The renown psychoanalyst Carl Jun popularized the concept of the shadow self. One’s shadow self are aspects of yourself you try to reject, but are essential to your personality. During your childhood, you are conditioned to believe parts of yourself are good or bad depending on the feedback from your caretakers. For example, if your mother constantly scolded you for being selfish, you could over correct by ignoring your needs as an adult. You have internalized and even buried the pain from the negative reinforcement from your caretaker and mentions of this behavior can serve as a seemingly irrational trigger. Even if the shadow may be telling you a truth, it could bother you to hear others tell you this aspect to the point you become angry.
We all have shadows
Analytical psychology widely affirms the concept of everyone having a shadow self, even if it gets called by other names. It can fall under the umbrella of working on self-reflection or self-examination. No matter what it is called, therapist encourage patients to tap into their subconscious to gain self-acceptance, perspective and better management over our relationships and wellness.
Performing shadow work
Working with our shadow starts by bringing the unconscious mind to the forefront of our consciousness. A patient must sincerely question and explore the core of their essence. Ask objective questions that promote critical thinking and fresh perspective on old stories or beliefs about ourselves. This way we can hold a mirror up to ourselves and fully see the aspect we purposely avoid or keep hidden. You don’t require working with a therapist to do shadow work. Below we have included some exercises you can do solo, starting today.
Benefits of shadow work
- Listening to your intuition: Shadow work helps people connect with their intuition. If you failed to honor your intuition as a child, trusting your gut or inner compass can be tied up in your shadow.
- Frees us from our unconscious motivation: Our shadow can puppet master us when we only operate at the unconscious level. Thus, the difficulty of shadow work is actually quite liberating. When you shift your unconscious towards the conscious you can observe what behaviors work for you and what needs to be released from your life.
- Embracing your authentic self is empowering: If you suffer with low self-esteem, working with your shadow self you can discover wonderful attributes you have kept hidden because you felt unworthy of accepting them. Continued practice can help you reclaim these gifts and reach new height you never thought possible.
- Increased self-growth: If you are seeking self-fulfillment or self-actualization, now is a perfect time to begin shadow work. In order to be your best self, you need to identify and address the negative aspects that are holding you back from achieving your goals.
While you are performing shadow work you must always be careful of your triggers. Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” As you continue working with your shadow you will learn the things that trigger you and why. A good example of a trigger is seeing your friend achieve a dream of yours and you experiencing jealousy because you don’t know why they were able to reach this milestone you have not.
Don’t judge yourself
Shadow work is difficult and requires a lot of compassion to help ourselves fully heal. Many times, a person could be quick to stop this work because they are afraid of what they are seeing. They get caught up in the shame and guilt, but if you can view yourself with grace, shadow work can be freeing as you see it really wasn’t as bad as you thought.
Ask for help
This is especially true if you have been a victim of trauma. Shadow work exposes people to immense reserves of pain, suffering and fear that many people are ill-prepared to navigate. It can be helpful to work with a trained therapist and enlist the support of your closest loved ones. This will help you feel grounded and fully accepted. Creating a culture of nonjudgement can help you see yourself and the situation for what is it. Using the following exercises along with affirmations and journaling can help you embrace the fullness of your essence.
Exercise 1: Identify your triggers by looking at someone else
Our shadow exposes it self when we observe aspects that we find distasteful or troublesome in others. We are essentially seeing a mirror reflection that demands key questions like the following:
- What about this person don’t I like?
- Do I possess any of these traits sometimes?
- Why am I bothered being around them?
- What parts of me get sparked when I’m around them? How do I feel when this happens?
Exercise 2: Explore your family tree
Looking at your family tree can help you identify traits you view as both positive and negative, as well as perhaps why you feel this way. For example, is your family slow to show affection? How did this affect you growing up? How is it impacting you now and what do you want to change?
Exercise 3: Dialog with your shadow
Meditate and visualize your shadow meeting you. Notice what you observe and how you feel being around it. Feel free to ask it questions and bravely listen to the answers. End the exercise with positive affirmations like the following:
- I allow the darkness within me to see the light and be released.
- I purge the fear from me; I release the doubt; I purge the shame; I release the guilt.
Growth can be painful, but it is necessary for us to live a successful life. Working with your shadow is no different. Bringing our shadow to the light will help us help and integrate those aspects into our lives in a healthy manner.