Step into Your Power by Getting to Know Your Shadow.
Carl Jung, father of modern psychology and popularizer of the term “shadow work” wrote:
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
In psychology and spirituality, “shadow work” is essentially what we do when we consciously investigate the parts of ourselves that we’d normally prefer to keep hidden. This often involves looking at what we perceive as our “negative,” “unattractive,” or “undesirable” impulses and traits.
By bringing what has previously been in darkness out into the light of awareness, we become more integrated and self-aware. When we engage in shadow work, we don’t become monsters or clowns or outcasts as we had previously feared. Rather, we become empowered to forgive ourselves for what we’ve previously hidden out of fear of being unloved or unlovable. This allows us to accept and approve of ourselves more than we did before, which in turn helps us to feel more grounded, more powerful, and more comfortable in the world.
There is no one who doesn’t have both “positive” and “negative” desires, impulses, and traits. For example, we all have narcissistic tendencies. We can all be selfish at times. We all have mean-spirited thoughts. None of us get through life without making social gaffes, feeling awkward, and seeing ourselves as the odd man out. When we are not honest with ourselves about these and other “undesirable” feelings and qualities, it’s like they’re hiding from us, so they can easily sneak up and sabotage us when we aren’t looking. If they’re not hidden, on the other hand, we reverse this dynamic. We hold power over them instead of the other way around.
Often, we think of shadow work as a drag, because who wants to look at the “ugly” parts of themselves? But shadow work can actually be fun. When you remember that everyone has qualities they’d preferred to hide in the shadows, and that your shadow aspects aren’t the entirety of who you are, you can learn a lot from your less saintlike or socially approved aspects. For example, shadow work can teach you to transform drudgery into playfulness or heartbreak into joy by laughing at an “inappropriate” moment. Shadow work can help you create beauty out of past pain. And shadow work can help you “break the rules” in order to set yourself free.
But how do you get started with shadow work? How do you actually “do” it? Here are 5 places to start.
1. Ask Yourself: Who Am I Jealous of? Whom Do I Envy?
Your shadow aspects are not always “unlovable” in the eyes of the world. Sometimes, we actually suppress the beautiful and light-filled aspects of ourselves out of a lack of belief in our strengths, talents, abilities, or general worthiness. Or maybe we think we’d be “showing off” if we let our inner rock star out. The people we’re jealous or envious of serve as neon-lit arrows pointing to these shadow strengths, because jealousy and envy almost invariably point the way to something we’re not expressing or claiming in ourselves. If you are jealous of three people, or five people, or twenty people (people you know personally or famous people you only know from afar), what traits or behaviors do these people have in common? And how can you begin to embody these traits or behaviors yourself? In the immortal worlds of Lao Tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
2. Ask Yourself: Who Annoys or Irritates Me?
Whether you are especially annoyed by a friend, a family member, a coworker, or someone you only know from television, annoyance is often an X that marks the spot above a shadow aspect in your own psyche. Most likely, whatever it is that annoys you is acting as a mirror, showing you something you really don’t want to see in yourself. This is not to say that you are exactly like this person in every way, or that you should be more like them, or anything of the sort. It is simply a clue. Once you bring the shadow aspect into the light – in other words, once you simply admit it to yourself and let it have a seat at the table of your awareness – you will likely be much less annoyed by the offensive quality in the other person. You can also be more in control of it, so it doesn’t sneak out and assert itself against your will.
3. Ask Yourself: What Traits Am I Most Terrified of Embodying?
Most of us have at least one or two things that we are horrified of being or becoming. Maybe you’re always working yourself to the bone out of a terror of being lazy or broke, or maybe you run yourself ragged making small talk because you hate the thought of being rude or aloof. Thanks to media and advertising, many of us live in fear of being unattractive or out of style. Honestly assess the qualities you absolutely, hands down, never ever want to be. Then ask yourself, “What if I weren’t terrified of being that anymore? What if I were comfortable with the idea that I might, sometimes, be lazy or rude or out of style (or whatever). And what if I loved myself anyway? How would that feel?”
4. Ask Yourself: What “Negative” or “Unattractive” Traits Might It Be Fun To Have (At Least A Little)?
Recently, I asked this question in the Good Vibe Tribe Facebook group, and it turned up some really fun answers. For example, members thought it could be fun to occasionally allow themselves to have a snarky sense of humor, to not care what other people think, or to put themselves first. Think of the villains and anti-heros you most enjoy in books, movies, and television. There’s a reason you enjoy them! Maybe they allow your shadow side to fantasize safely about having less-than-savory traits. For the sake of shadow work, it is empowering to let yourself imagine being these things. In small ways, you can begin to integrate these traits into your everyday life in a way that doesn’t actually hurt anyone. And then you will feel so much more whole, comfortable with yourself, and comfortable in the world.
5. Ask Yourself: How Does My Shadow Show Up In My Dreams?
Finally, ask yourself: do I have any recurring dreams that might relate to my shadow? Many people have recurring dreams about being naked in public, being late for something important, or even trying to cover up a murder they’ve committed. If you feel shame or fear about something you are (or aren’t) or something you’ve done (or not done) in a dream, chances are good your shadow is playing a role. For example, if you want everyone to think you’re a saint, but you also know in some part of your subconscious that you (like all of us) sometimes feel angry or revengeful, you might dream that you have to cover up a murder you’ve committed. If you are absolutely petrified of not being Mr. or Ms. Responsible 24/7, it’d be natural to dream about being late for a plane or a work meeting. Dreaming of being naked in public could indicate exposing something about yourself you’d rather keep hidden, or perhaps being worried that you won’t always know how to present yourself “properly” in certain situations. Chances are good that if you simply ask yourself what such dreams are showing you about your shadow, you’ll know. If you think you don’t know, try asking yourself, “But what if I had to guess?” Shine light into the shadow aspect of yourself and see if you can be OK with not being a saint, or Mr. Responsible, or always knowing how to behave, or whatever. Imagine how great it would feel if you didn’t have to pretend to be “perfect.” Imagine if you could just be exactly as you are, and love yourself anyway. What if you could love your whole, multi-faceted, full-spectrum self, without apology? Can you imagine how powerful you would feel?
Deciding to engage in shadow work doesn’t mean you have to criticize yourself, or indulge your worst aspects, or become someone you don’t like. It simply means that you are willing to open up to the fullness of who you are. When you do that, you gain more mastery, not less. When you invite all the parts of you to the party, you widen your perspective and open up to more possibility and potential. What’s more, by acknowledging your whole self, you don’t have to worry about hidden aspects popping up and asserting themselves at inopportune moments. Rather, you can listen to all your impulses and intuitions, and choose which ones to act on in any given moment.
Once you’ve uncovered shadow aspects by asking the questions above, you might want to put on music and dance them. Or paint them. Or write stories or screenplays about them. Or let your wardrobe or sense of humor reflect them. In general, get creative and have fun with all the many intriguing and rebellious aspects of who you are.
Did this post give you any new insight into shadow work? Are you going to try investigating your shadow? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
You may also like this video: Why Lightworkers Are Also Shadow Workers.