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Shadow Work: A Way to Accept Your Dark Side

Shadow Work: A Way to Accept Your Dark Side

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

What is Shadow Work & Understand How to Do It

We all lead dual lives – just like hot and cold or Yin and Yang. Also, society keeps pestering us to focus only on encouraging things like love and light. And conveniently ignores the bad aspects. Similarly, there are two sides to our personality – negative as well as positive.

And the personality with negative qualities that we do not usually acknowledge is deemed as ‘shadow’. Despite suppressing, it can arise at any moment.

Also, it can come in the form of anger, social anxiety, or even arrogance. Thus, to prevent these outbursts, a technique called shadow work is of great help.

It may sound tricky but with this article, we are making it simpler for you to understand. So, let’s explore all about shadow work.

Shadow Work Infographic

Shadow Work - A Way to Accept Your Dark Side
Shadow Work – A Way to Accept Your Dark Side

What is Shadow Work?

We do not own our flaws because we are instructed to see the brighter side. However, with shadow work, we get a chance to interact with our negative side, further helping in our growth and development.

In the field of psychology, a shadow is termed as the hidden parts. Rather a human shadow is the darker side which we have forgotten or have disowned. And Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung was the one who developed this concept of ‘shadow’.

Moreover, this side is often created from childhood wounds that develop gradually in life. Then it could be some childhood trauma, jealousy or even envy, and social beliefs.

Jung highlights that when you avoid a human shadow, then it can wreak havoc in lives. Suppressing them can also lead to addiction or mental illness.

So, with shadow work, it becomes easier to face those encounters that we wish to avoid. It touches the darker side that we repress all the time.

That’s why it helps in healing and bringing calmness to oneself. Thus, shadow work helps in bringing out these unconscious desires in the front.

With this, it becomes easier to understand and heal them. With this, it is possible to combine them healthily. Thus, bringing positivity to our lives. Jung has beautifully summed up with a quote.

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

So, if you think you are born a good person. Think again! Because we all have a dark side.

So, now we know what shadow work is but there’s one more term called shadow self. Let’s see what it is.

What is shadow self?

Sometimes, we have an unconscious side that is known as a shadow self that keeps disrupting us. But we don’t know whether it is disturbing us or helping because it is hidden deep within. Moreover, it can ooze into our life, through our thinking or daily behavior.

Sometimes, it may also become our power that is hidden from the world. Alongside this, they also boast of some of the deep-rooted beliefs that we protect inside our conscious awareness, which are usually ingrained since childhood. 

Therefore, it is important to uncover this shadow self and perform an activity to strike a conversation with your dark side. Thus, engaging in shadow work is a great way to create positive change in life.

So, now we know what shadow self is all about. But let’s dig a little deeper and derive the origin of shadow.

How is the shadow born?

Carl Jung was relentlessly working to unearth the secret of the shadows. Finally, he could formulate an answer to the shadow self that is dark and hidden from our consciousness.

He relates it to childhood wherein we are burdened with rules or asked to behave in a certain way. And as a child, we know nothing and learn everything that is imparted by caretakers or parents. 

Well, some rules to harmonize in society are productive and help us to lead a happy and quality life. But certain people are not fortunate enough to learn these values. They know nothing about coping strategies or emotions.

They are raised in conditions filled with abuse, threats, or fear. And all these experiences – good and bad give birth to shadow. 

All-in-all, shadow originates through our physical development, childhood, and adulthood while trying to become civilized. 

Now we know about the origin of shadow. But before we jump to the ways of doing shadow work, let’s see the reasons why one should practice it.

Why should I do shadow Work?

While working on our shadow side, it helps in unraveling many positive aspects of our personality. It makes us more compassionate towards ourselves that we tend to ignore. Further, helping in improving our relationship with ourselves and close ones.

In addition, shadow work helps in listening to oneself and healing internally. It helps in making peace with our inner-self.

Not just this, but shadow work helps in bringing alive your inner and outer world, thus helping to express the positive side of the shadow. Besides, if you channelize your shadow-self, then it can help with your personal development.

Now you know why it is necessary to undertake shadow work. So, let’s explore the steps required to undertake shadow work.

How to do shadow work? (shadow work techniques)

1. Do not self-pity

The first step is to embrace the thought of being worthy of love and acceptance. Believe that you are not just meant for bad things, but also wonderful encounters. This will add a positive approach to your life.

When bad things strike us, we keep ourselves in that loop. We lose focus and start feeling sorry for ourselves. We always question ourselves – why is it always me? In short, we start having a feeling of self-pity.

And study states that self-pity can lead to loneliness and worrisome attachments. Instead, accept your flaws and believe that you are worthy of love. Have faith that things are going to get better for good.

2. Pay attention to your emotions

Several times, we suppress emotions to avoid any discomfort. But if we pay attention and embrace them, then it becomes easy to move on in life.

Not every emotion is bad. Negative emotional experience is the medium to know about your shadow. They help us dig deeper to know about our wounds and fear. So, stay aware of the emotional turmoil going on in your mind. Take a minute and question yourself.

  • What am I feeling?
  • How do I feel?
  • Why am I feeling?

While doing so, don’t jump to a conclusion. Instead, wait for answers. Sometimes, it might take a longer time to gain answers. But do not get frustrated or take some hasty decisions. Soul has its timeline, unlike a human.

So, it’s best to stay aware and experience emotions, with an open heart. Also, it will help you embrace acceptance in all possible ways.

3. Identify the shadow

This is the time to confront your demons. But we bury them so deep in our subconscious mind that they are difficult to unearth. But if you wish to heal then it is important to identify your shadow by keeping a track of frequent feelings.

It is difficult to detect a shadow because it is in a subconscious state. Which is why it becomes difficult to identify and heal. Amidst this, every person has a different kind of shadow.

However, there are common patterns for every individual. And some of the obvious ones are unworthiness or self-doubt.

So, in such situations, ask yourself, stay aware and note down recurring thoughts or emotions that you feel all the time. You might also come across some common beliefs like:

  • I am unworthy
  • I am selfish
  • I am jealous
  • I am least-loved
  • I don’t deserve happiness

Try to think more negative emotions. But remember to not hold back and let out everything that is going on in your mind.

4. Infuse compassion

When things go wrong, we easily blame others. We also get embroiled in guilt and shame. Instead, infuse compassion and self-love. Forget what people have done to you. Instead, try and understand their emotions too.

To hide our negative points, we tend to blame others. Amidst this, it is difficult to digest the fact that why did people hurt us. Or why did they react in such a manner? But if you wish to walk on the path of healing. Then it is important to forgive and forget.

Try and understand their side of the story. Delve into their situation and dig what leads to their behavior and emotions. Alongside, practice friendliness and self-compassion. It will help you to look at the darker side.

Remember, if lost in guilt, self-pity, or shame, then you will never be able to confront your shadow.

5. Record your findings

Our dreams have so many stories to narrate. But we tend to forget them. However, recording our subconscious mind can help to draw important conclusions about our shadows.

Jung believed that dreams reveal more than one expects. But sometimes, recalling these visions and dreams becomes impossible. So, the best technique is to record them. Well, there are many ways to record your findings.

  • Journaling: You may maintain a journal like a dream journal. In this, you can write anything and everything that comes in your mind. It will help you feel the emotional rush and unburden the vicious circle of thoughts. It will also help to uncover the layers within the unconscious mind.
  • Writing a letter: You may also write a letter to yourself or to people whom you have hurt. It’s not necessary to send it but it will help you express your feelings.
  • Meditation: Undertake meditation to relax your inner self. It will help you gain answers about your behavior. And help you dig deeper for utmost healing.
  • Feel the emotions: It’s best to face and feel the emotions. If you are scared of anything, then don’t turn your back. Instead, face it and own up to your emotions. Write about them and you will be able to explore more about them.

Practice mindfulness meditation because it will help in reducing stress and anxiety. Most importantly, it helps you promote a non-judgmental outlook and keeps you aware of the present situation.

6. Embrace the inner child

Many times, our childhood wounds are the ones that force us to think that we are not worthy of love. So, pampering the inner child with compassion is a must.

Childhood traumas are sometimes the worst nightmares caused due to parenting. And these incidents create ripples in life as well as in various parts of our personalities. They are so torturous sometimes that leading a normal life becomes next to impossible.

Therefore, it’s wise to embrace that inner child. Go back in time, and convince your inner child that “I love you, and it was never your fault.” Giving love to yourself by going back in time is one step closer to healing.

7. Pursue a hobby or a project

While creating something like an art or a piece of work, negativity might grapple you to the fullest. But if you are doing it wholeheartedly then it can invoke hidden shadows as well as joy and happiness.

Pursuing a hobby is always a blessing. It helps to de-stress as well as boosts confidence. Also, when you start creating something, then it gives birth to self-awareness and exploration techniques.

With this, it becomes easy to dig a little deeper about your darker side. Besides, while creating something new or pursuing a hobby, note down the emotions that arose. They could be good or bad but they will give insights about yourself.

For example, if you are pulled down for being non-competitive. But with the creation or perusal of a hobby, you can showcase your shadow of competitiveness.        

So, we have seen the ways of healing with shadow work. Let’s explore more and see various exercises while working with the shadow.

Shadow work exercises

Exercise 1: Strike a conversation with your inner self

Yes, many have a premonition that talking to oneself is a crazy thing to do! But we do not acknowledge that we have layers of personalities that go unnoticed. And if we continue ignoring them then they might hijack or influence our behavior.

For example, saying something then wondering, “why did I say that?” Therefore, it’s best to have an interaction with your shadow through journaling, imagining, or standing in front of the mirror. With this, integrate your shadow into your conscious self!

Exercise 2: Be friends with your negative self

A lot of times, we assume that we are “good souls.” And this identity sticks with us for a long time, thus ignoring the negative points. Therefore, start noting down all your positive sides while identifying your negative points too!

For example, you define yourself as a loving and polite person but you are suppressing impoliteness. This impolite part is hiding somewhere beneath the shadow. And it’s ok to have a negative side. But it’s more important to accept it and move on with life.

Exercise 3: Study yourself

For a week or two, start by studying your judgments towards others. When you are angry with your colleagues, friends, and family members, note down the habit that makes you angry. Also, note your feelings about them.

Further, if you have advice in mind then jot it down too. Because you think this advice is meant for others. However, this advice is redirected to you. While advising others, it may become a way to remind yourself – what wrong or right are we doing!

Exercise 4: Know your shadow archetypes

Archetypes are secret elements, behavior, personalities that influence human behavior. And they were introduced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that they are everywhere while inheriting from our ancestors.

Furthermore, Dr. Robert Moore has also laid down four archetypes – King, Magician, Warrior, and Lover.

These archetypes are the best qualities of our adulthood. But every archetype has a good and bad side. So, it is imperative to know both sides of the coin. Because it becomes easy to identify the thoughts as well as behavioral patterns in oneself.

While doing this exercise also keep a check on the psychological projections of your own shadow. For example, the qualities of other people that trigger your reactions might be your underlying unconscious shadows.

So, before we wind up our article, we want to take you through the benefits of shadow work, a little insight into a shadow worker, a shadow journal, and some books on shadow work.

Shadow Work Benefits

  1. As you come in terms with your darker self, you become focused and grounded. With this, the relationships with others strengthen on a greater level.
  2. When you start accepting the people around you as they are while accepting yourself too. You start getting a clear perception of the environment around you.
  3. Mental and emotional drain can lead to physical illnesses. Moreover, repressing dark thoughts every time makes it tiring. But with the shadow work you handle these tasks efficiently. Thus, improving the overall physical and mental health.
  4. As soon as we start accepting our dark side, then it brings about a balance in our life. It also helps in handling situations in a mature way.
  5. As you engage in shadow work, it helps in boosting overall communication with others. Moreover, it helps in avoiding the path of self-destruction and uplifts mood as well as well-being.

Who is a shadow worker?

We all know about a lightworker as a human being with awakened spirituality. However, shadow workers are a bit different as they are fiery and have darkness within them.

Darkness doesn’t bother them as they live in shadows. Moreover, they are those gifted souls that help in exploring our shadows, identifying them, and bringing them forward into the light. 

They help us unravel the hidden truth, unearth our fear, wounds, traumas, which we are unaware of! Shadow workers are persistent in their quest for darkness so that they can help us in integrating it within us.

Shadow work journal

If you really wish to dig deeper then a shadow work journal is meant for you. This journal helps you in visiting your trauma while unearthing some dark secrets of life. However, it is not meant for faint-hearted who are incapable of facing their demons.

Furthermore, this journal consists of exercises that help in uncovering your shadow self and help in utmost healing!

Shadow work books

If you want to dig deeper into shadow work, then do explore this list of books on shadow work.

1.  The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Creativity, Brilliance and Dreams

This book by Debbie Ford tells us how to confront our shadows. She suggests a step-by-step guidebook that is developed after Ford embraces her shadow.

2. Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche 

In this book by Robert A. Johnson, we are guided through the process of exploring our shadows. Like, what it is all about, the origination, process, and much more.

3.  Romancing the Shadow: A Guide to Soul Work for a Vital, Authentic Life

Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf showcase how shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality. And after acknowledging it how to utilize it on a path of healing. 

4.  A Little Book on the Human Shadow

This book is a little different as Robert Bly blends essay and verse to unearth all about the darker side called the shadow. Furthermore, highlights the importance of confronting it.

5.  Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark SideDavid Richo in his book demonstrates how shadow affects personal life, religion, relationships, and much more. Further, highlighting the practice of mindfulness and numerous exercises to work with our shadow side.

Closing Thoughts

The technique of shadow work is not easy. But it is always best to own your shadow. It will help you to discover yourself and lead on a spiritual path. And give you the ultimate freedom to live the life that you are born for!

Also, do undertake the above-mentioned work exercises to lead a greater and better life!

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