“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it Fate.” —Carl Jung
What is shadow?
A shadow is a dark area that is cast by our bodies. In this case, the shadow that we are referring to is the darkness that lives inside us.
Perhaps, we are aware of this darkness and try our best to hide, push and conceal it from others. Yet, some of that darkness has been repressed so deep that we have successfully hidden it from our sight.
Unfortunately, the fact we can’t see it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect us. On the contrary, it is now living in our unconsciousness.
The interesting thing about our unconscious is that it has power over us. Some of the places we can see the shadow take hold in our lives are when we:
- Judge others harshly
- Are very critical of ourselves
- Struggle to have a healthy relationship with others
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is about making conscious the unconscious. Shining a light on the parts of you that have struggled so hard to remain hidden and out of sight.
It is not to be taken lightly or be considered easy work for we can uncover trauma and the parts of ourselves that we think about as undesirable.
Yet, through shadow work, we empower ourselves to not only love all of ourselves but also get rid of certain patterns or habits that we don’t feel aligned with who we are or are values.
By embracing the parts of us that we have worked so hard to remain unseen, you start recognizing the shadow not as a mistake or flaw, but as parts of who you are.
In this way, we can then start asking questions and exploring why we have certain thoughts or behaviors. Creating awareness then leads to being able to manage those thoughts and behaviors much more effectively.
At the end of the day, the goal of shadow work is to create acceptance of ourselves and learn to show ourselves the same compassion that we often extend to others.
Benefits of Shadow Work
Everyone can improve their well-being by doing shadow work and there are several particular benefits I will list below:
- Clarity. There are plenty of times we feel or act a certain way and we don’t realize where it’s coming from. Shadow work will help you have a clearer perception of yourself and the world around you.
- Better relationships. This happens for a few reasons:
- Accepting your shadow makes it easier to accept everyone else’s.
- Awareness around our shadows leads to being less triggered and more grounded.
- Build self-esteem. There is no greater love than the one we can show ourselves and accept all we are without hiding parts of ourselves.
- Authenticity. By bringing forth all of who you are, you will feel more like your authentic self.
- Boosts creativity. Self-acceptance leads to improved general well-being that in part leads to tapping more into our creative side.
Shadow Work Prompts
Shadow work can be done with the help of a professional such as a therapist, or coach. Yet, it can also be carried out on your own.
It is similar to the Socratic Method in the sense we ask ourselves questions or prompts. We are exploring our unconscious and bringing it into consciousness.
We examine our thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs by holding a mirror to ourselves and asking questions.
Often our shadow projects onto others, as it is easier to criticize others than work on ourselves. Here are some prompts to explore:
- Reflect on someone who triggers you
- What specifically about this person do I dislike?
- Do I behave in this way at times?
- Why is it difficult to be around this person?
- What parts of me come out when I am near this person?
Some other questions that you can reflect on to continue your shadow work journey are:
- How do you believe people see you? How would they describe you to someone else? How does that make you feel?
- What makes you feel unsafe?
- What makes you feel the most valued?
- How do you define failure? How does failing make you feel?
- Are there negative emotions you try to avoid? Which ones, and why?
It is not easy work, but it is definitely very rewarding work that will lead you on an amazing path of getting to know yourself better and improving your relationship with yourself and those around you.
Psychologist and Emotional Intelligence Coach