Updated: Sep 17, 2021
What is shadow work?
The shadow is a term coined by psychologist Carl Jung, and it refers to both our deepest wounds and the parts of ourselves that we repress or deny. Our deepest wounds have us believing we're flawed, unlovable, undeserving people. These wounds are often created in childhood, but can sometimes develop later in life.
When left unattended, these wounds fester, leading us to live from this place of deficiency. Doing shadow work allows us live from a place of wholeness and expansion. Its shedding light on those things we'd rather hide. Accepting it, all of it, and then having the courage to grow into healthier patterns and beliefs.
What is the Shadow?
The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power. All we deny in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—become part of the shadow. This shadow self represents the parts of us we no longer claim to be our own, including inherent positive qualities. These unexamined or disowned parts of our personality don’t go anywhere. Although we deny them in our attempt to cast them out, we don’t get rid of them. We repress them; they are part of our unconscious. Think of the unconscious as everything we are not conscious of. We can’t eliminate the shadow.
What Happens When You Repress Your Shadow?
Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others. In psychology, this is called projection. We project onto others anything we bury within us. These projections distort reality, creating a thick boundary between how we view ourselves and how we behave in reality.
As you integrate your shadow side and come to terms with your darker half, you see yourself more clearly. When you can accept your own darker parts, it is easier to accept the shadow in others. In seeing others and yourself as you are, you’ll have a cleaner lens with which to view the world. You’ll see others and evaluate situations with greater clarity, compassion, and understanding. It is exhausting work to continually repress and suppress all of the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to face in our adulthood.
So, how do you engage in Shadow Work?
1) Center Yourself: The shadow represents a cluster of various parts hidden within yourself psyche. Only from your Center can you get to know these parts.
2) Cultivate Self-Compassion: Without friendliness and self-compassion, it is difficult to look at our darker stuff. If you’re hard on yourself when you make mistakes, it is difficult to confront your shadow. If you’re accustomed to feeling shame or guilt, you need to transmute these emotions with friendliness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Start by accepting your own humanness & be kind to yourself.
3) Cultivate Self-Awareness: Seeing the shadow requires a self-reflective mindset—the ability to reflect and observe our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.
4) Be Courageously Honest: It is often uncomfortable to come to terms with your disowned parts, which is why the ego invests so much energy in repressing them. To take an honest look at your attitudes, behaviors, dark thoughts, and emotions requires courage.
5) Record Your Discoveries: A writing journal where you record your new discoveries about yourself is a remedy. Writing your insights and reviewing them later helps encode the discovery into your awareness. Write down what you dream about so when it slips out of your mind moments after awakening, our disowned parts can elude us, you can try to remember it.
Robert Moore outlined the structure of the psyche in archetypal terms. Moore suggests that the four primary archetypes of the psyche are the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover. Each archetype possesses qualities we define as the best attributes of mature adulthood. Each constructive archetype, there is a destructive shadow.
For example, the shadows of the King is the Tyrant and the Weakling. The shadows of the Warrior are the Sadist and Masochist.