The shadow isn’t a popular topic that is discussed. Nobody particularly enjoys owning their weaknesses, flaws, selfishness, insecurities, and so on – we’d rather focus on our strengths, which is more life-affirming and enjoyable.
But, as disagreeable as it may sound, there is a dark side within every person. The nature of being human is to have both a light and a dark side, and we need to embrace that. Shining the light of consciousness on the shadow takes effort and continual practice. The more you take note of your behavior and emotions, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act.
What Is Your Shadow Side?
In psychology, a shadow is used to refer to the parts within us that we may try to deny or hide, consciously or unconsciously. This term was originally explored by Carl Jung who said, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the darker and denser it is”.
Your Shadow Self is part of your unconscious mind and contains everything you feel ashamed of thinking and feeling, as well as every desire, repressed idea, impulse, fear and perversion that for one reason or another, you have “locked away” intentionally or unintentionally. Usually this is done as a way of keeping yourself likable and “civilized” in the eyes of others.
Everything we deny in ourselves becomes part of the shadow. Anything incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude about ourselves is “exiled” to this dark side.
Why Must We Do Shadow Work
When you work with your shadow, you release a huge amount of energy you were unconsciously investing to protect yourself. This may improve your mental, emotional and physical health. It’ll boost your inner strength and give you a greater sense of balance, equipping you better when facing life’s challenges.
Accepting your own darker parts makes it easier to accept the shadow in others too. Hence, other people’s behaviour won’t trigger you as much and you’ll find it easier to communicate with others. There will be an improvement in your relationships with your partner, family, colleagues and friends.
How To Start Shadow Work
Start a writing journal where you record discoveries about yourself. Writing your insights and feelings, and reviewing them later, helps encode the discovery into your awareness.
Here are some topics to guide you in what to look out for when beginning shadow work:
- Pay attention to your reactions – By paying close attention, you train yourself to notice your shadow when you witness strong negative emotional responses to others’ behaviors. Whatever bothers you in another is most likely a disowned part within yourself.
- Be honest and courageous to face your flaws and accept them – No matter how uncomfortable they make you feel. It is easier to turn a blind eye, but the rewards are worth the discomfort as these honest confrontations with your shadow help you accept them. Acceptance is the first step to real change.
- Own your projections – A vital step in shadow work. Focus on who and what awakens an emotional charge in you. No matter the emotion, this is a clue to whatever you are denying within you.
- Accept your own humanness – Keep in mind that we all have a shadow and there is nothing wrong with facing it. Ignoring the shadow enables the shadow to own us and then, real problems will arise.
- Have a self-reflective mindset – The ability to observe and reflect our thoughts, feelings and behaviours is important to see our own shadows. However, before you get to know your shadow, cultivating a sense of unconditional friendliness with one’s self is helpful to ensure you don’t spiral downwards.