Shadow Work has become a popular term in recent years, but it's a concept that has been around for centuries. Carl Jung talked about the shadow-self in the form of dreams, and it is believed that ancient human sacrifice was tied to appeasing the shadow of the community. Historically, shadow work has been done to the benefit of society, but in today’s world, we’ve all but forgotten to look for our shadows.
The shadow self is the part of you that you hide from the rest of the world and ignore. You may even be hiding it from yourself. We hide these parts because they are undesirable; things like bad habits, traumatic memories or unpleasant personality traits. We like to pretend that none of it exists and suppress it all. But the shadow doesn’t work like that. It’s like locking a kid in the closet for misbehaving. The end result is only more trauma.
The goal of shadow work is to work with and ACCEPT your shadow self, because at the end of the day, it is part of you. Really, the only reason it appears undesirable is because you haven’t taken the time to understand it. The goal and result is returning to a sense of wholeness, release of heavy burdens and finding self acceptance. You will begin to truly love yourself once you begin understanding your shadow, because to understand is to love.
So how do you do shadow work? Well, the basic concept is going to be self reflection and giving your shadow space to exist. What does this look like? It’s actually allowing yourself to feel and think about what you avoid and at the very least trying to understand it and accept it. If you feel upset, feel that anger and frustration and explore the cause; let yourself know that you understand. If you avoid a memory, give yourself a safe space to explore it and feel the pain, letting yourself know that how you felt then is valid. If you have a personality trait or belief system that isn’t beneficial, ask yourself where it came from and let yourself know that it’s not your fault. It's all about getting to know yourself and how you became the person you are now. While some of the trauma you may have experienced wasn’t your fault, as an adult it is your responsibility to begin healing it.
Below are some basic techniques used for shadow work. It's all going to be about understanding yourself at a core level. As painful as it may get, feeling that pain is ultimately what will allow you to finally release it and integrate your shadow.
Journaling - often in the form of prompts, journaling works by giving you the space to feel and process your emotions or shadow. This can be done proactively by daily journaling which allows you to process current emotions and prevent the development of a shadow or reflectively in the process of healing an already developed shadow (unrecognized emotions). Here are a couple great prompts to start with:
1. Write a list of everything you love about yourself. Continue journaling about how easy or challenging this process was and how materialistic or emotional the list is. Neither is bad or good, but it can be telling what you value more and where you may need some development.
2. Describe the relationship you have with your mom or dad. Do you talk often? Do you feel comfortable expressing your true self to them? Do you seek their approval? Really dive deep.
3. What areas of your life are you unsatisfied with and why? Do you have limiting beliefs or preconceived notions about how those areas should unfold? How were those areas represented to you as a child?
Age Regression Mediation/Hypnosis - this technique has been used in traditional hypnotherapy for years and is much more in depth and thorough, making it perfect for deep trauma. It involves finding traumatic events and reliving them in order to process and heal the emotions that occurred at the time of the event. As I said, this is a thorough technique and requires an entire post of its own to explain (coming soon), but you can research or talk with a hypnotherapist to try this technique if you can’t wait.
Inner Child Work - by far the most heart warming, this technique involves not only acknowledging but listening to and honoring your inner child. We all have an inner child, a part of us that is somewhat stuck at a certain age and is in need of being heard. A simple method for this is sitting with your inner child in meditation and asking what they want to do that day…. And actually doing it. This process teaches the inner child that they can rely on you to truly hear and understand them, which allows them to integrate rather than being a shadow.
Meditation - the all encompassing technique. Having a meditation practice will enhance nearly any shadow work technique you may try and can be a technique within itself, especially starting out. This works because in meditation, we learn to be the observer of ourselves. For a lot of us, we may not even know how to identify our own emotions. Sitting with yourself gives yourself the space to exist. Giving yourself that space may in itself bring forward shadows and emotions you weren’t aware of. It can also give your emotions the space to exist without judgement or punishment. And at the end of the day, that’s all your shadow wants, to be seen and loved despite any difficulties.
It’s all about finding love for yourself, true unconditional love. And like they say, you can’t love anyone else until you love yourself. Doing shadow work will help all areas of your life and bring you to your highest alignment. Enjoy the process of getting to know yourself.