What is Shadow Work?

The Shadow work meaning is the practice of bringing the unloved and unloving parts of ourselves to the light where they can be seen, transformed, and integrated.

Carl Jung brought shadow work into modern psychology – some people know it as ‘Jung Shadow Self’. As Jung said, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

What is “The Shadow”?

The Shadow Self goes by other names: “dark side,” primal self, shame, and trauma responses. It is what we despise about ourselves or refuse to acknowledge.

But it isn’t necessarily negative: the shadow can also be rejected but beautiful aspects of ourselves. Perhaps, when you were young, someone told you your curiosity, confidence, or vulnerability were wrong, weak, or shameful. You may have responded by rejecting those qualities in yourself and they became part of your the shadow self.

The shadow doesn’t disappear if we ignore it. If we aren’t paying attention, the shadow can have a very large impact on our lives and actions. As Jung wrote, “Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

How to see your shadow self 

Your shadow reveals itself through your triggers, patterns, projections, dreams, and psychedelic experiences.

When you react dramatically to something, you’ve been triggered, which is a mechanism of the shadow. Once triggered, you have a choice whether to react from that trigger (and feed your shadow) or to observe it and heal your shadow. In those moments, take a moment to breathe, acknowledge you aren’t upset for the reason you think you are, and observe your thoughts and feelings. They will point to aspects of your shadow self.

Do you find yourself drawn to the same type of relationship? Or continually finding yourself in situations you don’t want? These patterns are caused by the unconscious actions, beliefs, and perceptions of the shadow self. When you notice your patterns, they become a map to your shadow.

The mind projects what it refuses to see in itself, just as your perceived reality is a reflection of your inner world. For example, if you have repressed anger, you’ll encounter anger in those around you. There’s a saying, “If you spot it, you got it”: If you spot something you don’t like in another person, chances are you have it within you.

Notice “negative” qualities you frequently see in other people, then ask yourself where those qualities are within you.

Dreams are the realm of the unconscious. Remembering and journalling your dreams can make the unconscious conscious. What do you frequently dream about? What feelings do you experience in these dreams?

Psychedelic experiences
Plant medicine and other mind-shifting substances can also shine a light into the dark corners of your inner landscape. The word “psychedelic” literally means the mind made manifest. Plant medicines such as ayahuasca and iboga have helped many people heal their shadows. But working with mind-altering substances is best done with intention, a safe environment, and a guide – such as a therapist or shaman.

Once brought to your conscious awareness, triggers, patterns, and projections are keys to unlock the doors of your psyche. Observe them, and you can open doors to reveal the hidden traumas, illusions, and you’ve been holding onto.

How to “heal” your shadow

There’s a few ways to start looking at integrating your shadow -as well as the many shadow work workshops, events and professional therapists who can work through this with you.

Go beyond the “good vibes”
Wellness culture has promoted “love and light” for a long time. So, to do shadow work, you’re going to have to go beyond “good vibes only” and observe what you perceive as the bad vibes: anger, shame, trauma, and fear. This will take courage, and courage requires love.

Go into shadow work with a foundation of self love. Recognizing what you’ve built so many coping mechanisms and masks to avoid can be scary, but doing it from a place of low self esteem can be confidence-destroying. Remember you are human, and humans have shadows, so have some compassion and practice radical self-forgiveness.

Choose to heal
You may want to justify your reasons to keep your pain hidden, validate your shame, or claim victimhood. Instead, choose truth, compassion, and freedom. Forgive and thank the experiences which shaped you. And recognize your power to choose new experiences.

Once you’ve shone light into the shadowy corners of your psyche, integration is the key to becoming whole. Everyone has a shadow, so don’t be afraid to own it. Integrate it by accepting –even loving– your shadow while keeping it from the driver’s seat.

Shadow work is hard work, no question. But it is essential to becoming whole, embodied, and healed. And you don’t have to do it alone.

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