The shadow self is a valuable (but dark) part of your unconscious mind, that you’ve learned to keep hidden, even from yourself.
Have you ever felt like there’s a part of you that you don’t fully understand, or accept? Do you sometimes catch yourself expressing negative emotions and thoughts, that seem to come out of nowhere?
Then you may be experiencing glimpses of the inner darkness known as the shadow self.
What is the Shadow Self?
The shadow self is a concept coined by the famous depth psychiatrist Carl Jung. It’s been explored by psychologists and spiritual practitioners for about a century and refers to the parts of yourself that you keep hidden from conscious awareness.
These are the traits, emotions, and thoughts that we don’t want to acknowledge or accept. These can include our fears, insecurities, and other ‘negative aspects’ of the human psyche. But while we try to suppress these parts of ourselves, they DO still affect us in subtle (and not so subtle) ways!
Why does the shadow self form?
The shadow self forms due to the repression of certain aspects of our personality. We do this ourselves as a survival mechanism, usually without any conscious awareness These aspects of our conscious selves are often deemed unacceptable by society (or our own conscious mind).
So they’re pushed into the unconscious mind forming part of our shadow self.
Here’s an example: A person who was raised in an environment where expressing anger was not allowed may have taken on the belief that to feel accepted, they needed to repress their own feelings of anger and aggression. Over time, these feelings become part of their shadow self.
BUT… the anger and aggression don’t disappear! The individual has simply pushed those ‘shadow emotions’ deep into their unconscious. They may then struggle with feeling irritable or easily frustrated, without understanding why. In extreme cases, this repression may even lead to explosive outbursts or even physical violence.
Here are a few more examples of the traits that often end up in the shadow, and are generally perceived as ‘dark qualities’
Examples of shadow self traits
But ignoring, suppressing, or pretending these shadow traits don’t exist will create problems. Low self-esteem, dissociation, negative thoughts, and even problems with your physical health can all result from rejecting parts of yourself and pushing them into your shadow self.
Fortunately, there are many ways to work with the shadow self, to heal any distortion, and integrate these hidden parts back into the light of your consciousness.
This process is known as shadow work, and it involves developing self-compassion, self-awareness, and self-acceptance. Shining a light on our shadow selves and working hard to embrace all aspects of our human nature is a powerful pathway to a greater sense of wholeness. We’ll talk about shadow work in a moment, but first: How can you even find your shadow self?!
How do I find my shadow self? (6 ways to identify your personal shadow)
The shadow self resides within the unconscious mind, which is a vast and complex part of the psyche, not accessible through conscious awareness. So if you want to meet your shadow self head-on, this creates a problem! Self-reflection can help, but honestly, to actually meet your shadow qualities in their raw state, you’ll need to get sneaky, and look for how the shadow affects specific areas of your life…
Luckily, there are a few ways we can track our shadow selves, and begin bringing the unconscious mind into consciousness…
- Your shadow self appears in your most exaggerated (and disproportionate) feelings
- Your shadow self shows up in negative mirrors from other people
- Your shadow self appears in the repeating patterns in your relationships
- Your shadow self can be seen in your impulses
- Your shadow self shows up in when (and how) you judge other people
- Your shadow self lives in the shame and humiliation you feel
To read about each of these methods in detail, READ THIS article: 6 Ways to Meet Your Shadow Self
How to embrace your shadow self
After peeking into your dark side and identifying your shadow traits, the next stage in your shadow work journey is to begin embracing your shadow self. Easy to write, not so easy to do.
Because remember – the shadow side is FULL of the qualities, traits, and characteristics that you (and society) have deemed unacceptable.
Embracing them isn’t going to happen straight away. This is where the “work” part of shadow work comes in…
What is Shadow Work?
Once upon a time, shadow work was the domain of psychologists alone. But today, peering into your inner shadow is an integral part of the personal growth landscape. In fact, many people regard shadow work as a spiritual practice all of its own.
The goal of shadow work is to bring the hidden aspects of the psyche – such as trauma, resentment, and negative traits (just a few examples described above) – up to the surface, so you can acknowledge, accept, and integrate them into your personality.
Once you have identified one or more of the qualities hidden in your shadow self (using the methods described above), write them down. This will help you keep track of them and make it easier to explore them further.
Exploring Underlying Emotions
The next step in shadow work is to explore the underlying emotions that are associated with your shadow self. You may find that your negative traits are actually a way of coping with underlying emotions such as fear, shame, or anger. Really good ways to explore these emotions are through journaling with shadow work prompts, movement, meditation, or somatic experiencing. If you feel you need to, you can always talk to a therapist.
When exploring your emotions, it’s SO, so important to be gentle with yourself. Try not to judge yourself for feeling a certain way or for having certain traits. Remember that everyone has a shadow side, and it’s a normal part of being human!
Many people feel like there needs to be a completion of some kind with shadow work. But the truth is, simply bringing your shadow self up into the light or your awareness, and holding yourself with love, compassion, and acceptance, IS shadow work. This will move your emotions and begin to switch up your perception around “negative qualities”.
Shadow Work Examples and Techniques
Shadow work can be challenging, but it is an essential step toward personal healing and wholeness. Here are some effective shadow work techniques that you can try:
Art Therapy and Other Creative Practices
Using art and creativity as a means of expression can be incredibly healing. This is an effective way to explore your shadow self, as it allows expression in a non-verbal way. Try painting, drawing, sculpting, or any other form of creative expression that resonates with you.
Other creative practices, such as dance, music, or creative writing, can also be super helpful in exploring your inner shadow, as these kinds of practices allow you to express yourself in ways that feel authentic to you.
Journaling with shadow work prompts
Journaling is a powerful tool for self-reflection and self-discovery. It’s also really accessible because all you really need is a pen and paper.
The internet is full of shadow work prompts, and if the technique resonates, you can start a shadow work journal – a journal specifically designed for exploring your shadow self.
CURIOUS? Start here: Journaling Prompts for Personal Shadow Work
Inner dialogue is another technique that can be helpful in exploring your shadow self. This involves having a conversation with yourself, in which you ask yourself questions and listen for the answers that come from within. You can do this in writing or through meditation.
Spiritual practices, such as meditation, yoga, or prayer are great additions to your shadow work toolbox. They can help you connect with the present moment, and explore your inner self from here. These practices can help you cultivate a sense of non-judgmental awareness, which is essential for shadow work. They may also help you develop a deeper sense of compassion and self-love.
Nonjudgmental awareness is a state of mind in which you observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. It is an essential component of shadow work, as it allows you to explore your shadow self without getting caught up in feelings of shame or guilt. You can develop this particular kind of awareness through practices such as mindfulness meditation or self-compassion exercises.
The Honeyed Shadow
The Honeyed Shadow is a guided 13-day journey to explore and realize your golden shadow.
Shadow work can become pretty overwhelming if you are new to it! The Honeyed Shadow is a sweet and easy-to-follow online course, to teach you the basics of shadow work and help you achieve some powerful benefits. from doing it! If you’re intrigued and would like to put this work into practice, you can take a look HERE
The Role of Therapy in Shadow Work
Shadow work can be a challenging and intense process, and working with a therapist can provide valuable support and guidance throughout the journey. Here are some ways that therapy can assist you in your shadow work:
Working Through Severe Trauma
If you’ve experienced severe trauma in your life, it can be difficult to process and integrate those experiences on your own. A therapist can provide a safe and supportive space for you to explore and work through these difficult emotions. They can help you develop coping strategies and provide tools to manage symptoms of mental illness that may arise as a result of past trauma.
Deeper Understanding of Repressed Emotions
One of the main goals of shadow work is to bring to light repressed emotions and aspects of your personality that you may have been avoiding or denying. With all the will in the world, this can be hard to do on your own! So if you aren’t quite getting to the heart of your shadow, a therapist can help you gain a deeper understanding of deeply repressed emotions, and help you see how they may be impacting your life.
Challenging Core Beliefs
Shadow work can also involve challenging core beliefs that you hold about yourself and the world around you. Again, this can be hard to do alone. A therapist can help you identify these beliefs and work to reframe them in a more positive and empowering way. They can also provide support and guidance as you navigate the discomfort that may arise from challenging long-held beliefs.
A therapist can provide a safe and supportive space for you to explore and integrate repressed emotions, work through past trauma, and challenge core beliefs that may be holding you back. If you are considering shadow work, it may be worth exploring therapy as a complementary practice.
10 Benefits of Shadow Work
So many of the benefits of working with your shadow side are kind of unquantifiable. You have more energy, a sense of inner peace, get on with others, and generally just feel like life is flowing. But if you need any more convincing to go take a peek into that inner shadow, here are 10 benefits you’ll get from learning to embrace your shadow side:
- You could remember long-forgotten skills and talents
- You’ll be free from limiting beliefs and thought patterns
- You’ll feel at ease in the present moment
- Your physical well-being can improve
- Your close relationships can improve
- That non-stop monkey brain might shuush!
- You’ll stop repeating unhealthy behaviors and patterns
- You could heal ancestral traumas
- You will release fear
- You’ll let go of shame
This list is just the beginning. Read more: 20 Reasons You Need to Do Your Shadow Work
What about the Collective Shadow…?
The Collective Shadow is the darker side of humanity as a whole, that’s stored deep within our unconscious minds. It is the sum total of past and present atrocities, cruelties, tragedies, and horrors perpetrated by humankind.
This concept was first popularized by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist. Jung believed that this was an essential part of our psyche. Understanding and integrating this shadow is critical to achieving a healthy and balanced life.
The Jungian Shadow and Collective Unconscious
According to Jung, the collective shadow is part of the collective unconscious, which is the shared pool of ancestral experiences and memories that all humans possess. (It’s also where archetypes sit, as blueprints for all human expression). The collective shadow is the dark side of this collective unconscious, representing the aspects of ourselves that we have suppressed or repressed.
Because this ‘dark side’ is something SO much bigger than you or I am, doing your own shadow work can sometimes feel like you’re swimming against the tide. But remember, that simply bringing self-awareness to your personal shadow side is enough! This will have a ripple effect throughout the rest of humanity, and pave the way for others to also examine their inner shadow.
The collective is made up of individuals. Your personal growth matters, and you can make a difference.