Traces of my footsteps can be found all over this planet. I’ve ambled down cobblestone paths and through grass-laden hiking trails. I once believed that I was placed solely upon this Earth to explore, but I’ve since grown discontent with that identity. I’m shedding a shallower version of myself; Every person undergoes continual mitosis.
We accept and view who we are as the good we do in this world. Most of us reject our “dark” side: the places in our psyche left cold, shameful, and discontent. In brief, we have an idealized self, and then we have a shadow self.
Have you heard of “Shadow Work”? It’s the attempt to uncover all of the hidden, buried facets of our selves. Through Shadow Work, I’ve uncovered a richer self-purpose. I found meaning behind some of my ‘negative’ actions, thoughts and behaviors. I’m shifting. Here’s what I’ve learned about recognizing the Shadow Self and working with her:
Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life.-Steven Wolf, Author and PsychoTherapist
Table of contents
- Hiding from my Shadow Self through avoidance
- How to Recognize Your Shadow
Hiding from my Shadow Self through avoidance
In each place I’ve explored, I have been searching for something. I wasn’t sure what in the beginning. In the process, I became attached to being unattached. Unattached from possessions, as I purchased and traveled with less. Unattached to ideas that used to fill me with fear. And unattached to people. Avoidance is so much easier than connection. To connect with someone deeply means that I’d eventually face a mirror, and challenge the things that I’ve been running from.
Until recently, I’ve thought that the answer to my internal turmoil lie beyond myself. The more I looked, the more beauty I find around me, but finally I realized I was looking for distraction from conflict within. A true free spirit doesn’t hide from her shadow. She creates the opportunity to understand and be understood, because life as a wandering enigma has no meaning without relation.
How to Recognize Your Shadow
The Shadow self exists within all humans. It’s based in our conditioning. It doesn’t matter how many good deeds you do, where you volunteer, or how others’ perceive you: we all have a dark side. The nature of being human is to possess both a light and a dark side, and we need to embrace that.
Society, socialization, and ego development all help in the creation of the Shadow Self. We mold ourselves to fit into the rules of our communities, and push away qualities of our psyche that don’t fit those rules. Emotions like shame, rage, anger, jealousy, competition and grief are hidden from public (and even familial) eyes. Behaviors that are seen as negative, such as laziness, addiction, and aggression are suppressed. These all begin to form the content of our shadows.
Symptoms of avoiding the Shadow
By ignoring, suppressing, or otherwise disowning our Shadow Selves, we reject facets of our nature. We don’t understand our actions, our behaviors, and potentially, ignore even our true wants and desires. Our Shadow yearns to be understood and known. By denying her, we are really denying our potential. There are ways we can recognize our shadow selves:
- Practice Self Expression
- Observe Emotional Reactions
- Commit to Your Radical Truth
- Contemplate Your Criticism of Others
What Happens When We Reject Our Shadow Self?
When we reject our shadow self, we reject a part of our personality. This is incredibly dangerous. Because our psyches want to find equilibrium and our bodies want to move towards health, our shadows will not settle for being ignored and locked away. When they stay hidden for long enough, they’ll start to take on a life of their own. You’ll then start to act out in ways that feel beyond your control. This can lead to:
- Uncontrollable bursts of rage/anger
- Emotional and mental manipulation of others
- Greed and addictions
- Phobias and obsessive compulsions
- Chaotic relationships with others
- ……etc etc
(Information from Meeting the Shadow: by Tarcher/Putnam)
What you resist, persists.~ C. G. Jung
Benefits of Shadow Work
- Clarity of Perception
- Improved Relationships (both intra and interpersonal)
- Heightened Physical health
- Psychological Maturation
- Psychological Integration
- Increased Creativity
- Compounded Energy
The integrated individual experiences more mental clarity because they understand their deepest desires, wants, and beliefs. Through a healthier psyche, you will be able to see others and yourself as what we all really are: without over-inflating someone or under-inflating your own importance.
This type of work will reduce your own emotional baggage. Baggage, even the invisible mental stuff, is draining. Without it you will see increased energy and even improved physical health. The mind and body are connected, after all.
Working with Our Shadows
The shadow must never be dismissed as merely evil or demonic, for it contains natural, life-giving, underdeveloped positive potentialities too. Each facet of our shadow personality aches to be understood, not suppressed. By understanding ourself, and reuniting these parts of our personality, we are understanding our true inner turmoil, and behaving kindly to the soul.
Working to understand the Shadow is vital to self-development. Without uncovering the true wants and desires of the shadow, a person cannot be whole. They have a reduced sense of self. Luckily, it’s not
Examples and Archetypes of the Shadow Self
The shadow is a primordial part of our human inheritance. Try as we might, we can never eluded her. The brighter our light is, the bigger the Shadow. Examples of “Shadow Selves” pervade literature and pop-culture: Jekyll and Hyde, “Dexter” the Serial-killer-murder-investigator, Borderlands: (Dr. Zed and his evil Mad Scientist brother Dr. Ned), FightClub, Inception, Black Swan….even the idea of “Werewolves” is a trope for the enemy within, the dark side of our personalities. So….how does one work their Shadow self? And of what Benefit is there?
How to do Shadow Work
Doing Shadow Work has been the single most important path I’ve explored to recognize my core beliefs, self-drive, purpose, traumas, core-wounds, and projections. I have the utmost respect for this type of care. I’ve observed the inner-peace and acceptance shadow work creates. Shadow Work creates profound healing at a deep, soulful level by targeting the root of our issues, rather than shallow symptoms.
Examples of different types of shadow work include:
- Exploring your Shadow Archetypes
- Observating your Emotional Reaction
- Seeking Active Imagination (Inner Dialogue) (Re: Talk to yourself)
- Using the “Mirror Technique”
- Keeping a “Shadow Journal”
Learning about Archetypes will help you identify repeating patterns and characters in your life that you align yourself with. More importantly, it will help you identify why you identify with them…and help you realize which ones might not fit you anymore.
I spent hours reading, journaling and learning about my personality archetypes. Marie Jones’ The Power Of Archetypes had a profound impact on the way I view my past and present personality, behavior, and thought patterns.
Once you realize why you behave the way that you do, you can choose to accept or safely release archetypes that no longer serve you. Once I realized that I still reacted with a ‘victim’ mentality in some situations, I was able to change this archetype to a “warrior” and respond appropriately. Bringing attention to these types of reactions is really all I needed to change my patterns.
Watch Your Emotional Reactions
This one is vital to my mental health. I simply observe my own reactions throughout the day. I ask myself simple questions:
“Why do I feel anxiety right now?”, “Why does this bring me anger?”
By bringing awareness to my feelings, I’m able to search for a deeper meaning to my initial reactions. I discover things like:
- I feel upset when people challenge my decisions because I often feel discounted or isolated. The inner processes here have less to do with someone asking why I am behaving a certain way, but more to do with feeling unsupported in my own decisions
- I become anxious and upset when I’m late. Upon clarification, I learned I’m concerned that whomever I’m meeting will believe I disrespect them by not valuing their time.
Creating an inner dialogue, or “active imagination” as Carl Jung described it, is imperative to learning about yourself. What better way to observe your own wants, desires, and patterns than to allow your mind to wander, and follow it along that path? Have a conversation with yourself. Not only can you retrain yourself to be kinder, but you can understand yourself by having an actual conversation with yourself
(Have you ever observed the way you speak/think about yourself? I challenge you to think hard on this)
Here are some writing prompts that will help you access and work with your shadow:
- What qualities irritate you in other people?
- Do you see any of these qualities in yourself?
- Think about denial. Write down your pattern of behaviors that you might be in rejecting:
- Over Eating? Shopping? Sex Addiction?
- Ask yourself how these things make you feel. Do you feel you don’t have control?
- What is the issue?
- When did this become an issue and WHY?
- Why is it an issue and what is is taking away from?
- What do you WANT to feel once the issue is resolved and what is it taking away from?
- Write about a situation where someone labeled you in a negative way.
- How has this label affected the person you’ve become?
- If you could say one thing to the person who’s hurt you the
most right now, what would it be and why?
- What’s the one thing you know you need to do but keep
- Now, create a complete step-by-step description of actually doing it.
- Upon finishing: How do you feel?
This one is a bit like creating an inner dialogue, but more visual. Go stand in front of a mirror in your home. Simply stare at yourself for 5 minutes, holding eye contact.
Sit with the feelings that arise. Like most people, you may feel awkward, emotional, uncomfortable, or silly. Let the feelings come, and hold them. Why do you feel the way you do? Begin to peel back the layers and feel the inner reasons why you are having an emotional reaction.
Give yourself affirmation. “I am intelligent, kind and loving.”, “I have the ability to create everything I desire”, “I love myself”.
Mirror work is actually a really deep process that can take quite a bit of commitment. Here is a great article that goes deep into mirror work, how do practice, and what to expect from this practice.
Though this kind of work isn’t sexy, it’s vital to self discovery and self growth. I’ve never felt more full of life than I do now that I have reunited my whole personality, and accepted the parts of myself that I was once ashamed of.
Everything that you want is living inside of you. Through Shadow Work, you can discover a deeper, more accepting you.