What is shadow work in spirituality? It is a spiritual approach to confronting and dealing with your ‘dark side’ and in the process bring light to your own darkness.
We all have personality traits that we’re proud of and other darker aspects of our personalities we want to remain hidden.
You may have heard the darker side of every person be referred to as their “demons”.
These demons, for the most part, stay buried deep down within us, far from prying eyes. Sometimes, however, they may surface for everyone to witness in all their ugliness.
But perhaps it is unfair to think of your demons as the uglier side of you.
Perhaps, by the end of this article, I will have helped you have a change of heart and realize that reconciling with your demons is crucial for your mental health and one of the most significant milestones of your spiritual journey.
I write this article in hopes of assisting you on the path to a version of you that is authentic to itself.
To do so, you need to exercise Shadow Work.
Only by owning the most wounded and isolated parts of you, those that lurk in the deepest, darkest corners of your subconscious mind, can you truly become whole.
This process is called shadow work.
Once you begin shadow work, you will soon open the gateway to unconditional self love, bringing you peace and clearing the way for personal growth.
A Word To The Wise
Before you start practicing shadow work, it is essential to ensure you are in a good place with your self-esteem.
The consequences of undertaking shadow work if you currently struggle with self love could be dire.
This practice forces you to confront the worst parts of you, and if worse comes to worst, you may end up in an inescapable loop of hatred and loathing yourself, setting you years back in your spiritual journey.
What Is Your Shadow Self?
To put it simply, shadows contain your dark feelings that you hide from the world.
It is the side that knows your secrets, darkest impulses, desires, and everything you deem too shameful to let the world know.
Lurking deep within your unconscious mind, the dark side of you carries your baggage; the feelings and emotions you repress, such as hatred, anger, greed, selfishness, deceitfulness, and jealousy.
Origins of the Shadow Self
This concept was conceived by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that each person contained a shadow and that repression of this part of oneself would only make it darker.
Jung believed that when one shuns one’s character traits, the only outcome is sabotaging oneself.
How is the Shadow Self Formed?
People’s shadows are usually an amalgamation of childhood experiences, the natural progression of the ego, past trauma, and conditioning and socializing.
How Are People Affected By Shadow Selves?
There are numerous ways that one’s shadow affects their life and well being.
Addictions, self loathing, mental and chronic illnesses, and numerous neuroses are all products of the shadow selves.
Repressing your demons for too long often boils over into psychosis and other extreme behaviors such as profoundly harming others, mentally or physically.
The shadow side often surfaces when a person consumes intoxicants and lowers their guard.
Luckily, with professional help, it is always possible to explore your shadow side and stop it from taking over your life.
The Subconscious Mind and Its Role In Shadow Work
The shadow is synonymous with the subconscious mind because the latter is the part of us we are not aware of.
Conversely, the light corresponds to the conscious mind since it can be seen and noticed.
Everything that you cannot accept about yourself finds its way to the back of your mind.
As soon as you deem something or some part of you to be wrong, it is a cue for you to ignore, deny and repress it.
Your subconscious mind is behind many of the things that you do without realizing why you do them.
Falling back into unhealthy patterns is easy even as adults because the shadow exists outside our realm of consciousness, and thus conscious control, in the form of our limiting beliefs.
How To Practice Shadow Work?
Of the many exercises available to get started with shadow work out there, the following are the few I highly recommend you try and incorporate into your own life.
Be Attentive Of Your Emotional Reactions
The crux of this technique is that whatever you direct your energy toward will give you power.
Instead of suppressing it, the next time you encounter something shocking, disturbing, or morbidly exciting, try paying attention to it.
Really sit in it.
This practice can give you valuable insights into who you are based on what you allow to have power over you.
It helps you figure out which parts of you are wounded and by what and help you start your journey toward fully accepting every part of you.
Express Your Shadow Self Through Art
What better way to unleash hidden feelings and desires than through the highest form of self-expression— Art.
Start with a medium that you’re comfortable with. Anything that works for you will work.
More importantly, don’t worry about your talent as an artist, and don’t spend too long planning.
Let your hands and your medium of choice, a pen, pencil or paintbrush, do the talking.
Start a Project
Use the process of creation to your advantage.
Even though art has the tendency to bring some strong emotions to light, turning art into an ongoing project can bring you joy and fulfillment.
Keep a Shadow Journal
Daily journal entries are a great way of shining light on the shadow aspects of your personality. When you read back on them and become self aware of how positive aspects and your rejected self exist within you, you’ll be able to regain some much-needed balance and harmony in your life.
Explore Your Shadow Archetypes
Like the conscious you, your shadow can also have defining characteristics known as a Shadow Archetype. The most common ones you’ll find through cursory research include:
- The Sorcerer
- The Dictator
- The Victim
- The Shadow Witch
- The Addict
- The Idiot
- The Trickster
- The Destroyer
- The Slave
- The Shadow Mother
- The Hag
- The Hermit
Have an Inner Conversation
As silly as it may sound at first, inner dialogue with your shadow is essential for inner peace.
Another term for inner conversations coined by Jung is Active Imagination, and it is commonly used in psychotherapy as a means of communication with other sides of one’s ego.
All you need to hold a dialogue with your shadow is to find a quiet place, sit and close your eyes, empty your mind and focus solely on the present moment.
When you have a question you’d like to ask your shadow, say it in your mind.
If done right, you will soon be able to see or hear the answer, and you may be in for a surprise when you hear these answers!
Use the Mirror Technique
This is the process of understanding what parts of yourself, including negative emotions and positive feelings, you are projecting onto others around you.
Practicing this technique requires that you acknowledge that the people around you are mirror images of you.
Consider what you like and dislike about the people you come in contact with, and understand the hidden projections there.
This process can contribute tremendously to your personal development by highlighting the qualities you admire and those that you deny and suppress.
Why Are People Averse To Shadow Work?
Admittedly, the shadow is a touchy subject. Most people struggle with self image, and the last thing they want is to be hyper-aware of all the flaws they worked years to bury.
Many spiritual teachers, lifestyle coaches, and psychologists are proponents of shadow work and its benefits.
To the laymen, this is one can of worms they would like to stay as far away from as possible.
To avoid confronting what the shadow part holds, much focus on only the light, but this is merely escapism.
The dark is just beneath the surface, waiting to rear its head.
Would you rather face your fears and unpleasant behaviors in healthy ways, or wait until the shadow manifests itself when you are least expecting it?
Instead of running away, it is always the better choice to make peace with the shadow.
What are the benefits of Shadow Work And Self Awareness?
You can benefit from practicing shadow work in several different aspects of your life.
Here are just 13 examples of benefits you can gain by implementing shadow work into your self-care practices.
- Gain self compassion
- Unlock your creativity
- Build better relationships
- Learn self-acceptance
- Unearth your Golden Shadow
- More confidence to live authentically
- Increased mental, emotional, and spiritual clarity
- Become more compassionate and understanding toward others, even people you dislike
- Discover your passions and ultimate purpose in life
- Better physical and mental health
- Become fully immersed in life experiences
- Tap into your Soul or Higher Self
- Regain the feeling of wholeness
Shadow work plays a crucial role in helping you achieve a certain spiritual level and gain peace.
By becoming aware of the parts you suppress, you can begin to start accepting yourself and, during the process, feel accepted by others.
No one in the world is free from shadows.
Many people exhibit certain behaviors that indicate an overwhelming presence of a dark side well into adulthood.
The part of you that breaks away from you and hides as a trauma response needs to be reconciled, for you live a fulfilling life.
Start shadow work today under the supervision of a licensed therapist, for only when you jolt yourself hidden parts awake and make your unconscious conscious can you truly take control over your life.