Understanding what the shadow is and doing shadow work is an essential part of self development that will help you grow, heal, reclaim your personal power, expand your consciousness and move you more into alignment with your most authentic self.
In this article we’re going to cover 'What is the shadow?', 'What is shadow work?' and '5 ways to do the shadow work.'
Let’s jump into it!
What is the Shadow?
The Shadow self makes up the parts of our personality and our human nature that have been hidden away and even rejected. Our shadows are aspects of ourselves like desires, needs, ideas, characteristics, weaknesses and even strengths that have been suppressed but exist within our unconscious self and contribute to the way we operate and move through the world.
The shadow can be thought of as the part of ourselves that we, unconsciously, don’t want people to see or the part of ourselves that other people don’t want to see and so it is hidden either intentionally or unintentionally.
When our shadows are not identified and integrated, they can really take the wheel when it comes to how our personality and actions play out. A repressed shadow influences how we react, the way we communicate, the way we process information, our belief systems and even the way we move our bodies. The suppressed shadow might take over these aspects of ourselves and it can feel like we are disconnected from the things we’re saying or doing.
An unintegrated shadow can show up as defensiveness, meanness, narcissistic tendencies, inability to be vulnerable, selfishness, being reactionary, ignorance, repeating cycles that boost the ego, or saying and doing things that are not in alignment with what we actually want or desire. all of which creates deep power loss.
A repressed shadow can play out in a lot of negative or destructive ways that really feed the ego, but the suppressed shadow is actually not always a negative thing. Beautiful parts of yourself could be suppressed, creating this internal conflict that you are acting on.
Here are a few examples of how repressed shadows can play out:
For example, maybe when you were younger you were assertive and opinionated, but at some point someone said you were too loud and bossy. So as you got older, you stopped using your voice and became an incessant people pleaser which now affects your relationships, energy levels and self-worth.
Maybe as a kid you had a bit of a temper because no one ever taught you how to process your emotions and you had emotional immature role models. So you were told that your emotions were bad and a sign of weakness. Then, as an adult you either repressed all emotions or had absolutely no control over your emotions resulting in abuse.
Maybe as a kid you were bullied and told you you weren’t good enough. So as an adult, you grew an inability to be vulnerable and say how you feel resulting in missed opportunities and loneliness.
Our suppressed shadow aspects are not necessary scary parts of ourselves that are hidden away. They are essentially any aspect of our personality and nature that has been suppressed which can lead to destructive or out-of alignment behaviour.
Our shadows contribute to who we are. But, if we are unaware of our shadows or choose to ignore them then an internal conflict will inevitably begin to brew and pour over into our physical and emotional lives. This conflict occurs between the person we want to be and the person we actually are.
More than that, if we don’t take responsibility
for our shadows then we will project them onto other people which can then darken other people’s unconscious shadows selves. There is a bit of a domino effect with humans when we start doing the work to bring our shadow to light; when we do the work, it can inspire others to do the work too. But if we let our shadows fester in the dark, then that has an effect as well.
Let’s talk about Carl Jung for a second here: Carl Jung was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst born in the late 1800s and a pioneer in his field. His work is credited with bringing the concept of the shadow self to mainstream psychology and thus making this work more widely understood and accepted.
Obviously, shadow work existed long before Carl Jung was on the scene, particularly within more spiritual settings like shamanism, but he conducted years of research and studies that have helped people bring their shadow selves to the surface. Jung, for example, really brought forth the idea that the shadow forms in adolescence.
As soon as we’re born projections are placed on us by the people around us and our environments. For example, maybe we have a parent who thinks showing emotion equals weakness and so we begin repressing our emotions as a way to cope with our environment. Every single person on the planet has shadows formed in their childhood, but if we don’t recognize that we have shadows and continue walking through life like this then those shadows can mount even as adults.
It is possible though, that our soul brings shadows from past lives into this incarnation - this is definitely a more spiritual concept that defers from mainstream psychological views of the shadow and I’ll touch on this a bit later.
The shadow is also our reflection. When we look at somebody else and see things that we don’t like or that piss us off, those aspects of that person can be a reflection of our own shadows. But, if you become aware of those shadows and they can be integrated into your consciousness then you’ve given yourself the choice on wether to act on them or not. When we are aware of our shadow, we can choose not to project it onto other people. This is why it is so empowering to bring our shadows forth into our consciousness.
Ultimately, there is no shame in your shadow no matter what is lingering beneath the surface. We all have a shadow, everyone of us. There is no person in existence who is an exception. Understanding what the shadow is, that you in fact have one and then doing the work to integrate it will allow you to restore your own personal power and embrace the most authentic version of yourself helping you to create unlimited potential.
I want to quickly define consciousness and unconsciousness incase these are new ideas for you. unconscious, or otherwise known as the subconscious, refers to the part of us that is unaware of ourselves and the world around us - being unconscious resembles sort of sleep walking and operating on automatic - operating based on behaviours that were learned from other unconscious beings which ultimately creates deep power loss and detachment from one’s true self.
Consciousness, in a nutshell, refers to the opposite of that - being awake and aware of yourself and the world around you. Essentially being aware to the truths of your human nature, your soul, the universe and of the world and society. Doing the work to expand your consciousness is an act of reclaiming your power and unlearning unconscious behaviours and thought forms.
Shadow work is one of the key ways to expand your consciousness and self-awareness. But does it mean to do shadow work?
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is the act of bringing up anything that is repressed within your subconscious self - and bringing it into awareness and making it conscious. Shadow work is essentially learning to recognize the suppressed parts of your personality and nature, otherwise known as your shadows, and bringing them to the surface, analyzing them, accepting them and reclaiming them.
Shadow work will have you revisit old wounds, traumas and triggers which includes circumstances that maybe you created or that other people projected onto you. While many of us do this work alone, it’s important to recognize when you need to reach out for support - and that might look like seeking professional help while doing some of your shadow work so that you are supported.
Shadow work is also a process - it’s not an overnight thing. It can truly take years - it’s a process of self reflection and once you begin doing the work and learning the tools it can actually become a part of your daily life.
For example, once you begin expanding - your awareness for your own thoughts will begin to occur. and, overtime you might recognize when you are overthinking, then let the thoughts flow and witness them. Then, start learning from the thoughts instead of letting them eat you alive.
Maybe you were at a social gathering and afterwards you go into a tail spin of thinking “should I have said that?” “what do they think about me?” “everyone hates me” - Doing the shadow work might look like recognizing that you’re having irrational thoughts - witnessing them - letting them float on by - then being aware that you are not those thoughts - then maybe even learning from them. Are there behaviours of my own or other people that are creating these thoughts? Why do I feel unliked? This type of work will create awareness within you that will help you understand yourself and the people and world around you.
The really tough truth about shadow work is that it’s just hard to face. It’s hard to face our shadows and bring them to light because it’s hard to take responsibility for ourselves and begin understanding why we do the things that we do. But, the power lies within doing the work to take this responsibility so that our shadows are not unconsciously controlling us. Jung is quoted as saying,
“one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
Even though shadow work can be tough, we don’t need to have fear or be scared of it. Because what’s scarier than our integrated shadow is the fact that unintegrated shadows create unwell people and when the mass population is unwell - it creates a sick society and that is then reflected into nature.
Once we become aware that we even have a shadow self, and every human does, - it’s our responsibility, in time, to do the shadow work. but, how do we do it?
How to do the Shadow Work This is the part where you’re going to step into being uncomfortable by revealing what is hidden or suppressed within you and begin to reclaim those parts of yourself and step into your power. Before we jump into the 5 tips I want to give you a pre-cursor tip that can apply to everything I’m about to share. And, that is to create the sacred space to do this work.
It’s important that we have a safe space to do this work - and for many this step can be really difficult to achieve. Bringing shadows to light and expanding your consciousness can be sensitive work and so having the safe space to be able to be alone with ourselves, witness and feel can really benefit us.
Creating sacred space isn’t just about your physical space, it’s about your emotional and energetic space too. So this can look many different ways.
Maybe it’s carving out a couple hours a week where you sit down and intentionally do the work behind a closed door where you’ve set the mood.
Maybe it’s committing to meeting with a professional a couple times a month to seek support and perspective.
Maybe it’s identifying the un-safe people in your life and detaching from them so that you can safely expand without being inundated by their projections or your fears of their projections.
Creating sacred space is a habit, and habits build. So just take the first step and then devote yourself to taking another one after that.
Here are my 5 tips on how to do shadow work:
Tip 1: Observe Without Judgement
Once you’ve set the intention to begin doing shadow work, start observing and witnessing your thoughts and actions and try not to attach any judgements. Try to acknowledge what you’re observing, learn from it and let it go before it turns into an active judgement.
This practice creates self-acceptance and is honestly a bit of a skill that you’ll develop as you devote yourself to it. Practicing forgiveness here can be really helpful because you might judge yourself or others even when you try not to. So forgive yourself and let yourself make mistakes when it comes to detoxing from judgement.
Observing yourself without judgement, or as little judgement as possible, allows you to begin seeing that you are not the intrusive thoughts you’re having and you have a choice when it comes to how you react and respond. Doing this, will help you identify your shadows more clearly and precisely as well as begin to understand how those shadows have contributed to the way you are or have been.
I talked about observation without judgement as well in my ‘How to Love Spending Time Alone’ video so if you want to dive even deeper into this then definitely check that video out after this!
Tip 2: Journal
Journalling is one of the most effective and revealing ways to do shadow work. Journaling helps us to reveal and heal. It’s such a powerful way to dissect your inner world, learn from it and let your awareness of it begin to empower you.
For journalling shadow work, it’s so helpful to begin with prompts that help you self-reflect. Some prompts that might be helpful and get you to start being introspective could be:
What do you do now, as an adult, that brought you joy as a child? Why does it bring you joy?
In what social settings do you find yourself acting out of character?
What are your limiting beliefs? How do they hold you back? What would your life look like if you released these blocks?
When were the times that you felt wronged? How did you react? Do you still hold onto that energy?
What are your secrets? What do you feel like you can't say out loud? What do you think would happen if your secrets were released?
Ask yourself these self-awareness and thought provoking questions and then, when you’re ready, take things to the next level by adding ‘Why?’. For example, you answered what makes me angry - now ask yourself why? Journalling will help you dig deep within and begin peeling back layers until you get to the root of your shadows and wounds.
Something that has really helped me when shadow work journalling is I write out all of my relationships, connections and traumatic events. This includes looking at my connections to family, friends, lovers, and interactions and experiences that made an impact on me. I sit down, create my sacred space, choose something and write it out. This is good for me to do if there is something in particular I’m hung up on so that I can release it from my mind and body. I write out every single detail I can remember to the environment, the words spoken, how I felt, why I said or did things. I don’t hold back. This has been so helpful for me to reveal details that I was overlooking or to help me break down aspects of myself included the parts of me that I’ve repressed and why.
I even do this with the positive things so that I can embrace my strengths and positive moments and build on all that. One of the great things about journalling for shadow work is that you’ll begin to unveil your gifts along with your shadows. Journalling shadow work can feel a bit unnerving and I have definitely had the fear of, “what if someone reads this.” and that is actually why I stopped journaling as a teenager. But now I’ve come to the understanding that there is no shame in my truth. but it took me a while to get there. You could also burn your journalling when you’re done, and let the fire element alchemize that energy for you and release it back to nature and release your anxiety with it.
Download my free guide to shadow work journal prompts!
Tip 3: Inner Child Healing
Because the majority of our shadows form in childhood, reconnecting with and healing our inner child is such a beautiful and profound thing for us to do. When we’re children, we hide or repress parts of ourselves to fit in, be loved, be accepted, or even to just survive. There are so many reasons why shadow parts form in childhood. But, our inner child is a gateway to our heart space, to our magic, our purity and our imagination and creativity. Our inner child has formed the way we see the world and ourselves, and so healing the trauma and repressed shadows that formed in childhood can really reshape our realities and sense of self and the world. So doing inner child healing will reveal these repressed shadow parts and also reveal to us why they were hidden so that we can acknowledge and integrate all of it. Inner child work is powerful and it can also be quite difficult particularly if you had a painful childhood. Revisiting those wounds can be sensitive work. Start with simply giving yourself permission to heal your inner child. This alone can be a really big step that opens doors to healing. Inner child healing can look like doing a childhood review, learning to reparent yourself, creating boundaries, reconnecting with the positive and negative memories of your childhood or slowly unravelling layers to reveal hidden memories or learning to love all of yourself.
Tip 4: Past Life Regression
I talked earlier about how Carl Jung really believed that, from a psychological perspective, the shadow self forms in childhood. But from a spiritual perspective, aspects of our current shadow self could also be a result of our experiences from past lives. Meaning that we brought shadows from one incarnation to another.
Opening our minds to that possibility can really open doors to your self-development, growth and exploration which can help you expand in ways that may surprise you. Past life regression can help us get to the root cause of things that seemingly don’t make sense in this life. For example, maybe you have a shadow and you can’t pin point its origin even though you’ve tried really hard. A past life regression might bring up traumas and wounds from past incarnations that can help you integrate shadows and lessons in this life so that you don’t continue repeating cycles.
Past life regression is a type of therapy that can be facilitated by a professional either online or in person - or it can even be done alone by yourself. but I really do recommend seeking professionals first to guide you through this process.
Tip 5: Practice Self-Care and Self-Development Rituals
Devoting yourself to practicing self-care and self-development rituals will help you strip away all that is not you and allow you to be a stronger channel to your higher self. Rituals are repetitive acts that you commit to doing daily, or at the least regularly. Brushing our teeth and making our coffee are rituals. But self-development rituals can empower you and help you unveil and release things from within.
These types of rituals can look like breath work, meditation, cleansing your energy, cord cutting and journaling. There are so many self-development rituals for you to explore or even create for yourself.
Shadow parts are not just aspects of ourselves hanging out within the dark, they also live, energetically, in our bodies. Repressed shadows can manifest as physical symptoms and illness. Devotion to daily rituals help to release your shadows and their stagnant energy, helping you to create the space for your health and power to flourish.
If you're interested in seeking spiritual guidance and shamanic support during your shadow work journey, check out my offerings and reach out if you have any questions!