We all have demons inside us. Every day, we fight against them – sometimes we lose, sometimes we win.
These demons haunting us can be seen either in small glimpses or in full chaos. And because of our guilt and shame, we tend to ignore and bury them.
We think that they should stay hidden because they cannot and should not exist in our conscious self. The society tells us to focus on the good things like love and light, but never the darkness or shadow.
Focusing solely on your positive side is easy and comfortable. It’s no wonder the majority of us avoid the darker part of our personalities.
However, when we focus only on the “light”, it doesn’t reach to the depths of our being. It just feels like superficially hanging on a warm and fuzzy thing.
Inside every one of us are darker problems that exist. In order to touch the very depths of our being, we must be ready to explore our buried self through shadow work.
Here are the basic things you need to know about shadow work:
Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. – Steve Wolf
First, we must define what is a “shadow”.
In the field of psychology, a shadow is a term used to refer to the parts within us that we may try to hide or deny. The name was originally coined and explored by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung.
It comprises of the aspects of our personality that we tend to deem shameful, unacceptable, ugly. It can be envy, jealousy, rage, lust, desire for power or the wounds incurred in childhood – all of those we keep hidden.
You can say it is one’s dark side of himself. And no matter what anyone says, everyone has a dark side to their personality.
Jung believes that when the human Shadow is shunned, it tends to sabotage our lives. Repressing or suppressing one’s shadow can result in addictions, low self-esteem, mental illness, chronic illnesses, and various neuroses.
Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. – Carl Jung
Thankfully, we can still own up to our darkness to create positive change. By doing shadow work, we shed light on our dark self, instead of pretending to be all “light”.
Here are 7 ways to practice shadow work:
1. Pay attention to the emotions you feel
No emotions are bad.
Our negative emotions are portals into the shadow. They help us determine our wounds and fears.
When you feel an emotion, take a minute to examine it. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling?
- Why am I feeling this?
- Wait for answers.
Don’t be frustrated if the answers do not come right away. Sometimes, the answers need time to be found and you’ll know it.
Never force answers and jump into conclusion because they might be the wrong ones. Shadow work is considered soul work and it happens on its own timeline. Just be patient and know that in time, the answers will come.
2. Identify the shadow
Our shadows are located in our subconscious. We buried them there that’s why it’s tricky to identify it.
In order to perform shadow work, we need to identify the shadow. The first step is to become aware of the recurrent feelings that you always feel. Identifying these patterns will help highlight the shadow.
Some common shadow beliefs are:
- I am not good enough.
- I am unloveable.
- I am flawed.
- My feelings are not valid.
- I must take care of everyone around me.
- Why can’t I just be normal just like others?
3. Investigate your feelings objectively and with compassion
It’s hard to do shadow work objectively and with compassion. It’s easier to investigate and blame other people why you end up that way.
On the other hand, understanding why the people who hurt you acted in a particular way is hard to accept. But in order to heal ourselves, we must forgive those who hurt us in order to move on.
Try to navigate that they did the best they could do at that time or were simply acting from their own wounds.
4. Explore the shadow
Psychologists use art therapy as a way to help patients explore their inner selves. It is because art is a great way to allow your Shadow to manifest itself. Here are some ways to express the shadow:
When you write, it allows you to feel emotions and empty your head of the thoughts rumbling around. It’s like magic – even when you write thoughts that have no sense.
Just write whatever comes to mind because you can’t do it wrong.
Write a letter
Write a letter to yourself or to those who hurt you. You don’t have to actually send the letter, just let all your feelings out.
Tell the person in mind what you feel and why you feel it. Writing a letter will validate yourself and your emotions. You can burn the letter after you write it as a symbolic release.
In meditation, we gain insights about why we feel certain ways. It helps us understand and objectively delve deeper about our emotions, then allow ourselves to heal.
One example is forgiveness meditation. You can picture a person who hurt you in your mind and say, “May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free of suffering.”
You will never heal unless you allow yourself to face the emotion you’re scared of. So explore them, write about them and make art out of them.
To experience yourself as a whole, loved, and lovable, you need to own up to your emotions.
Remember that the shadow thrives in secret but they are part of who you are. Bring the hidden parts of yourself to light and bathe them in self-love and acceptance.
Sometimes, the process hurts but it will make you a better person.
5. Nurture your inner child
Our childhood traumas can be caused by the way we were parented or other people who hurt us. It can result in deep wounds that can create behavioral and emotional patterns that create our personality.
Most of the time, our childhood wounds are the most painful. They haunt us and tell us we’re not worthy of love, or that our feelings are wrong, or that we have to take care of everything because nobody was around to take care of us.
Nurturing your inner child involves traveling back in time to when you were hurt and give yourself love. You can do this by:
1. Go back to the time in your life when you felt most vulnerable.
It can be a scene where you got hurt or a time in your life when you felt vulnerable. Hold that image of yourself in your mind. Stay aware, taking in any messages that arise during that time.
2. Give the younger you compassion
While reliving the moment, give love to your younger self. Tell yourself, “I love you and I’m here for you. It will be okay, it’s not your fault and you did nothing to deserve this.” You can also give a hug to your younger self.
One thing is for sure when doing shadow work, it is uncomfortable, to say the least. Who would enjoy owning up to their flaws, weaknesses, selfishness, hate, and all the negative emotions they feel? Nobody.
But while focusing on our positive side is enjoyable and boosts our confidence, shadow work can help us grow and develop into a better version of ourselves.
Jung writes in the book Psychology and Alchemy, “There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.”
With shadow work, we become whole to live a more authentic and fulfilling life.
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