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We hear a lot about shadow work and how important this is.
Our shadow is the repressed or denied parts of the Self, the unconscious. It can be positive and negative.
This includes our hidden talents, things we’ve suppressed for fear of others not valuing them or valuing them too much and exploiting us in some way. By working with our shadow and integrating these parts of us into our day-to-day conscious life, we are accessing our full potential. We reclaim our full energy and power. We engage in self-love, self-compassion, and acceptance of all that is us—our true self.
Ancient yogic scriptures refer to the soul (atman) as the true self. Shadowman himself, Carl Jung, said “People will do anything, no matter how absurd to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
So, what circumstances might give us clues that we could benefit from delving into our darkness and facing the whole of our soul?
The following scenarios show us it’s time to get shady and spotlight the shadow show:
>> We are in a difficult life transition wondering where to go next but finding it hard to commit and make a decision.
>> We want to find a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and reaching the goals we thought were important just doesn’t feel enough.
>> We are experiencing feelings of shame or guilt and/or low self-worth.
>> We feel stuck or overwhelmed with anxiety or depression, lacking in not only purpose but also hope.
>> We have been self-medicating life difficulties with impulsive actions or addictive behaviours, unclear what drives these and the function they serve.
>> We are judgmental of others constantly, taking an instantly negative view of things that are really none of our business.
>> We are quick to anger, aggression, and confrontation especially from the safety of the keyboard on social media platforms. There is a need to make others see things our way and find it hard to tolerate differing views. Thought patterns are rigid.
>> We are more passive aggressive and can people please but resent others for this. Then we feel let down and build walls shutting out those we feel have done us wrong. Dialogue is missing and and assumption prevails.
>> We can have a general victim mentality and blame others for things that are really our responsibility.
These kind of looping self-destructive behaviours suggest that we are driven by things important to others and not in alignment with our own soul’s divinity and blueprint.
Any intervention to change these patterns will only touch the surface if the unconscious is not considered. Initially, improvement can be felt, but often we feel better as suddenly we are presenting how others want us to. That’s fine for a while, but then patterns repeat and the shadow attempts to get our attention again.
Conscious work alone makes maintaining positive change hard as the change we have is not really the change that is important to us. The cost of avoiding the pain inside is that we create and see pain outside of us in the environment, and feel things are out of our control.
Although shadow work is gradual and involves in-depth introspection, we may ask ourselves specific questions to give us clues about what we have repressed:
1. What is the best quality that you admire about yourself? This points to your persona—the way you have created your image to survive in the world according your experiences. It is how you want to be seen. For example: adventurous.
2. What is the opposite of that quality? This is a part of you in your shadow. It may be a way you can be or a way you fear being seen as. For example: boring.
3. What would be the tragedy if you became like your shadow? For example: “If I was boring, no one would like me and I would be lonely.”
4. What would be possible if you didn’t see yourself as the persona or the shadow? For example: “I could do things when I wanted because I wanted. I would have nothing to prove, and I could simply be. I would then attract the people to me who matched my true energy.”
So what do we do when we see our shadow? Scream, smile, run, wave, hug it? When our shadow is no longer behind us but is face-to-face with us, what comes next? Seeing it is the first stage of integrating it into our self-awareness. Shadow integration is a process of bringing the hidden parts of the self into consciousness.
When the sun sets and the shadows form, how do we know we have reached a new dawn? What are the signs of integration? Old patterns shift that really belonged to those who we have adapted to in our lives to gain acceptance. We can transform anger to drive and motivation. Sadness and grief help us to find deep connection with the self and others. Fears become our insight, and we are empathic to others. We no longer need to respond defensively or passive-aggressively in order to deny how a part of the self we don’t like has reared its head in our interactions with others.
Once we have spotted the shadow, we can start the healing process. Instead of all that is bad being seen as separate form ourselves and making us feel disconnected from others as a result, we can accept and understand these parts of us. We don’t shame or judge ourselves anymore, and therefore we don’t need to project onto the world around us.
Working through the feeling of shame is the first step toward unconditional self-acceptance. We are not alone. Other people have unacceptable thoughts, desires, and impulses. We can focus on our good qualities and accept that the opposite of these may also be a part of us, but that is okay. We can talk to a therapist or a life coach that specialises in unconscious processing, not simply conscious goal setting.
Self-acceptance leads to us becoming less judgmental and more accepting of others. We are more humble. Integrating the shadow means we are more peaceful and comfortable in our own skin. Energy is released as we no longer have to suppress things and can direct that energy where we want it. Immunity improves and well-being is greater.
If we face our own darkness, we can be free to access our full creativity. We are responsive not reactive. We have hopes but are not attached to specific outcomes. Jung asserted that when we have integrated the shadow, we become self-reliant.
Our shadow is really our source of power as it’s our honesty and our passion. Integration of our shadow is a lifetime’s work.
Eventually, however, it drives us home to our true self; we just have to let it take the wheel.