in the age of social media’s highlight reels and filters, has told us to hide our shadows and show up ‘perfectly’. And often in the programming we received in our upbringing, we have been taught to suppress our pain and darkness.
We began to believe on a subliminal level, that if we experience struggles or pain, we aren’t being ‘good’. Expressing negative emotions isn’t ‘right’.
However, in reality, through acknowledging our darkness and working through the pain, we are able to enhance our sense of self, leading to greater success and living a more radiant and self-actualised life rooted in our truth.
This is an excellent book on the shadow-self – Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche
Working with your shadows
Facing our shadows and doing cleaning up the debris is necessary to live a fully integrated life that helps you to continue to evolve and elevate your wellbeing.
Facing your pain takes courage and an open heart. It’s easier to numb the pain, ignore it or suppress it.
Facing it head on and showing up to do the work, allows you to better understand yourself and create more ease in your life.
Is shadow work dangerous?
Shadow work is not dangerous, in fact it will actually improve your mental health and the way you interact with the world. We’ll talk about the benefits of shadow work soon.
Becoming aware of our ‘dark’ side allows us to heal old wounds and to integrate those unconscious parts into our conscious selves in healthy ways.
You can’t fix or heal something if you don’t know it’s broken, right? So, shining a light on your shadow self lets you change or heal it.
It allows you to talk to that hurt part of yourself and tell them they are loved and safe.
Benefits of shadow work
- Spiritual awakening
- Greater authenticity
- Enhanced creativity
- Emotional freedom
- Improved relationships through understanding yourself & 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
Before you begin shadow work
Prior to beginning your dive into the shadow – please consider a few things.
Have you developed a solid self-care practice?
Shadow work can be emotionally overwhelming, stressful, and flat out challenging.
It’s good to have a handful of healthy self-care habits and routines that you can utilise to help yourself decompress after getting into shadow work.
Begin with Inner work
When we identify the aspects of our shadow that need attention, we can begin true healing and growth.
Allow this work to encourage you and present opportunities to expand to your next personal level.
We all have parts of ourselves that we tend to hide or even ignore. Limiting beliefs or negative self-talk, grief or feelings of isolation- it varies from individual to individual.
Unpacking the aspects of our shadow self and discovering the root of its effects is part of the journey when healing or spiritually awakening.
Start by identifying the following:
Are there any ancestral or familial behaviours or beliefs that you’ve absorbed into your being? (Examples: racism, poverty, abuse, helplessness)
Oftentimes we inherit traits or mentalities from our family and it can develop into negativity within ourselves. When repressed or unaddressed- this becomes a part of our shadow self.
This doesn’t mean they are bad or did anything wrong (usually), but when we become aware of the patterns or beliefs we may have been programmed with – powerful healing and growth can occur.
Identify any beliefs or behaviours that you currently notice within yourself that may have been absorbed from negative family experiences or tea
Examine limiting beliefs
Do you currently operate with limiting beliefs?
Do you often think thoughts like “that could never happen for me” or “I could never achieve that” or “I grew up this way so I’ll always live this way?” If so, you may be operating from limiting beliefs.
Shadow work involves examining beliefs about ourselves and about life. When we identify areas, we may be blocking or restricting ourselves- we can begin the process of healing the shadow.
Addressing and caring for the inner child
Inner child work is one of the most powerful things I’ve discovered on my shadow work and healing journey.
It’s as simple as “talking” to your inner child. Envision yourself as a kid again, and tune into what you needed to hear or needed overall as a child. Tell yourself what you needed to hear.
Maybe it was “I love you” or “I support you” or “I’m proud of you.”
Look at pictures of yourself as a child and remember what it felt like to be little. Acknowledge the innocence of your inner child and visualize connecting with yourself at that age. It might seem weird but just envisioning your current self-talking to or hugging yourself as a kid can be so healing.
Shadow work often involves us identifying and learning from our ego.
When we identify the difference between our ego (false self) and our soul/higher self (true self) it becomes much easier to grow and heal.
The ego does the following:
- Views everything as separate
- Acts from jealousy or anger
- Focuses on power and materialism
- Blocks us with Pride
- Denies our own need to heal or improve
The higher self does the following:
- Accepts easily
- Views everything as one and connected
- Acts from a place of love
- Is grateful, friendly and open
- Appreciates simplicity
- Acknowledges their part in things
- Focuses on the present moment
This is one of the hardest parts- learning how to view our triggers as teachers.
Every time someone triggers us- they are simply pointing to something within ourselves that we need to heal.
This may be a hard one to accept, but it’s true.
If we are not triggered by something, that means we are coming from a place of understanding and are grounded and connected to our higher self.
But when someone triggers us, that means we are being shown an area within our own self that needs to be addressed.
Negative patterns and habits
Shadow work is about looking into the darker parts of ourselves. This means our negative qualities or bad habits. These things often reveal to us what needs healing.
Being able to admit and acknowledge our negative patterns and habits is a huge healing step in itself.
Watch your emotional reactions to other people
Chances are that you are triggered by some things other people do because they are unexpressed parts of yourself.
You feel anger or shame at these qualities and feelings when you see them mirrored in other people.
Make a list of qualities in a person who really annoys you. Then look at that list and see if there is anything that you relate to. If your first reaction is denial take a second look.
When you notice you feel angry at a particular behaviour ask yourself some questions about it.
- What am I really feeling?
- Are there other emotions tied to this feeling?
- Does it make me think of a person or event from my past?
- Can I identify the true root of this feeling?
You may not be able to answer these questions right away but over time they will come to you.
This can also manifest through jealously. When you see someone, who is happy and seems to have what you want and you just can’t help but hate them, you need to figure out why you are triggered by someone being happy.
Once you start the process of shadow work you have to be honest about what you find, no matter how hard it is to admit you may be in the wrong about something.
Identifying those biases could be uncomfortable, but you will be a better and more compassionate person if you’re honest with yourself.
If you find something you don’t like in your shadow self and push it further into the dark instead of dealing with it, you are only hurting yourself.
Forgiveness is not necessarily for the person who wronged you, it can be just for you.
You may have deep hurts living in your shadow self that you are carrying around like a weight on your chest. They lead you to unconsciously act in negative ways.
Forgiveness is a shadow work tool that lets you shed that weight. It allows you to feel better and excise some of that pain.
It’s not about changing the outside situation; it’s about changing on the inside.
A forgiveness method you can do to with shadow work is the Ho’oponopono method.
Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian prayer that helps you repair a situation or relationship.
The mantra is “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.”
I’m sorry for holding onto the situation for so long.
Please forgive me for any part I played.
Thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me.
I love you
When you practice think of the person (it might be yourself) or situation you need to forgive, let those feelings come to the surface, and repeat the mantra until you feel calm and peaceful.
Shadow work can be uncomfortable. Accept the discomfort and work through it. If you hide from it
will just come back another day.
How to do shadow work
So we talked about what shadow work is, how to identify our shadow, things we should be aware of before and during shadow work.
Now lets go over a few things we can use to help guide us through our journey of working with our shadow self.
Identify your limiting beliefs
You shadow self holds all your self-limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are beliefs you have about yourself that hold you back from so much in life.
They might be about your self-worth, your ability to succeed at your dreams, your ability to find love, the opportunities available to you, the amount of money you can have, the type of treatment from others you allow, etc
Look at an area of your life that you’re struggling with and identify some of your limiting beliefs around it.
Being mindful of your thoughts is an important part of shadow work because it helps you notice your inner dialog from an outsider’s perspective instead of being caught up in it.
Mindfulness lets you step outside the river of your thought so you can look at them impassively.
You can watch them float by, and when your thoughts are on the negative side you can just observe them without letting them take control and create negative feelings.
We can do a lot of powerful shadow work while in meditation. Some of my favourite shadow work to do in meditation is connecting with my inner child and identifying what she needs/needed.
Below is an excellent guided mediation by Aaron Abke for shadow work.
Shadow dialogue journaling
Journaling can help you learn what’s at the heart of your issue, what it is that wants to be released or accepted.
Begin with any issue you’d like to resolve, though I’ve found that annoyances and insecurities as mentioned above are particularly fruitful.
You’re going to be taking on two voices in this exercise. You’re asking the questions and giving the answers in order to learn some deep truths about what’s in your shadow.
Start by briefly describing the situation and how you feel about it. Then dive in. You can ask questions such as the following:
- Why do I feel this way?
- What am I trying to protect?
- What am I afraid might happen?
- (to your shadow) What are you trying to show me?
- What is there to heal here?
Keep in mind that your whole being wants to heal, that is its natural trajectory. No need to force anything here. Just relax and answer as best you can from the place of knowing within you. Do not judge what comes up. Journal away.
This is an excellent journal to log your progress – Into The Wild Shadow Work Journal: Reclaim Your Wholeness
I mentioned this above but sometimes we need help when diving into our wounds and our shadow self.
There are plenty of incredible and qualified (shadow work trained!) therapists out there. If you feel you need that type of support in this journey (many do) then begin your search for a therapist that fits well with you.
Don’t be afraid to talk with several and ‘interview’ them until you find the right one.
A spiritual coach or life coach can help guide us through our shadow work and give us tools to use to empower ourselves through this process of shadow work.
I’ve had the opportunity of working with a wonderful coach who helped me to identify the parts of my shadow self that were seeking to be healed.
It’s a huge benefit to get an outsider’s perspective and advice on how to use this work to help ourselves grow and become freer to walk into our best self.
What is Shadow Work? – Final thoughts
Shadow work is finding those scared parts of yourself in the dark and loving them back out into the light. It is gentle and patient work.
It is not digging up past wrongdoings in order to further victimize or blame, but to free your heart from the bondage that has felt safe for so long.
It requires a level of bravery and willingness to look into the dark aspects of one’s self in order to come out on the other side more enlightened, authentic and connected to self.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years!
If you have any questions please reach out to me via email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!
I really hope you found inspiration in this article.
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Hello! My name is Adam and welcome to my space on the internet. Here you can find me writing about topics such as self-care, self-development and all things wellness. Connect with me on my journey and come and join the community!