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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
What has been your experience working with your shadow side? Have you found more peace and wholeness through doing so?
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