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.
Finally, self-love and self-care have started to be normalised as everyone becomes more aware of their significance during these difficult times. They helps us healthily manoeuvre through life – taking care of our mind, body, and soul. But what exactly is self-love? It’s loving ourselves by genuinely appreciating our strengths; accepting our weaknesses; and showing ourselves kindness and compassion, unconditionally.
Human beings are complex social animals – there is no average human, we are all different in our own ways. However, due to sociocultural pressures and expectations of the ‘ideal’ individual, we often succumb to the anxieties of idealism instead of acceptance.
Self-love is accepting all parts of yourself – especially the darkest parts, which is your shadow side. It is knowing when to walk away, setting boundaries, honouring your worth, allowing room for mistakes and working your way towards being the best version of yourself (not someone else). It is remembering that you are, indeed, human – not a robot.
But fully accepting who you are does not equate to enabling your problematic behaviours.
You may have had a tough week and want to take some time to relax – which is fine, go ahead and do it! However, it does not mean that you should stray away from reality for too long and ignore all your responsibilities. Abandoning your workstation to binge watch movies for days on end (while being well aware that you have deadlines to meet) because you feel stressed is not what self-love is – it’s actually the opposite!
Protecting ourselves from the stressors of harsh realities may seem like the easiest way to deal with things because it makes us feel safe and comfortable. In turn, we get used to this and call it self-love – when it is actually a form of ego-love.
Choosing the path of achieving instant satisfaction and indulging in denial may seem like the next best thing we know for ourselves. Yet, this path does not help us grow into the person we want for ourselves. In hindsight, you’ll start to realise that this just might be the cause of your own suffering and lead to self-deprecating thoughts; feelings of inadequacy; expectations of perfection; and the root of your lack of self-love.
Taking accountability for our actions may seem difficult, but it is essential for taking the first step in fully accepting ourselves for who we are. Understanding the difference between self-love and ego love is vital to build the life we want to live in. When we love ourselves, we want what’s best for ourselves, and we do things that make us happy (even if it’s not immediate).
We know self-love isn’t as simple as it seems – we all struggle to give ourselves the love, compassion, and kindness we give others on the daily due to a myriad of factors and past experiences. But despite the complexities of it, self-awareness is key to shifting our mindsets in accepting the self as it is – whilst working towards being a better version of ourselves than we were yesterday <3
Similar to the Yin and Yang, of how two opposites complement each other to make a whole, there is a shadow-side to everything in life – especially in ourselves. Everyone exhibits some form of toxic behaviour. We are only human after all. But what’s important is that we educate ourselves rather than ignore it and continue acting the same away. If you’re ready to be honest and accountable, to be a better version of yourself, we invite you to read on!
What are the common toxic traits?
Some common toxic traits include:
- Being Judgemental
Having standards and not settling for less is one thing, but if you find yourself judging someone because of tiny, minuscule things that don’t define their character – start acknowledging that and actively stopping yourself. Otherwise, it usually implies a hidden or open desire to control or change someone.
When something bad happens to you – are you quick to blame everything around you, including yourself? It’s normal to experience bad days, but when your mind only answers and listens in a negative tone, you won’t be able to appreciate anything in your life.
In a nutshell, to ‘gaslight’ is to invalidate and/or downplay other’s emotions. Gaslighting often occurs when you listen to counter and not listen to understand. Some examples of gaslighting phrases include:
- “Relax, why can’t you just take a joke?”
- “You’re being too sensitive.”
- “You’re crazy to think that!”
- “This is why nobody likes you.”
Using mental tricks for your own personal gain is considered manipulation. Examples of manipulative ways are:
- Guilting someone into doing something for you.
- Exploiting the emotions of others.
- Using the ‘I’m a victim’ card as an excuse.
- Being ignorant of others’ emotions and feelings.
- Disregarding the consequences of their actions.
If any of these sound familiar, it could be time for you to step back and start taking responsibility for your behaviour.
How can I improve?
The first step is to acknowledge your toxic traits and areas of improvement. This could be done by nurturing self-awareness. You can do this by:
- Being brutally honest with yourself.
Recognise and admit to your negative traits.
- Being curious about who you are.
Ask yourself, “What are the qualities I’m putting out there?”, “Why do I do something a certain way?”.
- Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes when in conflict.
Viewing the situation from the other party’s perspective will help you understand them better and manage your emotions. In turn, this will change your actions and lead to a better outcome.
- Reflecting on your emotions and actions.
Review your actions and emotions through journaling or mediation, and reflect to see if you can improve the situation in the future.
When you notice your toxic traits and begin the process of realising how your trauma affects your behaviour, you can start amending and improving your personality. However, if you continue to recycle your pain, the cycles of the same situation will happen again.
Psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich offers a piece of advice, “Working on your self-awareness will put you ahead of 80 percent of your colleagues. It is the secret ingredient. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it quickly – be open to what people tell you so that you can make a significant improvement.”
Start becoming aware of your own toxic traits, even if they’re ingrained in niceness. It’ll move you a step closer towards self-acceptance and self-love!