Is shadow work dangerous? It’s a really, really good question – seeing as shadow work is pretty much looking at your worst negative traits, isn’t it?
It’s no surprise that a lot of folks are wary of shadow diving in the first place.
Are you someone who’s into the New Age, Law of Attraction or has read a lot about how you should be keeping your frequency HIGH? Then surely peeking into the darkest corners of your shadow self goes against all that teaching, right? (And if you’ve been into spirituality for at least the last 10 years then THAT program can run pretty deep).
So let’s unpack some of these questions. We’ll start with what the shadow self, and shadow work actually are
What is the Shadow?
In the field of psychology, the shadow refers to the unconscious part of somebody’s personality. It contains the traits, characteristics, feelings, and behaviors that are considered socially unacceptable or unacceptable to the individual themselves.
The shadow self may also contain unresolved emotions, deep-seated fears, or even past traumas.
For this reason, these traits and characteristics are repressed or denied by the conscious mind. We don’t allow them to feature in our lives (or so we think…)
Because the shadow isn’t expressed consciously, it’s usually considered to be the darker side of someone’s personality. Some people find it helpful to understand the concept of the shadow self as by thinking about the archetypal shadow. By opening up the idea that all humans possess a darker side, it is depersonalized, becoming a collective phenomenon.
So the shadow is usually hidden, but still finds ways to emerge, often when we least expect it.
The shadow side manifests through our judgments, and projection onto other people. Through trauma activations, or outbursts or reactions to moments of extreme stress or anxiety. We can also catch glimpses of our shadow sides in our dreams and fantasies.
The Swiss depth psychologist Carl Jung was one of the first people to explore the concept of the shadow.
Jung identified 4 main archetypes – the ego, the anima/animus, the shadow, and the Self (capital ‘S’).
Jung believed that integrating your shadow was crucial for achieving psychological wholeness and fulfillment.
In more modern times, the exploration of shadow has become the domain of spiritual seekers. For people interested in spiritual and personal growth, shadow work has become an unavoidable part of the journey.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is a process that involves exploring the unconscious to find out what is hidden, repressed, or darker parts of your psyche.
Contrary to what a lot of people think when they first come to shadow work, it’s not about “getting rid of” the darker aspects or healing them into submission, so they’re no longer there.
Shadow work is to fully explore, accept, and integrate our shadow selves so that we can become whole humans. Shadow work is the work of reuniting us with the suppressed parts of ourselves, welcoming the darkness AND the light back into consciousness.
Read more: What is Shadow Work?
How to identify your shadow self
When you begin doing shadow work, the first step is to identify your shadow self, and the shadow aspects it contains.
Shadow aspects are the specific emotions, beliefs, and patterns that have been repressed, hidden, or pushed away from your conscious awareness. Your shadow aspects exist in the unconscious mind, meaning it tends not to be easy or straightforward to uncover them.
Some common shadow aspects might be feelings of shame, guilt, envy or anger. Or even personality traits like assertiveness, or neediness, being “too loud”, or “too” anything else…
To begin revealing your shadow aspects and qualities, you can begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are some situations that trigger strong emotional reactions in you?
- Are there certain emotions you find difficult to express or acknowledge?
- What patterns of behavior do you notice repeating in your life, particularly ones that may be causing instability or dissatisfaction?
Want more ways to identify your shadow?
Read this next: 6 Ways to Meet Your Shadow Twin
How to begin doing shadow work
Once you’ve identified some aspects of your shadow, you can start to work with them.
When you begin working with your repressed shadow self, one of the most important things to do, is to hold the parts of yourself it contains, with kindness and compassion.
Shadow work can look many different ways, and involve a whole range of different practices. Ultimately, all of those require you to dive deep into your unconscious mind, and to explore those darker parts of your personality.
Shadow work also involves the body – the material unconscious manifests through the body, so working somatically is also a fantastic way to access and integrate the shadow.
Here are a handful of shadow work methods and practices:
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you identify patterns and triggers related to your shadow.
You could also use shadow work journal prompts.
The great thing about using writing prompts is that it can be self-led and you can go at your own pace. once you get into the flow, it’s a really good way of tapping into the unconscious.
New to shadow work journal prompts?
Read this post next – 50 Best Shadow Work Prompts for Beginners
Meditation and mindfulness (self-awareness)
Meditation and self-observation can help you observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, which can be helpful in exploring your shadow.
Inner child work
Exploring your inner child and any unmet needs or wounds from childhood is a really powerful way to work with your shadow. This is because so much conditioning occurs in childhood, so it will take you to the root of the issues.
Curious about inner child work?
Read this post next – Heal your Past: Inner Child 101
Paying attention to your dreams and interpreting their symbolism can help you uncover unconscious patterns and emotions.
Art, music, and other forms of creative expression can help you tap into your subconscious and explore your shadow in a non-verbal way.
Body-based therapies such as, dance, somatic therapy and even, in some cases, yoga, can help you connect with your body and listen to the emotion, story, trauma and also the wisdom stored there.
Engaging in a dialogue with your shadow self can help you understand and integrate the parts of yourself that you’ve been suppressing or denying.
Golden shadow work
The golden shadow is a part of your shadow self that contains your hidden potential. Rediscovering and reclaiming your golden shadow can is a little different from regular shadow work, and can be less daunting to begin with. It’s a great place to begin your exploration…
Remember, shadow work is a deeply personal and individual process, so it’s important to find the practices that work best for you and your unique needs.
Embrace the journey and remember that even the darkest aspects of your psyche can teach you valuable lessons. In fact, they may even teach you the most valuable lessons of all. Learning these will allow you to move forward with a much deeper and kinder understanding of yourself.
Is shadow work dangerous?
Done properly with care, consideration, and gentleness, shadow work is not dangerous.
But it isn’t a walk in the park either… Shadow work can be challenging, confronting, and a lot like hard work.
Remember that the process of shadow work involves looking at all those unwanted, unlovable and “too this…” or “too that…” pieces. Occasionally, it can also mean revisiting the trauma that caused those parts to fracture off in the first place. So shadow work may feel dangerous, or a little edgy.
But the real art is not falling over that edge – you don’t want to re-traumatize yourself or emotionally relive any painful memories. That is NOT the point.
The point of shadow work is to gently come alongside your fears, your anxieties, your unwanted and rejected parts, and welcome them back home. The ultimate goal of shadow work is wholeness. And this can take time.
If you don’t allow enough time to take your shadow work journey slowly, then rushing it can push you into dangerous territory.
If you’re emotionally vulnerable, or have a history of trauma than it’s even more important for you to titrate – to take your shadow work really slowly. You may even benefit from working with a therapist, or other professional.
Occasionally, some people may uncover hidden trauma or suppressed memories. IN these cases it maybe dangerous to continue on your healing journey without a trained professional to guide you through it.
Paradoxically, if you completely ignore your shadow self, it can begin to run the show, and this has the potential to be dangerous.
So is not doing shadow work dangerous?!
The longer you ignore and continue to repress aspects of your shadow self, the more distorted they can become, and the more unconscious the behavior they cause.
This leads people to have incredible blindspots around their shadow aspects – for example, someone may frequent angry outbursts, yet not have any recollection of them. Or a woman may make bitchy comments about other women, yet not even realise she’s doing it.
The longer these shadow behaviors go unchecked, the harder they can be to work through. And the more damage they may cause to an individual, and to the people around the people around them.
So in fact, not doing your shadow work can be far more dangerous than being brave enough to actually dive in and do it!
Can shadow work bring negativity into your life?
For the New Age “love and light” folks, maybe you’re not concerned with the dangers of shadow work, but whether it will mess with your “high vibe” way of life?
I get it. I’m also one of those people who found a dusty copy of ‘the Secret’ on an old bookshelf about 20 years ago, and agree that what you focus on does create your reality …So will focusing on the shadow bring more “shadow” into your life?
The quick answer is: No, shadow work won’t bring negativity into your life
This is because whatever’s in your shadow, is in your shadow already, whether you’re conscious of it or not.
This means that by doing your shadow work, you’re not bringing anything into being… you’re only bringing it to light. Your shadow (and any perceived negativity it holds) may feel more present in your life, but the truth is it’s no more present than it was last week.
What’s contained in your shadow IS already creating your reality
Those hidden fragments of your shadow self have already been attracting every experience you have!
…But up until this point, you simply haven’t had any conscious awareness of it. So the most important first step of any shadow work method or program is self-realisation. It’s seeing what’s already there.
What are the benefits of shadow work?
The benefits of shadow work include many of those received from other healing modalities, yet there’s more.
Because shadow work involves working with the unconscious, it can result in dramatic changes in behavioral patterns and habits that you may not even have thought were possible.
Effective shadow work can ripple out and have a profound impact on your entire life, from your habits and routines to your relationships and personal interactions, to your career and work in the world.
Here’s a list of shadow work benefits:
- Greater self-acceptance
- More self-love
- Improved mental health
- Higher levels of creativity
- More in touch with your needs
- More authentic relationships
- More intimate relating with others
- Ability to set (and hold) boundaries
- Higher levels of emotional energy
- More mental capacity
- Greater physical energy
- A sense of wholeness
- Releasing trauma activations
- Healing addictions
Tips for an effective shadow work practice
Are you convinced yet?!
To do shadow work takes practice and dedication. It can be a really hard path but the rewards are huge! To ensure your shadow work practice is as effective as it can be, here are a few tips to follow –
Certainly, here are five tips for an effective shadow work practice:
Create a safe space
Shadow work can bring up intense emotions, so it’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for yourself. This can include finding a quiet and comfortable space to work in, setting boundaries with others, and having support from a therapist or trusted friend.
Shadow work can be challenging, and it’s important to approach it with self-compassion and kindness. Treat yourself as you would a close friend, and be gentle with yourself as you explore difficult emotions and experiences.
Stay curious and open-minded
Shadow work involves exploring parts of ourselves that we may have repressed or denied, so it’s important to approach it with curiosity and an open mind. Try to suspend judgment and be willing to explore uncomfortable or unfamiliar emotions and experiences.
Mindfulness can help you stay present and aware during the shadow work process. This can include practices like meditation, deep breathing, or body scans, which can help you stay grounded and focused.
Take breaks when needed
Shadow work can be emotionally and mentally taxing, so it’s important to take breaks when needed. This can include taking a walk, practicing self-care, or taking a break from the work altogether. Listen to your body and mind, and take care of yourself throughout the process.
Shadow work is a long game…
Shadow work may not be pretty or glamorous, or anything close to “high vibe”, but we do it because the benefits of shadow work are worth it.
The gains made through searching out your shadow self, and piecing your story (and yourself) back together are absolutely re-empowering from the core. And no amount of surface-level “love and light” will compare to it!
There’s no space for self-judgment or self-criticism (that’s what caused the fragmentation of seld in the first place!) Instead, the work is to hold and witness whatever unfolds with a kind and generous neutrality.
What then happens is that any suppressed parts of self that choose to re-emerge from the shadow, come back because they know they’re will be welcomed home.
This is a really, really important step.
And it’s got to be genuine too – no spiritual bypassing or mental gymnastics to convince yourself something is “good” when your heart says it isn’t. (And it’s also why shadow work is a practice of peeling back layers… this reframe usually doesn’t come in one go).
Wishing you well on your journey into the underworld…