Understanding Shadow Work


The “shadow self” is the aspects of ourselves that we seek to suppress due to feelings of insecurity shame, or frustration.  This concept is rooted in the mindset we hide the facets of our personality that either we or other might consider negative or undesirable.

We fear that showing this “shadow side” we would not be accepted or loved by others and therefore must bury these traits.  We can heal this pain by doing shadow work, a practice of loving ourselves as we are and releasing the restrictive feelings of shame or judgement.  In the words of Victor Hugo, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved, loved for ourselves or rather, in spite of ourselves.”

Uncovering the shadow self

Carl Jung, a 20th century Swiss psychologist, a preeminent researcher into the human personality and mind, devised of the concept of the “shadow self.”  He did not intend for the term “shadow” to be linked with spookiness, instead associating it with a reflection of ourselves.  The shadow self is impacted by the effects of someone else’s words or actions, causing us inner turmoil and cognitive dissonance as well as increase our likelihood of judging or lashing out at others due to our insecurity.

Shadow work in a nutshell

Shadow work empowers us to explore our shadow selves in order to purge their toxicity in our lives and bring the many facets of ourselves back into alignment.  When we allow our persona to become too disjointed over the course of our lives, we can’t even recognize what lurks within our shadow self.

By shining light into our shadow, we can process and embrace each of our traits regardless of if we view them as assets or hinderances, to more fully integrate ourselves into holistic wellness.  At its core, shadow work is a style of psychoanalysis that yolks the compartmentalized versions of one’s self into a vibrant self-actualized being.

How to perform shadow work

Shadow work is difficult due to face stings of past-rejection or reopening partially heal wounds.  But mending the fissure of self and shadow self provides lingering life-long benefits.  Jung stated, “shadow work is the path of the heart warrior.”  He believed this therapy could result in returning balance, peace, and grounding within the self.  When a person feels whole, rather than broken, they attain a new level of freedom and open doors to a myriad of opportunities and blessings.  Attending to emotional baggage long ignored in our shadows can encourage us to become more present in our commitments and all of our relationships.

Shadow work reinvigorates us with a purpose and connection to an ever-changing and ever-challenging world.  By reclaiming our narrative as one of wholeness, we become authentic agents of meaningful change in every facet of our life.

Through embracing ourselves: treasures, quirks, and warts, we can identify ways to improve and grow.  Even our warts can be viewed in a new lens to discover healthy ways of working with these traits, rather than manifesting them in impulsive ways (like picking a fight, negative self-speak or sabotaging our chances at happiness). Through this radical acceptance we can learn new level of unwavering self-love.

Types of shadow work

Stop judging yourself:  Shadow work seeks to help you heal and growth.  This means you must surrender to the process and begin to accept yourself, all of you.  The is not benefit to overanalyzing or criticizing everything that doesn’t seem to go your way.  Instead give yourself grace and compassion for everything you have endured.  As you become more patient and kinder to yourself, you will find shadow work to be easier and more effective.

Ask why:  Shadow work is shining light into all of your dark corners.  When you ask “why” you create a dialog with your emotions, behaviors, and thoughts, and thus can begin to understand the roots of your patterns or belief system.  By asking why, we are able to dig deeper into an emotion or feeling and potential expose abstract fears or lingering trauma wounds.  It shows the interconnectedness of our existence and how we relate to the world within and around us.

Journal:  Writing down your experiences helps to remove them from your mind and place them in an area where you can better process these thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  Through processing one gains awareness, and thus can begin to create solutions to the pressing issues.

Writing things down can provide a top-down perspective to reveal patterns or connections we wouldn’t otherwise notice if we kept observing things head-on.  Journaling is an essential tool in any self-growth practice such as shadow work.

Meditate:  Stillness can be a powerful tool for healing.  In the quiet we become more mindful and bring us into better alignment with ourselves and the world around us.  Consistent meditation practice can provide remarkable breakthroughs and healings, especially when it comes to our emotions.

Talk it out:  You can choose to speak to a loved one or a therapist.  By sharing your thoughts and feelings you can gain a new viewpoint on your issues and this confidant can help you with how to craft your action plan to self-improvement.

Analyze your limiting beliefs:  When you unpack your hardships, you typically can reveal the cause of many limiting beliefs.  Do you feel like an imposture in your life?  Are you scare to apply to your dream job?  Often, anxieties like these have a basis in our shadow selves.

By understanding the fears, rejections, insecurity, or dread you can begin to identify ways to dismantle these toxic patterns.  This process of release can be immensely freeing and empowering.  Shadow work emboldens us to overcome the obstacles preventing us for becoming resilient and confident holistic versions of ourselves, capable of pursuing any goal or dream.

Personalize your approach:  Each of us is an individual with unique interests and goals.  You may respond better to a hike that connects you with something bigger than yourself like nature, rather than an introspective therapy like EFT.

Trust your inner wisdom to know what is best for you.  It doesn’t matter what style your pick, what matters is you follow through with the process.  With improved self-awareness, one can enjoy relief, growth, freedom, and wholeness.  Think of what the world could be with people who have healthy levels of confidence due to know who they are, love themselves fully and are empowered to achieve greatness!