In any direct light, we cast a shadow. The shadow is a psychological term that represents everything within that we can’t see in ourselves.
I learned and understood how important our shadow is when I hit rock bottom after a relationship breakdown that came at an absolute shock to the core of my being.
Most people will go to great lengths to protect themselves from anything unwanted or unfamiliar. It’s easier for us to sit back and observe others shadows before we are consciously willing to acknowledging our own.
Seeing the shadow of myself after hitting rock bottom really helped me understand how I could be so switched on in some areas of life, yet still remained unaware of my poor behaviors in other areas.
Every human on earth is guilty of this and this is not at all a shameful thing. Without our shadow we have no light to emerge out from the darkness of the abyss.
Making the conscious decision to explore your shadow and do shadow work can lead to greater levels of consciousness, tapping into our creativity, increased higher vibrational energy exchanges, and, transformative awakening. This process is paramount for reaching spiritual maturity.
This blog is intended to explore the nature of the shadow and provide tips and exercises for doing daily shadow work to reach your maximum potential and improve your relationships with others, and with yourself.
Every child experiences feelings of kindness, love, and the gift of giving. But they will also experience the shadow side of anger, selfishness, and greed.
These emotions are part of our shared experiences and are required in order to learn. But as we grow and mature, traits that are associated with being good are accepted by society, while others are associated with being bad and are rejected.
Every single being alive has basic needs, and humans have basic human needs too. These needs include: physiological needs, emotional safety and security needs, as well as a need for belonging, which are al biological and instinctual.
When we were growing up, when we expressed certain attributes of ourselves we received social cues from our environment. In some cases, particularly where we were raised by broken adults, we were scolded for having outbursts of anger and disciplined for having felt this way.
Another example is that as we explored our environments and our attributes, we behaved silly and we were shamed for having behave in a silly way. Whenever this happened to you (and at any point in your life), one of your basic needs were or are being deprived.
In the examples given above, the first example deprives the child of his basic human need for self expression and acceptance, and the latter, his need to belong.
So as we grow and adjust to the world around us and to the social norms and expectations of others, we modify our behavior and learn to adapt and conform in a world we don’t really feel a belonging to.
All of the unaccepted and denied parts of us in the first important years of our lives and into young adulthood are all bundled together, and become our shadow (outside of our conscious awareness). As poet Robert Bly says:
“The child who is denied is basic human needs puts all of these rejected parts of himself into an invisible bag and drags it behind him”.
This repression of unwanted parts creates what Carl Jung calls the personal shadow.
As Carl Jung writes in psychology and alchemy:
“There is no light without shadow, and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.”
You can ignore the shadow, but know that it will be at your own peril. Any part of us that we disown within, will surely turn against us. Our personal shadow (the invincible bag that we slug behind us) represents a collection of these disowned parts.
The scariest part of this is that the shadow can operate on its own merit and without our full awareness. It is as if our conscious self goes on autopilot, while the unconscious assumes complete control of our life.
This manifests in many ways such as:
• We do things that we wouldn’t normally voluntarily do and later regret it
• We say things that we wouldn’t normally say,
• Our facial expressions express emotions that we don’t consciously feel.
The costs of remaining unconscious of the shadow will hurt our relationships with our partners, our family, our friends, and it will impact our professional relationships as well as our leadership abilities.
For instance, let us use the example of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll was a respectable gentleman,the Good Samaritan , the conscious side of the personality who took a potion to separate his darker impulses in order to create a creature free of conscience named Mr. Hyde-the personal shadow.
Dr. Jekyll could not control the actions of his darker half (free of conscience), which resulting in leading him to commit horrendous acts, which included murder.
“Such is the fate, although often not so severe, of anyone who denies his or her shadow”.
What Happens When You Repress Your Shadow?
Whichever qualities we deny in ourselves, we will see in others. In psychology, this is called “projection”. We project onto others everything that is hidden and buried within us.
If, for example, you get triggered when someone is being rude to you, it is highly likely that you haven’t owned your own rudeness. This doesn’t mean the person isn’t being rude to you, but if rudeness wasn’t in your shadow, someone else’s rudeness wouldn’t have such a hold over you. This process does not occur consciously and for the most part, we see not aware of our own projections onto others.
Our egos use this defense mechanism to defend itself in order to defend how it truly perceives itself. Our false and enforced childhood identities of being “good” keep us from connecting to our shadow self and to recognize when we are ourselves being “bad”.
These psychological projections distorts our conscious reality and creates a thick blanket between how we view ourselves and how we behave in reality. Unless we do our own shadow work, the shadow is almost always projected. It will be laid on to someone else so that we don’t have to take responsibility for it.
Owning our shadow means that we are owning our flaws, our weaknesses, our selfishness, our nastiness, our hate, and so on, and focusing on our strengths is far more enjoyable than taking responsibility for our own short comings. Exploring our shadow self gives us tremendous opportunities for personal growth and spiritual development.
In Carl Jungs shadow work theory, there are 5 benefits I would like to list here that are available to all who are willing and committed to facing their shadow:
1. Improved relationships
As you integrate your shadow side and accept your darker half, you will see yourself more clearly, you will be more grounded, you be more human, and you will be whole. When you can accept your own shadow self, it is easier to accept the shadow in others too. You won’t be as easily triggered by others, and you will have more positive communications and relationships with others.
2. Clearer perceptions
In seeing others and yourself as you are in dark and in light, you will have a clearer lens with which to view the world. As you integrate your shadow self, you’re approaching your true and authentic self, which gives you a more realistic understanding of who you are.
You won’t perceive yourself as being too superior or too inferior, you will see yourself as the beautiful and authentic, complicated creation that you are. When you are more self aware, you can assess your environment more accurately and not from a state of fight or flight. You’ll see others and evaluate situations with greater clarity, compassion, and understanding, not from fear or the inability to be accountable.
3. Enhanced energy and physical health
Dragging around an invisible bag of dross behind us is draining and it’s exhausting, even on an unconscious level. 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 because we were told not to. Fatigue and lethargy can plague an unexamined life and mental suppression can also lead to physical pain and manifest in the form of diseases which result in premature death.
With Jungian shadow work, you tap into a tremendous reservoir of energy you were unconsciously investing in protecting yourself. This can improve your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Shadow work can bring you inner strength and a greater sense of balance, making you better equipped to take on life’s challenges from an authentic place of light and unconditional love.
4. Psychological integration and maturity
When we deny our shadows and repress certain parts of ourselves, a sense of wholeness and unity is elusive, completely out of reach and something we feel is unattainable. One simply cannot feel a sense of peace and wholeness with a mind that is divided.
Integrating the shadow into our being and accepting our shadow for what is truly is brings you closer to realizing a sense of wholeness that is attainable. It’s a critical step in the process to achieving maturity and spiritual growth.
5. Greater creativity
One of the greatest benefits of Jungian shadow work is that it unlocks more of your greatest and hidden creative potential. Creativeness was described by Carl Rogers as a spontaneous occurrence in mentally healthy and integrated individuals.
Five tips for engaging in shadow work that will help you in approaching your shadow self:
1. Center yourself
This is the most important thing to do before you embark on a journey into shadow work. If you attempt to get to know your shadow self when you’re not centered in your Higher Self, you simply will not get constructive results. This is mostly because our defense mechanisms have been in autopilot fir so long that it will challenge you trying to assume control.
The shadow represents a cluster of many parts hidden deeply within your psyche.
Only from your Higher Self can you get to know these hidden parts. If one of these hidden parts has blended with tour defense mechanisms, it’s likely that it will hijack the entire process. You’ll be judgemental, critical, or confused (or all of these things). This will prevent your ability to integrate your shadow into tour authentic self.
I highly advise that when you start to work with your shadow self that you are calm, have clarity of mind and in a safe space where you can meditate uninterrupted.
2. Grow in your self compassion
Before you get to know your shadow, it is also equally important to grow in a sense of unconditional friendliness with yourself. Without friendliness and self-compassion to self, it is difficult to look at our darker dross and can be painful to see our darkness in the light.
If you’re hard on yourself when you make mistakes, it will be extremely difficult to confront your shadow due to the constant weight of the invincible bag that we carry around on our shoulders. If you’re used to experiencing feelings of shame or guilt, you will need to transmute these emotions with friendliness, self acceptance, and self compassion.
3. Grow in your self awareness
Seeing our own shadow requires a self reflective mindset, the ability to reflect and observe our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings and take full accountability for them without prejudice toward ourselves.
Mindfulness meditations help develop non-judgmental awareness and e ability to stay in the moment without involving our inner critic or other modes of judgment we have grown accustomed to.
4. Be courageous and honest
Honesty and integrity with ourselves are prerequisites for anyone attempting to do shadow work and true self honesty means that we must be willing to see all the unpleasant attributes in our behaviors and our personality. It is uncomfortable for us to come to terms with our disowned parts, which is why our ego self invests so much time and energy in repressing them.
For us to take an honest look at our attitudes, behaviors, darkest and innermost thoughts, and emotions requires courage that you have likely never had to muster up before. The rewards are worth the discomfort though, as these honest confrontations with your shadow help heal the wounds within our psyche.
5. Record your discoveries
It is fascinating how some of our disowned shadow parts try incessantly to remain completely out of our view! This is similar to how a dream slips out of our conscious mind moments after waking from our sleep. So too can our disowned shadow elude us.
Journaling is a great way to integrate all of these tips in this blog while you delve into your shadow and reviewing them periodically helps to keep on track and keep the shadows away from driving our life’s direction.
Watching our emotional reactions is paramount in this process and the more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions and how you are triggered, the better chances you will have of catching your shadow in the act!
As Carl Jung quoted:
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”.
Shadow work is the key to understanding ourselves and in understanding others.
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