There is no escaping your shadow. But then, there is no need to escape from it, either. It’s not something to be feared, but a part of you that requires your nurture.
We’re complex and dynamic beings who’ve incarnated in this physical form to grow. It’s only by relating to one another through the expression of our flaws and limitations that we can transcend our limiting ways of being. The shadow is just one aspect of our psyche that holds us back.
To class it as an affliction is to misunderstand the shadow, entirely. We all have a shadow self. And It’s far more useful to think of it as part of the tapestry that makes up our inner being instead of something that needs to be stamped out of existence.
That’s not how you deal with shadow – that’s not how you deal with anything in life.
Effective shadow work comes from a place of non-judgment, compassion and sincerity.
You take the same approach towards your own inner being and supposed negative archetypes, such as the shadow as you would your interpersonal relationships.
When you’re trying to resolve a dispute with someone, you don’t try and shut them down. If you’re in a confrontational situation, your best recourse is to act from a place of neutrality. You want to de-escalate the situation through compassion and empathy.
You listen – without judgment.
The same rules of engagement that apply to your real-world communication apply to your shadow. The more you treat it with disregard and contempt, the more it will present itself as the dark force you see as your eternal enemy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The reason your shadow is so abusive towards you is that you haven’t recognised its power. It only wants to be heard. It wants only to come home.
Table of Contents
What is Your Shadow Self and What Does It Represent?
The shadow is the aspect of your consciousness that results from the negativity you have both endured and witnessed since the time of your child. It’s the sum total of all those experiences. All the times you were scorned, hurt, abandoned, bullied and lived in fear create what Carl Jung refers to as your personal shadow.
Your shadow is your repressed self, sometimes referred to collectively as your inner demons. But this creates an even greater sense of internal conflict. It makes it even more difficult to reach a place of reconciliation and bring yourself back into alignment. Your shadow cannot – and should not – be destroyed. It must be integrated. And if you the way you treat it by trying to rid yourself of its presence, it will not end well. It will simply inflame the shadow, causing to bite back with even more venom.
How Does You Shadow Come into Being?
The formation of your shadow self begins in early childhood as soon as you have the ability to cognise and intuit emotional responses. Your subconscious mind stores all of this input as reference points for how you’ll act in the future when faced with similar situations.
It’s almost impossible to avoid. As a child, you haven’t developed your emotional intelligence, yet. You can’t process events in the same way as an adult. The idea of forgiveness and compassion is too much for your young mind to handle. Hence, our negative experiences become our mental programming.
In essence, the shadow is a response to your basic human needs that have gone unmet, creating an emotional trauma that must be repaired. As a result, this fundamental lack we experience manifests as our learnt responses and negative behavioural patterns later on in life. We see these as our flaws. But they’re really a subtle cry for help, and are most prevalent when the pain we’ve been subjected to has not had a proper chance to be expressed – either because we weren’t emotionally equipped or didn’t feel safe to do so at the time.
For example, let’s say you had an indifferent and emotionally stunted parent. Try as you might, you could never win their validation – even when it was warranted. In fact, they might have such high standards that all you ever heard from them is how you need to try harder and you’ll never be good enough. This type of negative encouragement can be effective for some. But it’s not a universally accepted way of treating someone. You retain those experience as imprints deep into adulthood. And although you’ve repressed the memory, every time you in a situation that demands your effort, you’ll be triggered by that programming.
What Happens When You Ignore Your Shadow?
In the long-term, you can’t ignore your shadow. It’s not a habit or mental tick you can outgrow or let go of with the passage of time. You need to engage with that part of yourself and do meaningful inner work to bring it back into the fold.
If you’re not prepared to work with your shadow, your shadow will continue to work against you. The unfortunate truth is without your love and attention, you’ll find it hard to make progress in your personal and professional life. The shadow is one of your worst critics, and because of that, it makes the perfect saboteur. If you’re someone who struggles with self-doubt or seems to make the same mistakes, there is a reason. And that reason is likely because your shadow is pulling the strings.
When you disregard that orphaned part of your conscious, you’re seeding further resentment for neglecting its needs. You’re acerbating the problem even further. And the longer this goes on, the uglier it can get. Do not underestimate the power of your shadow. Because although it’s rooted in the unconscious part of your psyche, figuratively speaking it’s standing in the same room. You can’t hide your thoughts from your shadow, and you certainly can’t trick it.
If you don’t have a firm grasp on yourself, the mental programming of your subconscious and shadow can quickly take over – and it’s all too happy to take reigns. If left unchecked, it’ll cause you to:
- Act impulsively and out of character
- Say harmful things that you later regret
- Use body language that sends mixed messages
- Emanate an aura of negative or confrontational energy
The quality of life you enjoy ultimately rests on healing your shadow. It’s a foundational part of not only a spiritual journey, but a core aspect of Jungian Psychology, as well. Of course, you can choose to discount this part of your inner being. It’s your free will to do so. But if you’re tired of having no control over your life, working with and embracing your shadow self is something you simply can’t avoid. It’s inevitable.
5 Practical Benefits of Working with Your Shadow
There would be no point in working with your shadow if there was nothing to gain. It’s hard and sometimes gruelling work. You’re placing yourself a position of vulnerability every day. There’s really no place to hide and what comes of it can be more than a little uncomfortable for some.
You may not be aware of the connection between your roadblocks and the shadow – or even that it exists until now. It can see you stuck in a cycle of reactionary behaviours. You’ll act on impulse based on the trauma you experienced in early childhood. But you’ll feel completely justified. Your actions may even seem righteous. Letting your actions go unchecked in this way can create a victimised ego, which can be hard to acknowledge and even harder to shake.
But the rewards for doing this work far outweigh the effort you expend. It may be tough. You may want to keep the status quo – your shadow will definitely want that, too. But getting to the root cause of your emotional traumas can bring about enormous transformations in character. You come to know yourself on a profound level and accept yourself, unconditionally. You don’t just transform yourself, but your entire world.
1. You’ll Improve Your Relationships (And Interpersonal Skills)
Your relationships will be the first area you’ll notice an improvement. The more you engage with the shadow and listen to its needs, the less you’ll experience its constant negative chatter. You’ll be at peace and bring more heart-based awareness to your interactions.
And as you develop a greater understanding of your own needs, you’ll be able to empathise more with other’s challenges. The same mental blockages that were holding you back will become obvious. You’ll be able to extend yourself in a more compassionate and non-judgmental way.
2. You’ll Start Making Real Progress (In All Areas of Life)
As you learn to quiet the mind, you’ll find there is more room for free-thinking. The more consistently you work with the shadow, the more clarity you’ll bring to all your endeavours. You’ll enter into a flow-state of being able to say and do all the right things when required.
You’ll no longer be someone who’s afraid to take chances and put themselves out there. The sense of unworthiness or any limiting thoughts of how you may be perceived (judged) will be gone. New oppurtunities will come into your life at an astonishing rate.
3. You’ll be Naturally More Confident
In the past, you may have turned to vices that brought out the confidence in you. It could have been drinking or dressing up in nice clothes, and these might have worked. But only in the short-term. They were more like behaviours that compensated for your internal lack.
When you go through the process of integrating the shadow, you create real, long-lasting change. You no longer need a crutch to lean on. There is an unshakeable confidence that comes from healing your emotional trauma. In return, you rediscover a true sense of personal power.
4. You’ll Have More Energy
It should come as no surprise that carrying around a lifetime’s worth of mental baggage will have an effect on your energy levels. Experiencing a state of lethargy is one of the main symptoms of depression, and the weight your shadow brings can be just as immobilising.
When you do finally let go of everything you’ve been repressing, the release can be like nothing else. Be warned. It won’t happen overnight. But the more you work on yourself, the more you’ll see your stamina and appetite for living life increase.
5. You’ll Have Increased Creativity (And Mental Acuity)
Creativity is an inherently mental process. We might ultimately express ourselves physically, but it all begins with a thought. And the more of that mental energy you’re able to free up within the conscious self, the more you can bring your creative talents to the fore.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t reap the benefits if you’re more of a left-brained thinker. Integrating your shadow will help improve your overall levels of cognition, and open you to more creative ways of analysing and solving complex problems.
What is Shadow Work? (And How is it Done?)
Shadow work is an exploratory process. It’s not linear in the traditional sense of healing where you take Treatment A for Condition A. It’s nowhere near as prescriptive, and is more about engaging with yourself in a meaningful way that doesn’t demean or cause it further harm. It’s an intuitive process.
Your shadow is a repository of the experiences that inform the worst of your behaviour. But just as the bully is also a victim of abuse, so too, have you been subject of your own traumas. You’ve experienced enough shame, blame and guilt. What you need now is self-love. You need nurture, not neglect.
Working with your shadow provides exactly that. It is a way of bringing awareness and compassion to yourself, allowing you to reclaim those parts of your inner being you disowned and pushed to the side long ago. It is isn’t a severance process. As we’ve already touched on, that just isn’t possible. And nor should you want to erase those parts of your past. They’ll valuable learning experiences. The only issue is you’ve treated them as a hindrance rather than a help up until now.
How to Integrate Your Shadow and Make Yourself Whole Again
The way you embrace the shadow has to be authentic. Owning your shadow is not how you do effective shadow work. It is not there to be owned. It requires your nurture, and it can see right through your façade. If you’re trying to get your shadow on-side in a way that is only serving your personal goals, you’re going to come up against some stiff resistance.
You need to respect the shadow for what it’s gone through and what it can teach you about yourself. Imagine this. You’ve passed over in the spirit world after leaving your physical body. You’re taken to a small court where you experience a life review. But instead of your guides, there are all of the emotions you ever felt in this lifetime, recounting how you treated them. How would they make you feel? How do you treat yourself every time you experience, fear, hurt, abandonment or anything else? All those emotions are what make up the shadow.
And it knows more than you think. Your shadow has an ego conscious all of its own, just like your conscious self does. If you’re approaching it from a point of malicious intent, if it senses you’re trying to trick it in any way, it’ll reject any and all advances.
6 Shadow Work Exercises You Can Practice Right Now
Remember, working with your shadow as with all spiritual pursuits requires consistency. You need to show up regularly to see the real changes manifest in your life. If you’re only willing to make an effort every once in a while, you’ll see a relative amount of change. Don’t cheat yourself out of the happiness you know you deserve. Here are some exercises to help you get started:
Acceptance, we’ve already touched on. But it’s a foundational aspect of doing any sort of inner work. If you have an inflated opinion of yourself and have certain expectations of how working with your shadow is going to play out, you might need to readjust.
You need to accept yourself as you are and acknowledge that everything you’ve experienced is an intrinsic part of your character – the good and bad. There can be no longer any form disownment or dissociation from your past. You need to take ownership of your full being.
2. Pay Close Attention to Your Emotional Triggers
You might also refer to this as mindfulness or using your discernment. But it essentially means the same thing. If you’re going to change your behaviours, you need to become aware of when and why they’re happening so you can challenge yourself to create new, more positive habit patterns.
This is the approach that Cognitive Behavioural Therapists take with their clients. But you can just as easily do it for yourself. It’s all about trying to catch yourself in the act of having a negative thought that either leads you into a spiral or an impulsive behaviour.
3. Give Yourself a Creative Outlet
Embracing your shadow self can increase your creativity. We’ve already mentioned that. But the benefit is two-fold. You can use your skills to express yourself in a meaningful way. Art therapy has been a huge outlet for people with mental illness as part of a recovery program.
But let it be fun. You don’t need to create masterpieces. What you do can be just for you. Even if you don’t consider yourself the creative type or artistic, there is still plenty you can engage with. Adults colouring books have surged in popularity and are a great way to calm the mind.
4. Practise Shadow Journaling
There is an old saying that you aren’t aware of what you know until you commit it to paper. You’d be amazed at some of the material you came out with if you give yourself the license to write straight from the heart without censorship. Automatic writing can be an extremely useful tool
But you might also want to keep a more regular journal of your thoughts throughout the day. Keeping tabs on when you’re emotionally triggered and by what is a vital part of working through your unresolved wound and creating new behaviours.
5. Experiment with Your Meditation Practise
Assuming you already have a meditation practise, you might want to try adjusting it slightly. There are a ton of meditations out there you can use, and they all have their time and place. So if you’re a practised meditator, but still have issues with your shadow, you might benefit from switching things up.
You should try focusing on meditations that direct love to your heart-space. These are, by far the most beneficial for working with your shadow and inner child. There’s a famous Buddhist meditation called the loving-kindness, where you project love onto others. Try directing that love towards you shadow.
6. Converse with Your Shadow (Through Your Higher Self)
You’d be surprised at some of the responses you get – if you do get them – from your shadow. They might not be most complimentary. But regardless of whether it’s a two-way conversation, you can still direct loving intent towards that part of yourself through the use of simple affirmations.
If you wanted to take it a step further, you could tap into your Higher Self and speak to your shadow from your expanded state of awareness. Raising your vibration in this way will help break down the mental barriers of communication and help you act from a space of personal power and authenticity.
Recognising Your Shadow and the Beauty of Darkness
Your shadow is not something to be feared.
The more time you afford it, the more you’ll realise that it was simply a lost part of you that was begging to return home.
You can’t blame your shadow for acting the way it does. It’s a natural humanistic response.
The shadow is no more guilty of a crime than someone who’s been caught in the crossfire and then accused of causing the whole incident.
Treat your shadow with love. It’s your responsibility.
But more than that it is your friend and your guide.
You have the oppurtunity to decide what type of relationship you want with it
How will you treat your shadow?
Thank you, Brenda!
this was written so well. very easy to understand and helped me more than you know