Shadow work is the highest form of light work you will do
What Is the Shadow?
For many people, the term ‘shadow’ brings up all kinds of negative and dark associations. Because of this, it is easy to assume that shadow work is a dark spiritual practice that involves the negative and sinister aspects of our personality.
The shadow is dark because we are made of both light and dark aspects. But it is part of who we are and we can’t be afraid of ourselves.
The shadow was first brought into the Western world by psychologist Carl Jung. He described it as the unconscious and disowned parts of our personalities that the ego fails to see, acknowledge, and accept. It is any aspect of ourselves that is not exposed to the light of our consciousness.
As children, we are born whole and complete, but that wholeness is short-lived. The shadow is born in our childhood as a byproduct of certain interactions we had with the people closest to us. Our caretakers make us believe that certain aspects of ourselves are good and others are not. The aspects that are seen as bad are rejected and, consequently, form the shadow.
How the Shadow Affects You
When we depend on our caregivers for survival, we suppress the aspects that are disapproved, and we exaggerate the aspects that are approved.
For example, imagine a 5-year-old boy who is very much in touch with his feelings. He is sensitive and emotional. Something happens, and he gets mad and cries. In response, his dad says, “Stop crying like a little boy, be a man!”
His dad believes crying is bad, so he suppresses his son’s emotions. As a result, the latter pushes this gentle and sensitive side of himself into the shadows and begins “acting tough.”
As an adult, he has trouble feeling things and will not show his emotions even when it’s required. Because of that, he struggles in his relationships, never allowing himself to be fully seen.
The shadow grows every time you repress.
Another example is a little girl who is angry about something and starts throwing a tantrum. Immediately, her mom tells her to “Stop it! Stop being so bad!” Every time she gets angry, mom repeats the same thing: To stop it and be a good girl.
“It must be bad to be angry,” the little girl thinks. “I have to try very hard not to get angry.” With time, she dissociates from her anger — but that doesn’t make it disappear.
She grows up believing she always has to “have it together.” Later on, she realizes she has trouble at work because people push her buttons. Often, she feels like she is about to explode and doesn’t know what to do. She realizes her anger is there all the time, coming up in passive-aggressive ways and causing issues at work.
The Role of The Subconscious Mind
We can call the subconscious mind the shadow because we cannot see it clearly and thus are not aware of it. The conscious mind is akin to the light because we can see it clearly and are aware of it.
What goes into our subconscious is everything we reject about ourselves — the unacceptable and unwanted bits.
The minute you say something about you is “bad,” you have a reason to suppress, ignore, and deny it. Even though the shadow is unseen, it affects everything we do.
When we deny an aspect of ourselves it doesn’t disappear. It just fades away from our conscious awareness. The shadow — with a life of its own — can affect our actions and life experiences heavily if we don’t pay attention to it.
The shadow is the reason we do certain things in life without understanding why we do it.
We become adults and feel we should be able to handle life better, yet we keep falling into the same unhealthy patterns. That’s because the shadow operates outside of our conscious awareness, in the form of unconscious and limiting beliefs.
The Shadow Isn’t Just Negative and Dark
The shadow contains so much potential, gifts, and talents that haven’t been unearthed yet. Great things may end up in the shadow too.
Let’s say that a girl is born with a strong sense of self. She knows who she is; she knows what she likes and doesn’t like; she asks for what she wants and she for sure isn’t afraid to speak her mind! She is a strong little girl, but she is raised in a family that constantly tells her to tone it all down because it’s “too much.”
The parts of her that are strong and confident are rejected, so she rejects those aspects of herself.
She grows up to be quiet, sweet, and obedient. But she doesn’t understand why her life is so painful. The truth is, she suppressed some important aspects of herself and therefore feels divided. She has a shadow side she doesn’t quite know how to bring to the light.
The reason positive aspects are contained in the shadow is that we are afraid of what people will think or react when we tap into it.
Dissociation From Parts of the Self Creates a Split
The shadow is an inner fragmentation that occurs within you. It’s almost like two different people are operating your life.
Have you ever met the most gentle, sweetest, and kind person, and in the blink of an eye something happens, and this person turns into someone else? They become mean and scary; they throw the biggest tantrum or freak out.
How did this sweet person turn into a crazy psycho?
That’s because they have two parts of themselves operating their life and the shadow part took over when they got triggered. We often underestimate the shadow, thinking it has no power over us. But that’s wrong. The shadow is very powerful!
It can turn your life upside down and destroy your most cherished relationships.
Every time you act out of your shadow, it grows bigger and bigger.
How to Spot The Shadow Within You
Separation and division are not the natural states of anything. Integration and wholeness are natural for humans and, because of this, the subconscious will continually try to get your attention to integrate what’s there.
It’s difficult to spot your shadow, especially if you’ve suppressed a bit part of yourself into the unconscious.
Here are three ways to spot your shadow in action:
Many people project their issues onto others. When they dislike something in themselves, they point it out in others. We often project our shadows — our repressed anger, guilt, shame, and other things we don’t like about ourselves — onto others. We lash out at people for the behaviors we don’t like in ourselves.
Pay attention to how you project yourself into the outside world. Because the universe works to make us whole again, people, places and things become a mirror and reflect who we really are.
A trigger is a reminder of past trauma. The surface events that cause conflicts in our lives are not just triggers — they are messengers that enable us to become conscious of something that is buried deep within us.
Pay attention to your triggers because they can show you your wounds and your shadow self easily. Try to catch your emotional triggers before you act out, not after.
Repeating patterns in our lives point us to aspects of our shadow. Patterns are expressions of the shadow because the shadow mirrors itself into your reality to be seen and integrated.
The shadow wants you to become aware of it. It wants to be seen and accepted. Within these patterns, you will find aspects of your shadow self that will keep showing up in different situations until you are ready to look at them and break the cycle.
Why We Resist Shadow Work
The shadow is a weird, controversial subject.
While many spiritual teachers, life coaches, and psychologists love shadow work and feel it can improve a person’s life, others believe it’s not that beneficial. They believe that if you go looking for dark things, all you will find is… more dark things.
But while it’s great to just focus on the light, it doesn’t make the dark go away. The dark is just on the other side, waiting for a time to show its face. And when it does, you may not be expecting it at all.
It’s better to go looking so you can make peace with the shadow once and for all. If you are worried about what you might find, there is probably something important you don’t want to revisit. Instead of continuing to avoid it, you can see it as one more reason to do shadow work.
This work is necessary if you want to learn and improve your life. And the truth is, no one else can do it for you.
Shadow work isn’t a huge thing that requires years of planning. Shadow work is simply becoming aware of what’s hidden and gradually healing those aspects of yourself.
When you start shadow work, you may feel the way you felt as a child when you were forced to suppress those emotions. But once you overcome it, it may open your eyes to a whole new side of you you had no idea existed.
How to Integrate the Shadow
Shadow work is nothing but to make the unconscious conscious and the unacceptable — acceptable. That’s all you are trying to accomplish.
The goal of shadow work is integration. The integration of the unconscious leads to complete and total awareness. To do shadow work is to bring your shadow closer to you. It is part of who you are, after all.
The goal is to bring your shadow into the light or to shine a light onto the shadow. The more you shine a light on your shadow, the smaller it gets.
Here are simple ways to begin your shadow work.
1. Review your childhood
“Was I completely accepted as a child? How did I feel most of the time? What was expected of me and what behaviors and emotions were judged by my people?”
Those behaviors that were judged created some sort of shadow aspect within you. Once you find the answers to these questions, they will lead you to see the shadow aspects of yourself.
The shadow usually has its root in your childhood.
2. Become aware of your shadow
We are unaware of the shadow in the same way we can’t see in the darkness. To become aware of something, you have to choose to see it. Once you see those rejected aspects of yourself, reflect on them.
Are they positive or negative? If you find something negative, make peace with it and release it from the shadow. If it’s a positive aspect, reunite with it and call your power back.
Becoming aware is similar to seeing something that is suddenly illuminated by light. The most important step in doing shadow work is to become aware of it.
Shine a light on it or bring it out of the darkness.
3. Don’t shame the shadow
Once you become aware of your shadow self, don’t shame or blame it. Instead, give it your love, compassion, and acceptance.
Your shadow was born from non-acceptance and rejection in the first place. It was created the moment you began to push it away. Antagonizing the shadow even more only adds fuel to the fire. The shadow is part of who you are, so look at it from a place of love.
Love your shadow for all it is.
4. Use Your Triggers
Triggers are messengers and an invitation to delve deeper into unconscious things. The messengers are the events that cause an extreme emotional reaction within you. Naming triggers as such change them and decreases the effect they have on you.
It allows you to step back from your emotional reaction and observe it, instead of living it.
Triggers are reflections of the deep unresolved wounds. They come to open your eyes to things that are suppressed.
5. Observe without judgment
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with shadow work is to judge the shadow once you spot it. If you let the harsh inner critic come up and judge the shadow, you are rejecting it all over again and therefore making it bigger and stronger.
When you see your shadow, acknowledge and observe it without judgment. Observe it to understand it and then work to integrate it.
Shadow work is the highest form of light work you can do.
Make Peace With Your Shadow So You Can Find Peace
Shadow work is a great way to experience inner healing and transformation, and all it takes is self-awareness.
Every person on Earth has gone through a difficult time in their life that created shadows within them. The good news is, the entire universe is on our side trying to help us become whole again. Every action of the universe is headed in the direction of growth and expansion.
We are provided with abundant opportunities to confront our shadow selves so that we can finally be free of them. It doesn’t matter how long you avoid looking at your shadow self. It will keep manifesting into your reality until you pay attention to it.
The self that is fractured seeks to become unified, and we will be presented with opportunities to see the aspects of ourselves we have suppressed, rejected, denied, and disowned.
The more you become aware of your shadow self and accept it, the more embodied you are as a conscious being and the more agency you have over yourself and your life.