We all have aspects of our personalities that we keep hidden from others. Sometimes we get so good at masking that we hide it from ourselves too.
Some of these are natural human emotions such as jealousy, anger, lust, desperation and resentment that we are taught as undesirable to exhibit, addictions or trauma.
Carl Yung, the godfather of analytical psychology and shadow psychology describes the shadow as “desires and feelings that are not acceptable to society or to the conscious psyche”
Escaping these uncomfortable emotions or experiences by burying them deep within our psyche, not consciously displaying them, however, does not erase them. Just as your light (positive traits and accomplishments) shines bright and illuminates everything around you, your shadow always follows even when you are running away from it. This article is an insightful introduction to shadow work with 5 prompts for beginners at the end.
The shadow when suffocated into the abyss of the subconscious manifests itself as insecurities, outbursts, projection, self-sabotage behaviour and unhealthy relationships; setting you up for an all-around unfulfilling human experience devoid of growth.Tweet
So what is shadow work and how does it guide you through embracing and confronting your shadow for a fulfilling life?
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is the process of assimilating your shadow into your conscious personality, confronting the cause or origin of undesirable feelings and experiences with the intention of understanding and not punishing that aspect of yourself. Shadow work keeps you in touch with the embarrassing versions of yourself, equipping you with the awareness of your innermost character and the power to embrace all of you, transforming for the better.
My shadow work journey started in December 2020 amidst what felt like a never-ending depressive and anxiety-filled episode resulting from heartbreak. The pain from the unrequited love that I experienced became a catalyst for my identity exploration. In between soaking up pillows with salty tears, endless voices in my head replaying that I was never good enough to be loved anyway and me ranting to my friends, I was inclined to go within and turn the lens on me. Microscopically, I analysed every behaviour exhibited in and out of the relationship.
What made this specific ending so painful to me? What were the insecurities I projected within the relationship, and what new insecurities have I developed due to the breakup? Why do these matter? What is the origin of my actions and reactions towards him?
Where and why did I drop the ball in that relationship with myself?
The focal point of healing from the breakup shifted to understanding myself without avoiding my shortcomings and not the actions of the other person.
As I delved deeper and deeper into every question, I peeled off layers of childhood trauma, unlocking memories of my subconscious which had informed how I showed up in life.
Why do you need to do shadow work?
Wouldn’t you love to get to know every aspect of yourself, hold yourself accountable with kindness and compassion, love and develop your personality for the better? And consequently silence the negative self-talk?
Everyone needs to do some shadow work periodically because it is only through experiencing the shadow that we harness our transpersonal power. The practice of uncovering your unhealed subconscious will retire the “this is just the way I am” rhetoric when confronted by the harm we cause ourselves and others.
Doing shadow work is a way of “checking yourself”- your inner dialogue and the self that is shielded from others out of shame or fear of retribution.
It is only by merging the “darkness’ and “light” that we allow ourselves to have a human experience that transcends society’s limitations on our perception of self.Tweet
How do you practice shadow work?
Shadow work need not be daunting or scary. The negative connotations of darkness and pain attached to it are mere chatter from the group of people who deem every spiritual practice which is not rooted in Abrahamic religion as evil.
Here are three ways to do shadow work and get to know your subconscious.
Yes, therapy is a form of shadow work! Therapy is objectively the safest and most supportive form of shadow work; as you have a trained professional guiding you through uncovering your subconscious. The high costs of private therapy, lack of representation, long wait times and unreliability of the free counselling provided by the NHS in the UK generally make therapy unappealing, which prompts people to embark on this journey solo.
But if you can find a great therapist that you connect with and trust, this is my recommended option for shadow work.
Want to trace your thought patterns and behaviour solo? Then journal shadow work is for you!
There is a plethora of shadow work journals out there that come with loaded questions designed to probe into your deepest psyche. But, a blank notebook, noting down the questions that arise whenever you are triggered and exploring the answers to those questions is a great starting point! As someone who processes her thoughts and emotions better through written words, I’ve found that journaling is my go-to option.
Are you a visualiser?
If yes, then guided shadow work meditations are your go-to.
A soothing voice navigates you through visualisations of feelings and actions buried deep within your subconscious, unearthing your primitive desires and confronting the ego. With meditative shadow work, visualisations can be intense and require an external support system to jolt you back to the now when breaks are needed.
So you have all the information you need, a safe space to meet yourself fully and a great support system and are ready to meet your shadow self?
Here are 5 shadow work prompts to kickstart your journey to embracing your shadow self.
1) What are the 3 things that I am most judgemental about in others?
i) How do each of these characteristics show up in me?
ii) How do I feel pointing them out in myself?
Tip: don’t stop there. Explore each feeling that arises from identifying these behaviours in yourself and think about another time that you have felt that way.
2) When was the last time I felt like I was not good enough?
i) Whose action or lack thereof prompted this feeling?
ii) What are the value systems that I use to measure my worth?
3) When do I feel the most valued?
i) Who has made me feel valued consistently?
ii) How have I reciprocated this feeling and made them feel valued?
4) When have I wanted to implement a boundary but couldn’t?
i) What was the boundary that I could not implement?
ii) Why did I not go through with asserting this boundary?
Tip: remember that the only way to fully meet your shadow is to be honest with yourself, even when it is uncomfortable and cringy. Explore other scenarios where you have backed out of asserting the boundary which you highlighted above.
5) Who has hurt me the most in life?
i) How did they hurt me?
ii) How did my perception of them change before and after the hurt occurred.
Bonus question: How did my perception of myself change before and after the hurt occurred?
As you begin this practice to get to know your shadow self and transcend your ego to be your highest self, it is important to remember that healing and personal growth is a continuous journey with no final destination. So take breaks in between each shadow work session, experience your light and practically implement new strategies to embrace your shadow. New triggers will always pop up. Gradually, with more practice, confronting your shadow will be instinctive. Albeit uncomfortable and painful sometimes, the benefits of shadow work far outweigh the momentary discomfort. And your fulfilling life experience will thank you for your dedication to understanding and bettering all aspects of yourself.
Good luck shadow working using whatever method you choose!
And remember awareness without action is futile.
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