Shadow work is the process of knowing or highlighting our suppressed shadow self with the help of a therapist or by ourselves. It is a rigorous process of self-acceptance that promotes us to show self-compassion towards our hidden selves.
A type of healing process leading to the unveiling of the true self, embracing of our dark side, and self-love. Shadow work exercises help us in accepting negative emotions and negative feelings which may arise in particular distressing situations.
The Shadow self is a part of ourselves that is suppressed deep within us. Shadow self or so-called darker parts can be attributed to the part of our personality that stays deep within the unconscious part of our psyche.
Let’s explore the steps of how to do shadow work to comprehend ourselves more wonderfully.
1. Shadow Self: Detailed Evaluation
Shadows are often associated with the dark segment of an article. Just like any other substance, we have the dark portion present in ourselves too. We commonly find ourselves in situations where we don’t act as we do normally.
Unexpected reactions to stressful situations can result from the overriding of shadow selves. In our life, we all have hidden parts that can’t make it into the conscious mind and are not shown in behavioural patterns.
Our shadow sides pop out from our unconscious minds just like a balloon when we try to submerge it into deep water.
Not addressing shadow affects our emotional reactions to even small stress-causing situations.
Emotional regulation is deeply affected when we ignore our shadow side. The Shadow side is a part of our inner self.
No matter how profoundly we would want to suppress it or be afraid of it, we can’t afford that, as doing so will lead to confusion, distress, and discontented life experiences.
Having a shadow self makes people talk about themselves in a negative sense. They struggle with low self-esteem, have trouble identifying their capabilities, and might even fail to establish meaningful relationships.
Our shadow work begins when we decide to understand our undesirable traits and fraction of our personality with appreciation and consideration.
When you were younger you must have been scolded by your parents or elders for a particular habit. The scolding stopped you from doing the activity altogether even though how much you liked doing it. You had to be the good girl/boy in the eyes of your parents or elders.
For Example, a child nagged by their parents or teachers about their habit of crying every time they experience trouble might refrain from crying at all. At times they may grow to hate them to fit into the norms set by their parents or teachers.
Growing up with the mentality to not cry even when feeling extremely low probably will affect their mental health along with physical health.
They may see crying as a weakness. They might confront these confusing feelings with anger outbursts. Unnecessary anger outbursts can disturb their interpersonal relationships too.
1.1) Shadows According to Carl Jung-
Carl Jung (a Swiss Psychiatrist and founder of Analytical psychology) formulated 8 types of self that a person can have in their personality. Jung believed that “shadow is the dark side of the ego, and the evil that we are capable of is often stored there” (Boeree, 2006).
He coined the term ‘shadow archetypes‘ to address the animal or dark side of us, human beings. Along with the shadow archetype, he proposed 7 other archetypes to comprehend the nature and personality of a human being.
The archetypes he proposed were; Self, Anima, Animus, Persona, Hero, Wise old man, Trickster, and at last Shadow.
His work enables us to recognize ourselves in depth and acknowledge our capabilities. He worked towards revealing the shadow side and other types of self.
From the view of humans, animals are vicious and vile. The term animal makes us imagine a brutal image of some creature bound to cause harm. Animal in the view of Carl Jung means restrained sexual desires. He believed that the animal part embedded deep within us originates from our evolutionary chain is what shadow is.
Robert Johnson (a noted lecturer and Jungian analyst) expressed his view on shadow work in his book “Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche”. He provided a guide through which we can explore and investigate more about our shadow and shadow work.
Robert Moore inspired by Carl Jung designed the Pyramidal structure of the Mature Masculine Self, The Archetypes of the Immature and Mature Masculine, and The Deep Structure of the Human Self explaining the Human Self.
1.2) How the Shadow Self can Appear-
Circumstances that are out of our comprehension may lead to disrupted emotional reactions. Understanding our emotions is tough but necessary.
Shadow self can make it to the surface in many forms. Some of them are discussed below:
1.2.1) Anger Outbursts
A person hiding a part of their identity may feel angry whenever they will possibly experience it coming out. To hide the embarrassing side of their personality, anger seems perfect to cope.
Children who were denied to practice an integral part of themselves may confront many anger outbursts as an adult.
1.2.2) Anxiety or Panic Attacks
A person experiencing anxiety and panic attacks has a deep-rooted fear of something that the person believes might cause harm to them. Even if the situation is as small as speaking in front of an audience they might have feelings of extreme fear and worry.
The person will possibly feel breathlessness, pain in the chest area, trembling, etc.
1.2.3) Fragmented Relationships
The person will probably be ignored by their colleagues, friends, etc. They might also feel difficulty in forming deep, meaningful interpersonal bonds with people around them. They might be addressed as cold or distant due to their not-so-much-revealing nature.
1.2.4) Emotional Breakdown
Being in similar situations where you were told to suppress the emotions or behaviour will potentially lead to an emotional breakdown. The breakdown could be a surprise to you. It may have an encounter with you out of nowhere.
The person would have trouble speaking on the subject of their feelings and thoughts vividly to their spouses, friends, or close people. They might feel fragmented at their core. Sentiments of loneliness are commonly seen in people who lack conscious awareness of their shadow traits.
1.2.6) Self-loathing and Self-Sabotage
Self-image is broken by people who have hidden their shadow self deep within their subconscious mind. Denying a part of yourself comes with huge confusion and resentment. Low self-esteem is the result of rejecting your shadow side.
Cutting and causing harm to oneself are noticed in people who lack self-love and self-reflection.
1. 2.7) An Abundance of Negative Feelings
A person suffering from a lack of self-awareness will potentially feel negative emotions intensely. Emotions felt by people with hidden selves:
1.2.8) Addiction to Various Harmful Substances
The person will try to cope by indulging in harmful activities like smoking and drinking excessively.
It has been noticed that they feel quite relieved after consuming certain types of drugs. Drugs assist them to avoid negative emotions but end up harming themselves in more unimagined ways.
1.2.9) Projection of Feelings
A person who hasn’t figured out their feelings starts projecting them onto other people. Projecting mostly consists of blaming or judging others on the traits they don’t feel great about themselves.
A lack of knowledge of shadow prompts a person to start victimizing themselves and their experiences. They start seeing themselves as a victim of harmless acts done by others.
“I will build it on my own”, “No one will perceive what I am going through”, and “It’s useless to ask for help”. These are a few statements that counter-dependent people say.
They have a strong belief in not asking for help even when they would be struggling with difficult occasions or situations.
Not grasping the essence of one’s personality leads to counter-dependence as one lacks awareness of what is happening to them and thus fails to make understand other people their issues.
They fear that other people might not see their problems as real issues and that they have made up for the complications.
It is tough to control of which we lack knowledge and understanding. Staying in a state of cluelessness makes us remain troubled and constrained.
1.3) Reasons for Having a Shadow Self-
Shadows are created when we are forced to bury our desires, feelings, and thoughts because of childhood trauma or emotional neglect.
1.3.1) Childhood Trauma
A child is like a sponge, they will observe everything they behold and experience. Being wronged or tortured by the only people who they can fully rely on leaves an ugly scar on the memories, personalities, and overall well-being of such children.
Children who have faced physical or emotional abuse find it extremely gritty to be an adult with a strong and high self-image or self-worth.
Childhood trauma is like a deep, detrimental wound placed on our mental health generally by our parents or teachers. It feels like a betrayal.
A child is unaware of the world and the pain it consists of. They grow up believing that to be accepted and loved by their parents it is a prerequisite to hide certain parts of themselves.
They form this false fearful belief of repressing emotions and traits to be adored and cherished by their parents.
They grow by learning to keep the undesirable traits and shadows hidden from the rest of the world.
The fear of being abandoned or judgment is greater by a huge intensity than us being our authentic selves. The fear compels us to push further upon our dark parts into the unconscious part of our psyche.
1.3.2) Emotional Neglect
Misunderstanding one’s psyche is also a product of emotional neglect. Not knowing emotions, be they positive or negative turns out to be exasperating.
If we consider an ideal situation of childhood, our parents must be there for us, nurture us, make us aware of our feelings and thoughts, and facilitate in development and growth.
Most parents fail to achieve such an idealistic stage and render their children with misunderstood emotions. Avoiding or depressing emotions leaves a void in us. Different types of parenting results in different childhood experiences.
A child of an alcoholic, authoritative, and absent parent is more likely to push down their characteristics deep into the unconscious mind.
If we show compassion and be patient with ourselves we can fill the hole with acceptance and greatness.
2) How to do Shadow Work: 7 Steps
To fully accept our shadow self can propose to be the purpose of one’s life. With the help of a licensed therapist or licensed clinical psychologist, you can achieve moving forward in life and be the best version of yourself.
The truth of our shadows stays hidden until we step forth to spot patterns and try to be aware of them. Our lives need shadow work to improve, enhance positive qualities and stay content in this world.
By being enlightened about every part of yourself, you can maintain overall well-being.
Asking yourself the following questions before beginning with the process of shadow work:
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- What do I have to let go of to get the things I desire?
- Who do I have to become to receive those things?
- How do I want to show up?
- Try to answer honestly as it will facilitate authentic shadow work.
Follow the following steps on how to do shadow work:
2.1) Calm Yourself
The first and foremost step of shadow work is to know that there is some hidden part of yourself. Practice shadow work after being grounded with the help of breathing exercises.
Disclosure of the shadow is time taking and demands a lot of inner work. To be ready to confront the shadow involves patience and tolerance.
2.2) Choose a Professional or Proceed Alone for the Shadow Work
In this next step, ask yourself whether you need a professional to guide you on this challenging journey or if you wish to pursue it by yourself. It is beneficial to appoint a professional to reveal your shadow as they can facilitate by giving you the tools necessary to heal.
Professional help can assist in keeping a track of the patterns of shadows. Maintaining a journal is advisable if you are venturing on this journey.
2.3) Notice Patterns
Shadow work is done by noticing patterns and paying attention to what our body and mind are telling us. Dive deep into the world of shadows to reflect on the pain caused by covering the shadow.
Observing your behaviour in two similar kinds of situations assists in keeping a check on the shadow. Shadow will make itself noticeable now and then.
For example, you can focus on your inner dialogue whenever you feel angry for no particular reason at all. You can ask yourself questions like “what happened that is making me react in such a way?” or “who was involved when I started feeling this emotion”. You can keep a note of all the thoughts occurring in such instances.
2.4) Remember Similar Childhood Experiences
Answers to many of our questions ie in the memories of our childhood. Since shadows are formed or nurtured in our childhood, it is advisable to remember and investigate the reasons for one’s shadow.
In our lives, we have faced pain and guilt leading to the development of shadow. Some children face childhood emotional neglect or some ache from childhood trauma.
For example, in your childhood years, you must have been nagged for being interested in some peculiar topics. You probably suppressed the desires and avoided doing the activity. The repression done in childhood will affect your adult years making you afraid to face certain situations.
Bringing the truth to light is done by reminiscing childhood experiences. Shadow can be uncovered definitely by exploring the childhood of our life.
2.5) Say Positive Affirmative Words to Yourself
Be compassionate, and patient, and speak politely to yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat your loved one. Avoid shaming yourself for the desires that surface while shadow work.
An overall self-aware individual accepts themselves no matter how weird or out of the world their authentic self might feel.
Following are some examples of self-affirmative words:
- You are OKAY!! BREATHE
- You are enough
- You can trust yourself/ your gut feeling
- You are young and still learning
- You don’t owe people anything
- You are capable
- You are pretty and smart
- You can’t cure people, only support them
- You are loved, and even when you feel you are not, love yourself enough
2.6) Try Art Therapy
Shadow work can be facilitated through dancing, singing, painting, doodling, and drawing. Shadow surfaces in the conscious mind when we practice shadow work through abstract means. The creation of art helps the shadow express it more originally.
For example, an individual who confronts shadow in the form of guilt and shame can use art as the means of bringing it out in the light. Shadow work helps to reflect our fragmented parts on the canvas.
Shadow work is all about maintaining a record of all the past experiences and patterns that we notice while questioning. Shadow work needs to be kept in a proper flow because it might allow an individual to explore and comprehend themselves amazingly.
2.8) Why the Need to Practice Shadow Work:
Understanding our shadows pushes us to focus more on the positive aspects of our personality and promotes personal growth. Some of the benefits of shadow work are discussed below:
A) Improvement in Self-awareness
B) Increased self-compassion
C) Better interpersonal relationships
D) Improved intrapersonal relationship
E) Acceptance of past trauma and past self
F) Helps in forgiving others
G) Increased general patience
H) Enhanced life experiences
I) Replenished overall well-being
Shadow work is not mandatory for everyone to do but it is necessary to reveal the reasons behind our reactions to particular situations. It can help us accept our shadow with increased empathy and understanding.