Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Embrace Your Shadow & Release Your Personal Power

Last night, after a particularly vivid dream and fantastic flow of insight, my shadow tendencies poured fourth.  Fears, unhelpful thought patterns, and stifled emotions – the whole lot – revealed themselves in phenomenal clarity.

The dark side!  Does it scare you?  Entice you?  Do you know what it is?

The term “shadow” was first used by the psychologist Carl G. Jung to describe the denied or repressed aspects of the self.

Children and adolescents begin to hide away parts of themselves when they’re told – often wrongly – that these aspects are “bad” or “unacceptable.”  Then, they carry their secret stuff bag into adulthood, never consciously looking into it.  Nevertheless, these hidden aspects still shape their lives.

Can you remember moments as an adult when the prospect of revealing your real self caused you to quake?  When sudden feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment popped out of nowhere?  When you fumed about someone’s words or actions for days?

That’s how your inner shadow screams to be set free.

As terrifying as it may initially seem, opening to your shadow self – in healthy ways, of course – can release your personal and creative power so you have a chance to become all that you might have ever wished to be.

Strengthen Yourself First

But hold on a minute!  Before you jump into shadow work, you need a rock solid personal foundation.

So take time to strengthen yourself by cultivating self-love, increasing your self-esteem, and reconnecting with your fundamental goodness. Learn how to live dead center in your true self rather than at the edge of your being, scanning for external validation.

Fortunately,  you can bolster your self-confidence with these potent practices:

  • Mindfulness Meditation settles and calms your mind so you feel more relaxed and more in charge of yourself.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation, which begins by sending love to YOU, fosters a healthy appreciation for who you really are.
  • Gratitude fortifies contentment, lowers stress, and changes the way you view your life.
  • Boundary setting increases self-respect, and keeps you alert to your most important priorities.

Please don’t dive into shadow work prematurely without a positive foundation.   If you do, it could diminish your self-esteem further.  So work with these practices first to accentuate your goodness.

Face Your Shadow Side with Confidence

Ready?  Here’s how to start.

5 ways to explore your "shadow side" + release your personal + creative power #shadowside #carljung #personaldemons #personalgrowth

To be able to face your dark aspects with a light yet strong heart, you must know:

  • It’s not just you!  Everyone has their shadow side.  Fear, shame, embarrassment, or humiliation may arise, but don’t let them stop you.  These are the clues that will lead you to your shadow self.
  • It’s not your fault.  Many children pick up negative conditioning from their parents, other authority figures, or peers and then escort it unconsciously into adulthood.
  • The problem isn’t necessarily what’s in the stuff bag, but all the turbulent emotions about it.   When you work with your shadow side intentionally, these emotions will slowly dissolve.  Your previously hidden aspects may then become your greatest assets.

Implant these beliefs deeply into your being so you’ll never forget them even when shadow work stirs you up.

Safety:  An Essential Ingredient for Shadow Work

Always create a safe space for shadow work  Go gently, bit by bit.  Try to bring a playful curiosity into the process.  Infuse yourself – both sides – with love and compassion.

Should you ever feel overwhelmed, just step back.  Take a break and reconnect with your goodness.  Or get support from a confidante or therapist.  Do what you need to do even if it means taking a break for a few weeks or months.

Shadow Intelligence:  Pay Attention to Your Triggers

Now pay attention to whatever irks or triggers you:  Your unwanted thoughts and feelings, whatever you dislike about yourself, a difficult external event, or someone’s irritating words or behavior.

For example, who constantly sets you off?  The quality you dislike most about this person may be a characteristic of your own shadow self.  Of course, you may resist this truth with all your might because you’re strongly invested in denying this part of yourself.  I certainly have, time and again.

Acknowledging this doesn’t necessarily condone the person’s behavior; it’s just a possible link to your own shadow.

Now that you know the shadow story, see if you can pause and shift your focus from the other person to your own internal landscape.

  • Explore:  Is this a quality within you?  Perhaps one you abhor?  Are there unpleasant memories associated with this trait?
  • Consider:  Can you accept this part of yourself?  If not, what holds you back?

Your shadow work has begun.

5 Ways to Explore Your Shadow

Talk Therapy
I’ve dismissed psychotherapy most of my life, but nevertheless I’ve given it several tries.

During my first failed attempt, I constantly felt like falling asleep during the session.  In lieu of “resistance,” I believe chemicals from the nearby beauty shop penetrated my brain, causing the somnolence.  Even worse, the soles of the therapist’s shoes stared straight at me from her leg rest, annoying me to no end.  But, could I say that?  No.

Fortunately, years later, the right therapist appeared and my defenses – yes, the ones I absolutely do not have – softened.  As a result, I learned more about how I tick in a few short years than in all the preceding years of my life.  This self-knowledge showed me how to nourish the neglected parts of my being, taught me how to care for myself, and enhanced my relationship skills.

Psychotherapy can be an amazing way to liberate your shadow self.  If you find the right therapist.  Peer counseling formats like Re-evaluation Counseling can be equally powerful.

Body Therapy
Styles of body work that reorganize the connective tissues – like Rolfing or Bone Washing in Lomilomi – may release emotionally charged material, repressed memories, and body-based emotional blockages. Pain will likely occur during the work, but usually endorphins are released too, those wonderful chemicals of bliss.

You may be astonished by the sense of space and flexibility you discover in your new body as well as the feeling of freedom that arises when your old stories begin to dissolve.

Your Journal
Journal about what irks you, investigate a recurring aspect of your shadow, free write about a defining memory, explore your dreams, investigate a trigger, or deconstruct a blockage.

Dialogue on paper with your shadow self.  Ask her directly how to accept and integrate her fully into your life.

Your pen may become your most instrumental healing tool.

If you need inspiration, support, or a structure, consider Susannah Conway’s fabulous Journal Your Life e-course.  Susannah encourages you to get honest with yourself on the page, offering compelling daily prompts to help you do so.

Mindfulness Meditation

Through mindfulness meditation, you’ll learn to be aware of thoughts and emotions instead of obeying their every command like an automaton. When you don’t feed them, you’ll see that all these pesky thoughts and emotions dissolve on their own.

“We often wonder what to do about negativity or certain troubling emotions. In the spaciousness of meditation, you can view your thoughts and emotions with a totally unbiased attitude. When your attitude changes, then the whole atmosphere of your mind changes, even the very nature of your thoughts and emotions. When you become more agreeable, then they do; if you have no difficulty with them, they will have no difficulty with you either.” – Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse After Glimpse

With time and practice, your shadow aspects will naturally surface during meditation. The more you cultivate a spacious mind, the more you’ll be able to acknowledge and accept whatever arises, including your repressed parts.

This won’t necessarily happen the first time a memory or uncomfortable emotion appears.  You may still be swept away at first.  But, gradually, you’ll increase your capacity to respond with expansion rather than contraction, compassion instead of aversion.  As you do, the shadow elements will no longer feel so distressing, a sign of greater integration.

Loving Kindness Meditation
Just as you can nourish your good qualities through loving kindness, you can send your love to the dark corners of your mind as well.  Read these articles to learn how to practice Loving Kindness Meditation.

You deserve your own love as much as anyone else in the whole world.  With love, you can befriend every aspect of yourself.

You Can Deconstruct Your False Shadow Beliefs

As a child and adolescent, you innocently constructed the shadow as a means of self-protection and self-care.  But it’s not as solid and real as it seems.  Whatever you constructed, can be deconstructed.

As your recognize this truth, the shadow gradually looses its fearsome quality.  In fact, getting to know your shadow may become a deeply fulfilling adventure.  That’s how I’ve come to feel about it myself though I denied my shadow aspects for many years.

Shadow work takes time because these patterns have been engraved in your brain.  Then, they were reinforced for many years.

So be patient and keep going.  As you accept and integrate your shadow elements, new connections will grow in your brain, making it easier and easier to be your true self.

Wholeness, personal power, unbounded creative energy – these are the gifts of shadow work.  And you deserve to live wholeheartedly from your full and genuine self.


Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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35 Comments

  1. This is a beautiful – and necessary – post, Sandra. Thank you so much for offering it. Fully living is impossible without facing everything. If our darkest secrets stay in the shadows, they continue to propel us into confusion and unwise life decisions. And if we want to be happy and relaxed? Make friends with the shadow.

    You cover all the bases: the who, why, and how. Anyone interested in personal power or freedom could read and apply the tools you offer. Beautifully done!

    • Thank you, Gail. I’m so honored that you think so as I consider you such a deep thinker (and non-thinker 🙂 and exceptional writer.

      And, you’ve underlined the purpose so clearly when you say the shadow only leads us “into confusion and unwise life decisions.” We all want to be happy and relaxed, don’t we! Sometimes, we’re just not aware of what’s holding us back.

      Thank you for highlight the importance of shadow work to finding genuine happiness and true freedom.

  2. Wonderful post, Sandra!

    I had a LOT of false beliefs about myself, and a lot of judgement, for most of my life (so far). I had many failed attempts at therapy, and what really helped was working with an online counselor, who came from a similar spiritual perspective. In the two years (so far!) that I have been working with my therapist, I have begun to learn to stop judging and hiding from the “shadow” parts of myself, and to see that those behaviors are nothing more than rational reactions to a very distorted and misunderstood reality. A lot of what we “don’t like” about “ourselves,” is just a reaction to misperception. I’ve found that there is no need to BE better, just a need to SEE better.

    • Thank you, Bethany. I’m so happy you’ve made such incredible progress working with shadow aspects.

      I love the way you define those behaviors as “nothing more than rational reactions to a very distorted and misunderstood reality.” Perception is everything, isn’t it? The way we perceive determines our experience. This is such a brilliant insight: “I’ve found that there is no need to BE better, just a need to SEE better.” When we see better, change happens naturally.

      Your insights are so profound. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  3. Hi Sandra,

    As children we play with shadows, they appear to be so fascinating, so quicker than us, shifting positions, dodging us and then they become a part of our lives. We learn to sweep them under the carpet, no doubt as adolescents, probably because we don’t have the mental strength and forbearance to share. Those elements of embarrassment and guilt get embedded into us before we realise. We feign ignorance, we think we have forgotten them!

    I think mindful meditation is the best exorcist – it encompasses and embodies all other ways too! Thanks for the reminders.

    • Dear Balroop,

      What a wonderful metaphor for how working with our shadow might actually be fascinating and help us dissolve the fear, pain, and hurt.

      I find mindfulness meditation powerful as well.

  4. Hi Sandra,

    This is such a great post with very helpful tips for building a foundation before diving into our shadows. Very wise and helpful. I’ve been working on more self-love and compassion which is helping build that foundation as well as embracing more of my total self. Blessings, Brad

    PS, I read and enjoy most of your posts and very much appreciate your helpful wisdom. Thank you.

    • Dear Brad,

      I’m happy to know that you are cultivating self-love and compassion. I think that already starts to dilute the false power of the shadow self so I can see how this is helping you embrace your total self. And, it’s inspiring for all of us to know how beneficial it is to let more love and compassion into our lives.

      Thanks for your kind words about my writing. It’s very kind of you to express that. I’m honored.

  5. Ron Nilson

    Lots of good, insightful information and resources here! To paraphrase Joseph Campbell – the place where we’re most afraid to go is where our treasure lies. This is a keeper! Thank you.

    • Dear Ron,

      Thank you! I just came across that quote from Joseph Campbell a few days ago. So true, isn’t it! And, wonderful synchronicity to see it soon again. I’m glad to know this post touched you.

  6. Beautifully written Sandra. Shadow work is not to be taken lightly and you pour TLC into every word and instruction. Journaling is my go to method for shadow work (as always I’m a work in progress!) But in the beginning, when I first started, I found Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy to be incredibly helpful.

    • Thank you, Peggy. We’re all a work in progress, aren’t we! It’s so good to hear what has worked for you when working with your shadow, and it helps to know that it might be appropriate to move from one method to another at different stages of our growth.

  7. Jean Sampson

    Hi Sandra. How wise to say to get prepared with lots of self-love and support before doing shadow work! I actually gained the self love and self worth as I was doing the shadow work in RC (re-evaluation counseling). I went into RC full-force and did not back down from fear or any other thing that was going to stop me from getting my “self” back! I am SO grateful that several friends of mine got me into RC almost 30 years ago! Thanks for a POWERFUL post! <3

    • Dear Jean,

      Building a healthy self and shadow work can be very intertwined can’t they? I’m confident the way you approached this worked perfectly for you, and may work well for people who have your same gusto and determination! I’m so inspired by how dedicate your are to your personal growth. Thanks, as always, for sharing your story. I’ve been thinking of you and so happy to “see” you today.

  8. Jean Sampson

    Awww, Sandra <3 It touches me that you have been thinking of me 🙂
    I think what made me able to work so fiercely in RC was the level of safety and also I saw how hard others were working. If you weren't ready to face the hard stuff, you left shortly after joining because the energy was so intense and so geared toward getting people free! And I was really desperate 🙂 and ready for the "teacher" to appear. Love to you! <3

    • That’s a really good point about the level of safety, Jean. That can make all the difference in the world. I think it’s so exciting you met a group with the perfect energy for you!

  9. The beauty of it is that as you strengthen yourself and learn love yourself again – the idea of shadow and light becomes to dissolve.

    As soon as you become *aware* of a “shadow” – something/someone setting you off, any kind of suffering really – you realize that this too is you. Loving and embracing your shadow is no different from loving and embracing your light.

    And so the big challenge, for me at least, is not so much to deal with an aspect of me that could be labeled as shadow but rather to become aware of it while it’s happening. But then, the awareness comes when I’m ready for it. 😉

    It’s all good! 🙂

    Thank you Sandra!

    • This is such a beautiful way to think of it, Halina – that the separation naturally dissolves when we begin to love ourselves. Yes, remembering to be aware is challenging! Some people put post it notes as reminders in places they look often or they schedule a nice beep on their phone to remind them every hour to come back to their awareness. Those kinds of practices can help us be more aware in general, so when a difficulty arises it’s easier to greet it with awareness. Thanks for your beautiful words.

  10. Deepak, Marianne and Debbie Ford wrote a book together a few years ago on the shadow. At the time one of my daughter’s and I were in conflict. I took the book to a hotel and did every exercise in it over five days. I’m not sure I’ve ever saw my part in any conflict as I did that time. I was actually contemplating getting the book out again yesterday. I think I have my answer;))

    • That must be a wonderful book,Tess! I really feel your devotion to your daughter and to your own personal growth in your willingness to go almost into retreat and work through the exercises in this book. It sounds like it was a powerful time. The synchronicity with this post is interesting given your urge to get the book out again. That’s how life is, new challenges come up but we are better able to work with them and know the resources that will help us.

  11. Wow! What a comprehensive and full post Sandra! I love the way you incorporated so many ways to help you release your personal power. I practice mindfulness in small spurts throughout the day, particularly when I’m feeling blocked, anxious, nervous, or fearful. I probably need to have a more regular practice with loving kindness work so I’ll have to check out some of the other links mentioned in this post.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Stacey! I think practicing mindfulness in short bursts through the day is a good way to go. It helps us integrate mindfulness more fully into our life. How wonderful that you can use these kinds of emotional triggers! That is so powerful and transforming. And inspiring for all of us.

  12. Darling Sandra,
    This post is FULL of so much love and insight. I love it! This is a topic many feel leans towards the negative….but least do they know it can be a positively satisfying experience to dwell and work on our shadows.
    You have put it across so beautifully!
    Lots of love,
    Z~

    • Dear Zeenat,

      I put my heart and soul into this post, thanks for seeing that! With your deep insight, you know that we must work with all aspects of ourselves to achieve our full potential. It’s good to hear your affirmation of the importance of this work. Thank you!

  13. Your ideas for strengthening yourself are priceless Sandra. This post is filled with words of wisdom that are relevant to us all.
    Thank you for this. 🙂

  14. It is so true that what most bugs me in other people is often something I hate in myself. When I realize this it allows me to feel compassion for myself and for the other person.

    I also agree that journaling is a great way to get to know your shadow self. It is a way to track how you think about things. I have found that including a gratitude list in that is also important for my mental health.

    Thanks for the helpful tips.

    • Hi Sebastian,

      It’s hard to avoid this truth about people who bug us, isn’t it? It’s so inspiring that this brings you to compassion for yourself and the other person.

      It helps the know the methods that help you the most. I agree that journal is a wonderful way to work with our shadow side. Plus, I’m doing a 30-day gratitude challenge so I’m right there with you on that one.

  15. Wonderful wisdom here and thank you for the link. Very grateful
    I agree with you the journal can be a wonderful tool for releasing the dark shadows. I have also found that Brandon Bays journey work has been powerful for me, especially at discovering shadows I thought I had dealt with.
    Namaste xx

    • Suzie,

      You’re very welcome! I love your heart whispers gratitude challenges. Yes, shadows can be slippery sometimes. I love hearing how you work with them!

  16. Hi Sandra,
    You just touched a chord somewhere.
    We all inevitably have these “shadowy” experiences.Not just through dreams but in our hum drum life as well.
    Fears,apprehensions,doubts,resentments,worries,inexplicable niggling feelings;they are all pretty real.Cant just wish them away.
    Resisting them only fortifies their presence,and you don’t want that.
    One way i find effective enough to meet them is acceptance.Just sit quietly for a while,close your eyes.Tune in.Let these wibber gibbers come out.Then stay calm as you let your deeper mind accept them. One at a time.It takes a while,as things settle down,and a peaceful perspective calms you.
    The truth is that this whole world,warts and all,is a tool you and I have inherited to evolve along our soul journey.That’s why it helps to first accept this world completely,before we set out to “tweak the mold” to our taste. Thoughts,and fears are part of this world stuff.
    Thanks
    Mona

    • Beautifully said, Mona! I so agree that acceptance is the key. Mindfulness meditation can help calm our mind so it’s easy to find acceptance and even humor about how we normally react.

      You’re so right. If we could see each experience as an opportunity to evolve, it would make such a difference in our life.

  17. Stephen

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I began my journey inward with shadow work, but it had been so long, I had nearly forgotten. Sometimes, we just need to get back to the basics! This has been an immense help for me this week so far.

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