Shadow Work with the Shadow Self
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Are there parts of yourself that you’ve been conditioned to hide or repress? Are there aspects of your life experiences that bring up shame, making it difficult to confront or even think about them? If so, you may have encountered your “shadow self,” a phrase coined by Carl Jung to describe the latent parts of ourselves we reject and, therefore, choose to not acknowledge. In order to heal deep-seated shame, we must engage in shadow work to shed light on these concealed pieces of us with compassionate curiosity rather than judgment. Shame is demotivating and keeps us stuck; it loses power over us when it’s shared.
The shadow self develops from parts of ourselves that are difficult to accept. As children, we may have been praised when exhibiting certain aspects of our personalities, which then encouraged us to highlight those parts. There may have also been parts we were punished for, teaching us that we should hide or disconnect from less desirable parts of ourselves. Because we need caregivers in order to ensure our survival growing up, we learn to become the roles we’re given and adapt to the expectations placed on us. These expectations may even become internalized as a voice we can no longer separate from ourselves.
One example of this may be being scolded for being outspoken or confident when younger. Therefore, when we perceive others exhibiting these traits, we might feel angry or resentful because we were programmed to believe it was “bad” or “inherently wrong.” In reality, it is a part of self we were made to disconnect from and bury in our subconscious mind.
Shadow work is about making the unconscious conscious in addition to finding ways to re-integrate the parts of ourselves we feel shame around in a way that better serves us in our relationships with others and with ourselves. Shadow work exercises might include using journal prompts in order to aid in re-examining your thoughts, feelings, and assumptions. For example, you might reflect on someone who triggers you or the traits you often judge in others; then, you might ask yourself if you hold any of those traits within you or if you are similar to the person you dislike. Another approach might be to work with a therapist who can engage in socratic questioning and exploration by asking objective questions that elicit critical thinking in order to rewrite old narratives and beliefs we hold about ourselves.
Shadow Work Benefits
There are a plethora of benefits that may arise from engaging in shadow work. Not only does this process promote intuition and self-trust, but it also can engender inner child healing. It is empowering to free oneself from the unconscious shadow, which inherently holds more power when it’s suppressed than when it’s viewed compassionately in the light. This also allows us to step closer towards self-actualization, or fulfilling one’s full potential.
Regardless of what your shadow work journey looks like, it is vital to identify and anticipate triggers, show yourself grace, and ask for help when you need it. It may be beneficial to enlist the guidance of a trauma-informed licensed professional to help keep you grounded and find acceptance around the fear of what you may discover while engaging in shadow work.
Compassion in community is how we can not only heal but partner with our so-called shadow selves.