Editor’s Note: This is the view of one author. We invite dialogue and a thoughtful rebuttal or info that we can share with our readers from anyone.
“Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” ~ Carl Jung
When I first started looking into shadow work, I felt confused.
It seemed like everyone had a different opinion of what shadow work actually was and how to “do” this shadow work stuff.
From what I was reading at the time, most people felt that the shadow included the worst parts of ourselves, and in order to be successful, the seekers would need to integrate these characteristics into their personality.
This didn’t really make sense to me. Why would I want to integrate my jealousy into my personality? I understood figuring out a shadow aspect, accepting it, and working on it, but I wanted to be less of my “bad” characteristics—not more.
After many years of introspective work, I’ve found that it is about integration. However, integration can happen naturally once you discover the root of the shadow.
I’ve found that there are three major steps to shadow work:
1) You have to do the work and dig down to the roots of the shadow.
2) Unravel the reasons why it’s one of your shadow aspects.
3) Allow it to naturally integrate.
What is a shadow aspect?
A shadow is created when an object blocks the light. It can create limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our goals, or it can make us feel destructive feelings, like shame or guilt, and it can also destroy our relationships. Odds are, if you’re interested in undertaking shadow work, you likely have already started to uncover at least one of your shadow aspects. If not, there are few ways to get started.
Uncovering a shadow aspect by being curious and asking questions.
One way to do this is to get curious when we feel an emotion that seems out of place. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” For example, I was on vacation at a much nicer hotel than I usually stay at, but I was feeling extremely guilty about all the luxury. My guilt was stopping me from enjoying the amazing experience. I decided to take an hour to do some introspective work—basically just asking myself why I felt that way, moving deeper and deeper into the emotion of the “why.” Simple as that. What is making me feel this way? Is this real, or is it a limiting belief I have created? In doing so, we are unraveling the reasons for our shadows.
Uncovering a shadow aspect by looking at the mirror image of your positive characteristics.
Are you aware of all of the ways that you are awesome? Time to get self-aware! Tests like the StrengthsFinder (a book written by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton) or MBTI tests can help us find out our personality strengths. Then, you may be able to spot some shadows in the mirror of those strengths. For example, one of my good personality traits is that I am a good leader. The mirror of that could be bossiness. Another good personality trait is being super-organized, and the mirror of that could be the tendency toward controlling behavior. The “why” of this shadow aspect is wrapped up in the mirroring between our constructive and destructive characteristics.
Still don’t feel like you can identify a shadow aspect?
Try doing a timeline exercise. In this exercise, get yourself a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line. Then begin to create a timeline of the events in your life. Start with the events that have changed you (positive and negative), and note them. When you start to feel an emotion that feels out of place—typically a “negative” emotion—take a look at your timeline, and see if you can find the root of that emotion. Our past experiences can contribute to our shadows.
So, what’s this integration thing? How can we tell when we have “integrated” the shadow aspect?
Let’s go back to my first example, when I felt guilty because I was lounging in a lavish hotel room and asking myself why. Why do I feel guilty? Because I don’t deserve this. Why don’t I deserve this? I kept digging deeper and deeper until I found the root.
For me, the root issue was the fact that I felt that I needed to be perfect and never make mistakes. Once I figured that out, I was able to come to the realization that the idea of being perfect all the time is ridiculous, and it was as if a weight lifted from me, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my vacation with zero guilt.
That’s what integration can feel like, like a puzzle piece fitting back into place. It feels like a huge “aha” moment and a place of content realization. This often takes some contemplation, but sometimes will just come to you really easily, once you find the root.
There isn’t usually a specific action to take to make your shadow aspect integrate. The integration process is in the work itself. Once you have found the root and the why, the integration comes about from the contemplation itself.
You will have made that which was unconscious, conscious, and your realization can lead to the integration you desire, and a richer life.
Author: Ivy Rose Latchford
Image: Author’s own / Instagram
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina