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What is shadow work?- Your guide to embracing and facing your shadow self for a fulfilling life.

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.

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.

Without knowing it then, I had embarked on a life-changing journey of self-discovery beyond my believed consciousness.

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.

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.

1. Therapy.
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.

2. Journaling.
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.

3. Meditation.
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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5 REASONS you’re not achieving your goals- ending the cycle of New Year, same you.

The New Year often acts as a tabula rasa for our lives. An anticipated restart button to reach again for our elusive goals abandoned the previous year, as well as new resolutions.
From fitness to career and mental New Year’s resolutions, the month of January sees many people motivated to go for bigger and better- be their best selves, it’s your hot girl year. Until the romanticisation of implementing new habits get jettisoned and reality sets.
Here are five things I have recognised that previously hindered me from achieving my New Year goals- which you might identify within yourself stops you from achieving your goals in general.

1. Setting goals that are not yours.

In your bid to grow and develop a better career, improved fitness routine or better relationships- start your journey with some introspection to discern what season each goal fits.

Everybody around you projecting a particular positive standard should be inspirational. However, that does not mean that’s the standard for you at that stage of life. If your season requires a level 60 push, forcing yourself to output 100 effort will eventually leave you overwhelmed, and you will crash and burn before fulfilling the end goal.

Your goals don’t have to be big and grand to make sense to anyone. As long as it is tailored to your needs and challenges you just enough without breaking you- it is valid.

2. Your low self-esteem is affecting your self-discipline.

“The feeling of being valuable is a cornerstone of self-discipline because when one considers oneself valuable, one will take care of oneself in all the ways that are necessary.”M Scott Peck, The Road less travelled.

One of the reasons achieving our goals can be difficult is our fickle self-discipline. You can’t adopt a new habit of waking up at 5 am every morning. Go to the gym. Cook and eat three balanced meals a day. Developing healthy relationships and excelling in your career- if you do not feel valuable enough to have the rewards of that routine.

Alongside implementing a plethora of new goals, the foundation of successfully executing these resolutions is identifying and asserting your value to yourself. Ultimately, if you see yourself as a valuable being, you will maintain the discipline to give yourself the best life has to offer.

3. Overwhelming yourself by implementing every goal at once.

There are 12 months in the year. You will be setting yourself up for failure by introducing your brain to 10 new habits in month one. Your brain needs time to adjust to new routines.

If it feels overexerted, it will revert to old comfortable patterns. And you will be left feeling demotivated and discouraged at your lack of consistency.
To achieve large-scale resolutions, you have to break up your goals into bite-size chunks. For example, if the goal is to improve your fitness by working out five times a week- it will be unfair to your body to throw yourself into it from week 1. You will work up to that goal by working out two times a week in month one, then gradually increasing the frequency every month- this challenges you but isn’t as strenuous for your brain as the former.

Allow yourself to work up to your goals. Transformation still happens when you take steady steps instead of massive leaps.

4. Our need for immediate gratification.

The reality is, long term goals require patience, time, discipline and consistency to execute successfully. In our society of ‘next-day delivery’ and ‘lose 30 lbs in one week drinking slim tea’, we have evolved into beings driven by quick results. And when the reward does not come in fast enough- we quit. Because “if it hasn’t happened in a month, it won’t work.” 

“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.”- M Scott Peck

In the quote above, the pain symbolises the discipline of showing up every day for yourself, even if there isn’t a visible result quite yet.

There are no immediate gratifications for long term goals- learn to trust your process and believe in the pleasure at the end of the road.

5. Shiny-object syndrome.

You have somehow convinced yourself that you need the modelled home office set up to avert your procrastination or start that business. All the planners advertised to be more organised. The gym accessories or a Gymshark decked out fitness gear wardrobe to kickstart your fitness goals. 

You can have the best equipment and resources needed to execute your dreams at your disposal, but if the issues highlighted in the previous points are not improved on, you will never feel ready. Start where you are and find ways to make what you currently have work for you when commencing your journey. You will never feel 100% ready to transform your life. But the more steps you gradually take utilising everything you have now, the more confident you become in achieving your goals.

The beauty of life is that we constantly grow and better ourselves across different aspects. Depending on the aspiration, we can become immensely overwhelmed by the changes needed to evolve. And change can be scary while old habits lurk around the corner pulling us back into familiarity and comfort. But it is in this fear that we uncover the highest version of ourselves- if we persist. So this year, I hope you get better at chasing and achieving everything you have aspired to, with a middle finger up to fear and uncertainty.