“Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one may always have a chance to correct it. But if it is repressed and isolated from consiousness, it never gets corrected, and is liable to burst fort suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
~ Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East
To be honest this isn’t the first article on Shadow work that has been put up here. But what I realised is that a lot of people still haven’t got the basics of Shadow work after I put up a meme that spoke about 9 signs that you have done shadow work.
That’s when a lot of the comments said hey, I have done some of those but need progress, and then there were some who asked what is shadow work? The truth is we have four articles related to the shadow, integrating it etc. But we don’t have a single article that acts as a complete resource or guide on Shadow Work that can be shared, so here goes 🙂
Jung’s shadow psychology
According to Carl Jung, the shadow is not always an opponent, but may be, in part, ones’ link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.
Jung speaks of two types of shadows. The personal shadow (the obscured dark side of ourselves), and the collective shadow (the obscured dark side of society).
The personal shadow
The personal shadow is the sum of unknown or undiscovered attributes and qualities of the self. It is all the unpleasant things we hide from ourselves. Everybody has shadows. They contain inferiorities that we don’t want to admit to. When one is feeling anxious or under the influence, such as alcohol, the shadow can be most obvious. One might suddenly make a hostile comment during a friendly conversation. We project what we don’t like onto others when we don’t want to accept it.
One can be aware of one’s shadow but not fully conscious. This is called ego control. However, many people refuse to recognize their shadows so that the ego doesn’t even know what shadow behaviour is and cannot command it. The shadow can act in unpredictable moods, irritability, and cruelty under these circumstances.
Jung emphasizes the importance of awareness of the shadow and how it affects one’s life in his writings. The shadow can be seen as negative, but it can also be a positive. Jung says that exploring the shadow can help us discover many positive qualities.
The collective shadow
The shadow could also be composed of elements that originate from sources outside of the person’s private life. This is where we encounter that collective shadow. Also known as the dark side or the hidden or unexplored aspects of a society or culture. It includes what does not align with our shared and common values.
The collective shadow is an enormous, multidimensional and often terrifying, yet mysterious aspect of human existence. The immense amount of damage inflicted by humans on each other and the natural world, the collective shadow also includes the devastating effects of these harms in the following generations.
The collective shadow is seen through the projecting of “darkness” and a sense of inferiority through oppression and violence, and in the obscurity of our current suffering, as well as the denial of responsibility for the present.
Although collective shadow material can be brutally acted out during massacres, wars and genocides. It could be hidden under the attractive disguises of missionary activities for example, like mandating the use of certain languages as or imposing certain languages, in the perpetration of an Orwellian society that is happening at the moment.
So what is shadow work?
It’s about engaging with your subconscious mind to reveal the parts of you that you deny and conceal from yourself. It could be trauma-related or aspects of your personality you subconsciously think are undesirable. The shadow you see isn’t a flaw or mistake rather, it’s a natural element of who you are.
Shadow work is in essence, about gaining self-awareness, which ultimately leads to accepting yourself as a person and having compassion for others. It is usually therapeutic as well as spiritual, helping you to see the different aspects of you. For those who have been particularly adept in avoiding their shadows – for example, because it’s far away from what you perceive as your self or perception it is all about realizing your shadow’s existence, and becoming interested in investigating them.
For those whose dark side is linked to trauma, this kind of work can help you heal from trauma and take on the part of yourself that has been hidden or shamed throughout your life.
When you accept that you have a shadow side as well, you will begin to understand the way your thoughts and feelings affect your actions. Once you are aware of this you’ll be able to take charge and be able to live your the life you want, more thoughtfully and mindfully. You’ll begin to live your life as who you truly are.
Why is shadow work important?
“The disowned part of self is an energy – an emotion or desire or need, that has been shamed every time it emerged. These energy patterns are repressed but not destroyed. They are alive in our unconscious.”
~ John Bradshaw
The early Greeks recognized the need to revere all parts of the mental psyche. They believed that these parts were worshiped as independent Gods or goddesses. The Greeks were aware that the god or goddess that you didn’t acknowledge ended up destroying you.
Every part that we deny inside us is turned against us. The personal shadow is an amalgamation of these unowned components. This is the issue Shadows can function independently without our awareness. It’s like our conscious self operates in autopilot, while our unconscious takes control. We commit actions that we would not have done in the first place and regret later (if we do catch it).
We make statements that we would never have the courage to say. The facial expressions we use convey emotions that we don’t know how to feel. Being unaware of the shadow affects relations with families, spouses and friends. Moreover, embedded shadows can affect our professional relationships and our leadership capabilities.
When we rely on our caregivers to survive we suppress those aspects that are not approved and overstate the positive aspects.
Imagine, for instance, a five-year-old boy who is highly aware of his emotion. He’s sensitive and emotional. If something happens, the boy gets angry and starts crying. His dad responds and tells him, “Stop crying like a child, and become the man you are!”
The father believes that crying is not good, and so he tries to keep his son from crying. In the end, the son pushes his delicate and tender part of him into the shadows, and then begins to man up.
In adulthood, the man struggles with being emotionally involved and won’t display his emotions, even when they are required. As a result the man has a difficult time in relationships, never being able to fully acknowledge his feminine side.
The shadow grows with repression.
Another example is a young girl who is upset about something, and then throws an angry tantrum. Her mom immediately says to her “Stop it! Don’t be so negative!” Every time she is upset, mom repeats the same message: end it and be a good daughter.
“It is not a good idea being angry,” she imagines. “I must try very hard to not get angry.” As time passes she is able to dissociate herself from her anger however, it’s not enough to make it disappear.
She is taught that she has to “have everything in order.” In the later years she discovers that she is having problems at work with people who push her buttons. At times, she feels she’s going to explode, but does not know the best way to handle it. She is aware that her anger is present constantly, showing out in passive-aggressive ways, and causing problems at work.
How to identify the shadows within you
Separation and division aren’t the normal states of things. Integration and wholeness are all natural for human beings and because of this, your subconscious is constantly trying to draw your attention to incorporate all that’s around it.
It can be difficult to see your shadow, particularly when you’ve pushed it into your unconscious, but there are reasons why you should get to know your shadow.
There are 3 ways that you can notice your shadow:
A lot of people project their problems on others. When they are unhappy with something within themselves, they bring the issue to other people. It’s common for us to project our darkest shadows – our anger, repressed and shame, guilt and other aspects we dislike in ourselves — onto other people. We criticize others who behave in ways we do not like about ourselves.
A trigger is a remembrance of a past trauma. The events that trigger conflicts within our lives aren’t only triggers, they serve as messengers that help us to recognize something that’s hidden inside our being.
Be aware of your triggers as they could expose your hurts as well as your shadow self in a snap. Make sure you recognize your emotional triggers prior to when you perform and not just immediately after.
Be aware of your reflection on the world around you. Because the universe strives to restore our balance it puts forth things, people, places and objects are a mirror and reflect the person we are. We even come across the same situation time and time again.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~ Carl Jung
The patterns that we see in our lives can lead us towards aspects that are part of the shadow. They are manifestations of the shadow since the shadow mirrors your world to be perceived and integrated.
The shadow would like you to recognize it. It is looking to be noticed and accepted. In these patterns, you will discover parts from your inner self which will continue to show up in various circumstances until you’re ready to take a look and break the cycle.
The benefits of shadow work
Tapping into your intuition
You may find that shadow work, depending on the things you have buried in your shadow, can help you connect with your intuition or deeper knowing. As a child, you may have been discouraged from using intuition, perhaps in the form of education or an overly logical upbringing. Instead, trust your gut and your inner compass.
You will see yourself clearly when you accept your shadow side and make peace with it. You will become more grounded, humane, and whole. Accepting your darkest parts makes it easier to accept them in others.
This will make it less easy to be triggered by other people’s actions. This will allow you to communicate with others more easily. You might notice a change in your relationship with your spouse, your family members, and your business associates.
Maturity and psychological integration
A sense of wholeness or unity will not be possible if we continue to deny our shadows and suppress certain parts of us. With a divided mind, how can we feel wholeness and balance?
The integration of the shadow is a step closer to achieving a sense of wholeness. It is a crucial step towards mature adulthood.
Discover your hidden talents
Shadow work can be used to discover your inner resources and strengths that you didn’t know you had.
People may be afraid that their shadow is too dark for them to overcome. This golden shadow occupies most of the space. It has never had the chance to flourish before.
Shadow work can help you get out of your shell and allow you to see the best side of you.
You’ll be able to see yourself and others as you are, giving you a clearer view of the world. Integrating your shadow self will allow you to see your true self, and to be more accurate in your assessment of yourself.
You will not perceive yourself as too small or too large (deflated). You will be able to see yourself clearly and assess the environment with more compassion and understanding.
Your overall health and well-being can improve
All kinds of problems can result from suppressing your shadow. These problems may not be obvious until you face the shadow.
Shadow work can help to take control of your health and wellness by getting to the root. Shadow work addresses the root causes of wellness issues instead of treating specific problems like anxiety and unhealthy relationships.
One of the greatest benefits of doing shadow work is that it unlocks your creative potential. As psychologists Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and others discovered, creativity is spontaneous amongst the mentally healthy.
Generational trauma could be healed
Shadow work can help heal childhood traumas, which are often caused by primary caregivers such as a parent. Shadow work is a way to heal yourself and your family, as well as healing the lineage. This is especially true when you begin to address generational traumas.
It can help you to think about how you will approach caregiving if you have children. It allows you to look at your family and ask yourself, “Do I want this to continue with my family?”
If it interests you we have an article on the archetypes of the shadow self!
How to do shadow work?
“The Shadow Life is real life but it can only be for those who don’t deny the truth about themselves, the world, and reality by becoming AWARE, cultivating unconditional ACCEPTANCE, and talking real ACTION.”
~ Oli Anderson
Be aware of your emotional reactions
The shadow is invisible and hides behind us. Our defence mechanisms are designed for keeping our shadows hidden and out of sight. Your chances of catching your shadow are greater if you pay more attention to your emotions and behavior.
People tend to project their disowned parts onto others. You can identify your shadow by paying attention to how you react to other people. While your co-workers might be arrogant, impatient, inconsiderate, or aggressive, you will not have the same reactions to them.
You can learn to pay attention to your shadow when you see others reacting negatively to negative emotions.
We rarely have the time or resources to deal with these emotions right away. It’s a good idea to take five to ten minutes to reflect on the interactions you have with others and the reactions to them.
What bothers you in someone else is probably a part of yourself that is disowned. Accept that part, get to know it, make it part of yourself, and it will most likely not cause strong emotions the next time you see it in another.
You should pay attention to what or who triggers an emotion in you. It doesn’t really matter what emotion it is, it’s a sign you are denying something.
Consider someone who triggers your emotions
Shadow work can be started by imagining someone you are troubled by and asking yourself gentle questions such as: He suggests asking gentle questions like:
~ What is it that I dislike about this person?
~ Are there times when I feel like I have the same traits?
~ Why is it so hard to be around them?
~ How does this person bring out the best in me? How do I feel about this part of me?
Go back to your childhood
Consider what parts of yourself were treated differently as a child.
What emotions were you punished? Many children are told to “get over” their sadness or anger. These emotions are often suppressed. They are bad, and we grow up thinking they are bad.
“Was it possible to be fully accepted as a child?” What did I feel the most? What was my role and how were my emotions and behaviors judged by my peers?
You may have a shadow side to your behavior that was judged. These questions will help you see your shadow side once you have answered them.
Here’s an article on 6 steps to befriend your shadow and let in the light!
Accepting your shadow side
Alan Watts discusses Carl Jung, and how Jung believed that our shadow side should be acknowledged, not hidden. This is the root cause of many of our problems.
Integrate your Shadow for a better life
“Every pain, addiction, anguish, longing, depression, anger or fear is an orphaned part of us seeking joy, some disowned shadow wanting to return to the light and home of ourselves.”
~ Jacob Nordby
Shadow work can be a powerful way to transform your inner self and experience inner healing. All you need is self-awareness. Everyone has experienced a time in their lives that brought out the darkest parts of themselves. The good news is that the whole universe is trying to make us whole again. All of the actions of the universe are directed towards growth and expansion.
There are many opportunities for us to face our shadow selves and get rid of them. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to look at your shadow selves. It will continue to manifest into your reality until it is noticed. The fractured self seeks to be unified. We will have the opportunity to see those parts of ourselves that we have suppressed or rejected, denied, denied, and even disowned.
Becoming more aware of your shadow self and integrating it will help you gain more control in your life as well.
Transcending The Darker Aspects of Yourself
Carl Jung and the Shadow: a Guide to the Dark Side of the Mind
The Shadow – Carl Jung’s Warning to The World
How to Get to Know and Integrate Your Dark Side