How we define “the shadow” today comes from the term coined by the psychiatrist Carl Jung. In short, shadow work is getting to the bottom of why you react in the way you do when acting impulsively or unconsciously, especially in ways you are ashamed of. When you uncover these deeper parts of yourself, it is called “meeting the shadow self.” You must then accept these parts of yourself you have tried to disown. The ability to integrate the shadow leads to balance and wholeness.
The Shadow Self
In some parts of the spiritual community, you will find spaces that are “love and light only” and only focus on the positive. While this sounds good in theory, the shadow we all have is pushed deeper and ignored, causing us to, at best, lose ourselves, or at worst, lash out from a place of unconsciousness. Without meeting your own shadow, you cannot be the best possible version of yourself. Many people like to focus on light work, but what is the light without the dark? Life is full of polarities and opposites that are essential to one another.
If you are familiar with the three souls model, the shadow self is found in the lower self, particularly in ignoring this part of yourself that is connected to feelings and emotions. It is the part of yourself that reacts according to your wounds and traumas to protect you from being hurt again. It is not bad or evil, it is an important part of yourself. This is also where our intuition and other primal instincts reside. To access your lower self is essential to also access your higher self. As defined by Mat Auryn in his book Psychic Witch, ”To address the Shadow Self is to take an honest look at ourselves through introspection.”
Ways to Meet Your Shadow Self
If you recognize a time when you reacted from the wounds of your shadow self, take some time to journal about it. How did it make you feel? Why did you feel that way? How did you react? What happened when you reacted in this way? Why did you react in the way you did? Keep asking yourself questions until you meet your shadow.
Tune into the way you are feeling now. Observe that. Then think to certain situations where you tend to react in a way you don’t like. How does your body feel? What emotions are coming up? Observe that. Can you trace these feelings back to a time when you were wounded in a situation like this? Or maybe you were made to feel a certain way at one time and you carry it with you every time a similar situation arises and react from your shadow. Bringing awareness to your shadow brings it to the light to help you remember the way you react is not connected to the present but instead, the past.
Oftentimes, things we cannot process consciously, our minds make an effort to process while we are asleep. Once you start incorporating shadow work into your practice, your dreams may be significant. Keep a dream journal and see if any of your dreams can help you uncover your shadow. A dream interpretation tarot spread can also help since tarot also helps pull things from the subconscious.
The next step to shadow work is to love and accept the wounded part of you so it can’t unconsciously hurt you or others anymore. Once we are conscious of our shadows, we can begin to work with them instead of pushing them back into their dark corners. If you keep pushing them down, they will continue to come up in ugly ways. But when they are understood, they can become a non-threatening part of yourself. In Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft, he calls these your “Sacred Wounds.” Once we learn how to work with them, they become our strengths. Here are a few ways you can integrate your shadow.
Working with Your Shadow Self
- Talk about your flaws and the things you feel ashamed of with people you trust. Admitting to your shadow is the first step to integrating it. When you bring it into the light, it has less power over you and grows smaller, eventually becoming an accepted part of you that you understand and therefore can be used for the benefit of yourself and others instead of destruction.
- When your shadow begins to rear its ugly head, take a breath and pause. Recognize when you are projecting your own wounds onto someone else and what that means for your need for healing in yourself. You’ve journaled about your shadow and spoken it out loud to those you trust so you should be able to recognize it by now and catch yourself before you react from a place controlled by your shadow.
- Gently tell your shadow it is no longer needed and thank it for helping you. Sometimes as you journal, you may find it was a way of survival or motivation at the time it manifested. Jealousy, for example, could show you what it is you want. So instead of being angry at the person you are jealous of, allow it to guide you to do your own work and thank your shadow for showing this to you.
Recommended Reading for Shadow Work
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