Understanding Our Shadow Self
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
The shadow is a psychological term for everything we can’t see in ourselves. The idea of the shadow self was first conceived by Carl Jung, a 20th-century psychologist from Switzerland. In his field of psychology, the word ‘shadow’ refers to hidden parts of our being. This may be parts of ourselves we try to repress because they make us feel sad or wounded. This is the side that we don’t show society. It can also indicate how we internally perceive ourselves as being weak or in pain – that we feel the need to hide these parts of ourselves. Carl Jung believed in the integration of the shadow side so that our full self is acknowledged, and we can live in a balanced way.
In Jungian psychology, the "shadow", "Id", or "shadow aspect-archetype" refers to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or the entirety of the unconscious.
Most of us go to great lengths to protect our self-image from anything unflattering. Therefore, it’s easier to observe another person’s shadow before acknowledging one’s own shadow. That being said, working with your shadow whilst challenging can be a rewarding process. Remaining unconscious of the shadow hurts our relationships and it will impact our leadership abilities. Exploring your shadow can lead to greater authenticity, creativity, energy and personal growth. This introspective process is essential for reaching mature spiritual mind.
The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire and the striving for power. Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others. Our egos use this mechanism to defend itself, to defend how it perceives itself. Our false identities of being “good” keep us from connecting to our shadow.
Why Do Shadow Work?
By coming to terms with your darker half you are able to see yourself more clearly. Also, it is easier to accept the shadow in others. Meaning other people’s behaviour won’t trigger you as easily and communication becomes easier. You may notice an improvement in your relationships. You won’t perceive yourself as being too big (inflated) or too small (deflated).
When self aware, the world can become clearer. Your perspective shifts allowing you to evaluate situations with greater clarity, compassion and understanding. As you integrate your shadow self, you’re approaching your authentic self, which gives you a more realistic assessment of who you are.
It's exhausting to continually repress and suppress all of the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to face. Which can lead to improved physical, mental, and emotional health. When you liberate yourself from protecting yourself energy is unlocked. Mental suppression can also lead to physical pain and disease. Shadow work can bring you inner strength and a greater sense of balance, making you better equipped to take on life’s challenges.
Before you begin shadow working ensure you are calm, clear and in a nature energy space.
Develop a sense of unconditional friendliness and compassion with one’s self. Without this it will be difficult to look at the darker aspects of self. If you’re accustomed to feeling shame, guilt or hard on yourself you need to transmute these emotions with friendliness, self-acceptance and self-compassion.
Seeing the shadow requires a self-reflective mindset. The ability to reflect and observe our behaviors, thoughts and feelings. Mindful meditation are a great starting point as they foster non-judgemental awareness. To be aware in the moment.
It is often uncomfortable to come to terms with your disowned parts. Seeing and accepting your insecure selfishness and tyrannical nasty parts can be challenging. Taking an honest stock-take of your attitudes, behaviors, dark thoughts and emotions requires courage, self-honesty and integrity.
Writing your insights then reviewing later encodes the discovery into your awareness.
Working on Your Shadow
Our shadow is elusive and hides from us. The more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act. One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people. Paying attention when you have strong negative emotional responses to others as this will help you identify your shadow. Take 5 mins at the end of the day to reflect on your interaction and how you felt or responded. What does it tell you about yourself. "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves", Carl Jung
Watch movies and empathize with the villains instead of the heros. What traits do you recognizes? Acknowledge these traits by engaging in inner dialogue. By dialoguing with them in our imagination or in a journal, we can integrate these parts into our conscious selves.
When your ugly side appears don't write it off. No excuses.... "I was having a bad day" or " I was tried.....or unwell". Instead think of all the times in the past when you've acted like this before. Consider what triggers this behaviour, examine the associated emotions and thoughts. Explore where it comes from within you and why?
Make a list of all your good attributes. Then list the opposing attributes. Try to identified these in you and when they show up. For example, if you define yourself as a disciplined person, you’re repressing your lazy part. The lazy part is hiding in the shadow. So identify with this lazy part. See it. Accept it. Make friends with it. It’s okay to be lazy too.
Once you begin to recognize patterns, you can increase your internal dialogue in the moment or through meditative exercises. This type of shadow work may include using particular archetypes to define shadow parts of yourself so that you can better understand them.
Archetypes are set pattern of behavior. Carl Jung called archetypes “primordial images” and the “fundamental units of the human mind.”
Structure of the psyche archetypes by Robert Moore, shown below.
The top label is the ideal, constructive archetype (mature adult). The bottom are the 2 destructive shadow aspects known as an active side and passive side. By understanding the archetypes you are able to identify which aspects of the shadow appear in you and what are the ideal traits of this archetype.
Writing or journaling is one of the best tools to start with when engaging in shadow work. This is a way to record all of your thoughts and feelings so that you begin to become aware of your unconscious self. This could include journaling about specific ways you react to certain situations and people. You will begin to see if there is a recurrent emotional or behavioural pattern in your life. To kick start you below are journal prompts by Kerry-Ann Maddox
How judged do you feel on a daily basis? Explore how much the perceived judgement is real
Take a look at the best and most enjoyable aspects of your life. What is your underlying fear around this and why?
Write about the last time you tried to manipulate a situation. Explore how you feel about it with hindsight
Being descriptive, what does it feel like to have your emotions belittles or downplayed? Focus on examples when writing.
Write about the last time your avoid or ran away from responsibility. Consider why you did that and the consequences?
How do you give other people acceptance and space to be themselves around you?
Whereabouts do you expect other people to conform to your beliefs? And what scares you about letting them have their own beliefs?
When have your most negative and disruptive traits come to the surface. Capture the image of you at that point. Write a letter of compassion and understanding to that version of you. Then read it aloud for your subconscious mind to absorb.
What was the latest cruel thing you've wanted to say to someone to make them feel bad about themselves or their actions? Write it down then explore your feelings about it.
At the top of a page write My insecurity is my teacher. Then fill the page with your response to this sentence.
The 3-2-1 Shadow Process developed by integral philosophy Ken Wilber.
1: Choose what you want to work with. It’s often easier to begin with a person with whom you have a strong emotional charge, whether positive or negative.
2: Imagine this person and describe either the qualities that upset or attracted you using 3rd-person language (he, she, it). Either talk about them out loud or write it down in a journal expressing your feelings. This is for your eyes only so don't hold back.
3: Dialogue with this person in your imagination. Talk directly to this person as if he or she was there. Tell them what bothers you about them and ask them questions such as:
Why are you doing this to me?
What do you want from me?
What are you trying to show me?
What do you have to teach me?
Imagine their response and record the conversation in your journal.
4: Now, become this person by taking on their qualities that trigger you either negatively or positively. These traits are traits you've been denying in yourself. Fill in the blank with whatever qualities you are working with: “I am __________.” For example I am angry, I am jealous, I am radiant.
5: Acknowledge these disowned qualities in yourself and allow yourself to experience the part of you that is this trait. Re-own and integrate this quality and avoid making the process abstract or conceptual.
Shadow work can sound scary, and some parts of it may be rather uncomfortable. But it is necessary work to uncover true joy and peace in life.
Through this work, you can decipher and decide which patterns and behaviours no longer serve you so that you can move forward with enhanced awareness. Instead of reacting to life all the time, you can respond to life. You don’t have to suppress hurt feelings or run away from painful experiences as these are tools that are begging for growth. Shadow work helps us to accept that which we’ve found unacceptable so that real change, healing, and transformation can occur.
One of the most important things to remember when engaging with shadow work is to be compassionate with yourself. Not all of the answers may come right away, so wherever you are at in the process, allow yourself to accept all parts of yourself, shadow and light alike. The transmutation of emotional pain and discomfort with conscious awareness is the alchemical of any transformation.
You might be interested in the SOUL EVOLUTION PROGRAM