Our subconscious does a lot of work to protect us from things that are unflattering and unfamiliar. As such, it’s natural that we avoid looking at our “shadow self,” the metaphorical dark side of our personality made up of negative emotions and feelings. But we can learn a lot from daring to explore this part of ourselves!
Shadow work lets you do this. It’s the process of exploring your shadow self, which is the inner darkness that is a part of every person, whether we like it or not. It is one of the most authentic paths to enlightenment!
What Is The Shadow
Our shadow consists of every part we have disowned, repressed, rejected and denied. Everything about ourselves that we think as inferior, evil, or unacceptable becomes part of the shadow. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we repress them. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t erase these parts of ourselves, and they part of our shadow.
It all starts in childhood. The shadow forms as we grow up, learn, and accept the traits associated with “goodness.” At the same time, we learn what traits are associated with “badness,” usually through reprimands and feelings shame when, as children, we act out and test boundaries. As the “good” and “bad” become clear to us, we adjust our behaviour and adapt to the good so we can stay as comfortable as possible. Our shadow, then, becomes a collection of what we’ve repressed.
The shadow is one of the “archetypes” found within all of us. They impact our emotional, mental, and spiritual growth and represent the foundation of all human behaviour. The archetypes can vary based on the oracle coach, but most use those described by psychoanalyst Carl Jung:
- The Anima: The unconscious feminine dimension of a male
- The Animus: The unconscious male dimension in the female psyche.
- The Child: The part of the psyche that represents innocence, creativity, awe, and wonderment toward life.
- The Father: This is the capacity and ability to supervise others.
- The Hero: The representation of overcoming obstacles and achieving goals.
- The Maiden: Intuition, creativity, and the ability to withstand darkness to find the light.
- The Mother: The connection to our nurturing and protective abilities.
- The Persona: The face we present the world, a kind of mask.
- The Shadow: The parts of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify in itself.
- The Trickster: A mischievous archetype that breaks old paradigms and exposes the silliness of our beliefs.
- The Sage: The expert, scholar, and an “old soul.”
- The Self: The True Nature and eternal Center.
As you learn more about them, the archetypes that trigger feelings within you – disgust, intrigues, etc. – are the ones you must focus on, even as the journey focuses on the shadow.
It’s important to know that the shadow impacts us without us being fully aware, and it can even take over. If we turn away from it, the shadow can hurt our relationships with partners, family, friends, and professional acquaintances. However, we shouldn’t see the shadow solely as a negative!
What Is Shadow Work?
Life is full of complex feelings and experiences, and if we retain only the “good” – the parts that make us feel happy, safe, and joyful – our lives can lack depth. Shadow work is a form of self-examination that uncovers what we’ve denied, uniting the unconscious part of our psyche with the conscious. It’s how we can begin to understand and accept the aspects of our consciousness that we have pushed away or ignored so that we can heal and grow on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level.
In shadow work, you’ll learn what has control over you – and what you’ve allowed take unconscious control over you. Pay attention to everything that shocks, disturbs and secretly thrills you as you ask questions like, “What lies beneath the surface? Where has the soul been crossed?” Rather than attack these things, you must try and understand them with compassion for yourself and others.
Preparing For Shadow Work
Before taking on this examination, it’s crucial to centre yourself and establish a strong, healthy self-image before looking into the shadow. Shadow work can seem cruel and confronting; for this reason, it’s necessary to be all-in – shadow work can be unsafe when not taken seriously from the start.
It’s also why you should do shadow work in a neutral, calming space where you can relax. Stress and judgmental attitudes hinder your self-examination, so incorporate meditation or mindfulness techniques into your shadow work if it helps your process.
What Forms Does Shadow Work Take?
Because shadow work is a form of self-examination, it can be expressed in many forms. One of the best ways to self-express is through art. You don’t have to be an artist to use your favourite artistic medium to manifest your shadow. Choose a form that works for you – from pen and pencil to watercolour and sculpting – and create what you feel.
Another way is through writing and journaling. This is a way of learning more about how your inner darkness controls you, and by writing every day, you can learn more about your shadow. As you write, read through your past entries; this can help you recover the balance you need to positively understand the dark emotions found in your shadow.
As long as you take it seriously, shadow work can be rewarding in all its forms. An adage says that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and as we mentioned, the shadow isn’t only a negative thing! We can bury our talents and gifts if and when we see them as “bad” and before we truly understand the good they can have on our lives and relationships. Shadow work can help you gain a sense of balance that is essential to a healthy mind, body, and spirit!