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What is shadow work? (And how to do it.)
A big part of healing and finding more peace is doing shadow work. That is, facing those parts of ourselves that we'd rather shove in a box and pretend they didn't exist.
The shadow is a term coined by psychologist Carl Jung, and it refers to both our deepest wounds and the parts of ourselves that we repress or deny.
Our deepest wounds have us believing we're flawed, unlovable, undeserving people.
These wounds are often created in childhood, but can sometimes develop later in life. Perhaps you were bullied or experienced a traumatic life event that created a wound. Other times, these wounds are cultural. They develop from prevailing social beliefs, such as the way money is tied to self-worth.
When left unattended, these wounds fester, leading us to live from this place of deficiency. Doing shadow work allows us live from a place of wholeness and expansion. We stop interpreting interactions from the lens of the wounded self. We understand that most things in life are not about us, but about the people who are acting unconsciously from their own unhealed wounds.
There's a lot of talk about love and light in the spiritual world, but to feel that love and light, we need to heal the deepest parts of ourselves, the parts we may consider ugly and unloveable.
We also need to acknowledge the uglier parts of our personalities — our anger, bitterness, greed, and envy. Denying these parts of ourselves doesn't make them go away. Ultimately, the darker side holds great power.
By doing shadow work, we shed light on the dark and become the light instead of pretending.
This practice expands our capacity for self-love, fulfilling relationships and the possibilities we see for our lives. But the work we must do along the way is down and dirty. Are you ready?
Key steps to doing shadow work
1. No emotions are bad
As we become more aware of our insides, it can seem we actually feel more, get annoyed more, because we're aware of even small reactions that probably went unnoticed before. Developing this awareness through meditation, we're able to identify even the smallest reactions to things.
This can be annoying, but is an important step to healing. Negative emotions are portals into shadow work. They help us illuminate the location of these wounds so we can better examine them.
For example, maybe you find people who are really good at asking for things annoying. This could be a projection of unmet needs or a secret desire of having the chutzpah to ask for help. Maybe you believe asking for help is wrong, or that you don't deserve to receive assistance.
When you feel an emotion, ask yourself:
- What am I feeling?
- Why am I feeling this?
- Stop, breathe and wait for answers. They may not come right away, and that's ok. Sometimes answers need time and space to arise. Don't force answers because they might be the wrong ones, ones from your ego and not the soul. Soul work happens on its own timeline, not a human timeline. So be patient and know that in time, the answers will come.
2. Identify the shadow
The shadow, by nature, subconscious or rejected. Identifying it can be tricky. It's such an integral part of our psyche that it can be difficult to notice.
This also makes healing through shadow work difficult. The first step is to become aware of ongoing patterns in your life. Do you consistently encounter the same problems or experience recurring feelings? These patterns help to highlight the shadow.
Common shadow beliefs include:
- I am not good enough.
- I am unloveable.
- I am flawed.
- My feelings are not valid.
- I must take care of everyone around me (because I was never nurtured as a child).
- Why can't I just be normal?
3. Investigate with compassion
Doing shadow work with compassion is difficult. It's easy to fall into blaming ourselves or others. And while it's important to recognize key themes that have influenced us, particularly in childhood, we must forgive those who hurt us in order to move on.
Try to navigate that balance by recognizing how others' behavior may have influenced you while understanding they did the best they could, and were simply acting from their own wounds.
How to do shadow work:
Journaling is a powerful way to feel emotions and empty your head of the thoughts rumbling around. Getting thoughts from your head onto paper is a magical alchemy. If you're not sure how to journal, just start writing. Write whatever comes to mind. You can't do it wrong. You could also take the questions mentioned earlier — what am I feeling? why am I feeling this? — and use them as prompts to investigate on paper.
- Write a letter. You don't actually have to send the letter, but get all your feelings out on paper. Explore why you feel certain ways and tell the person in mind how you feel. This is a good way to validate yourself and your emotions, particularly if you grew up thinking that your feelings weren't valid. Consider burning the letter after you write it as a symbolic release.
- Meditate. Sometimes in meditation, we may have insights about why we feel certain ways. It's also possible to spontaneously heal by feeling our emotions. In my own practice, I find healing comes in layers. I heal a small amount and then must return later to dig deeper. However, sometimes people can have more profound, deeper experiences. You might try a forgiveness meditation. Visualize the person in your mind's eye and say, "May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free of suffering."
- Feel. Feel your emotions. Explore them. Write about them. Move. Make art. Experience yourself as whole, loved, and lovable. The shadow thrives on secrecy. Bring the hidden parts of yourself to light and bathe them in self-love. Even if the process hurts, know that it's okay and that everybody goes through the same thing.
- Inner child work. This one is lengthy, so I've explained more below.
4. Nurture your inner child
Inner child healing is a foundational part of shadow work.
Childhood traumas, or the way we were parented, can result in deep wounds that in turn create behavioral and emotional patterns that even the most aware may be unaware of.
That's because we don't know what we don't know. Our world is our normal, and it takes a lot of effort to uncover the unhealthy patterns that we picked up. To us, they may be reality, while in truth, they're false beliefs. You may have beliefs that are causing you pain that you can't even see because they're so deeply ingrained in you.
And once you realize them, it can be difficult to understand how much pain you've caused yourself because of a simple, wrong belief. That's where copious amounts of self-love comes in. Just love and accept your journey. Forgive yourself and others, and then move on.
This is the crux of shadow work: Shedding light on those things we'd rather hide. Accepting it, all of it, and then having the courage to grow into healthier patterns and beliefs.
Many times, our childhood wounds are the most painful and persistent. These are the wounds that say 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.
This is a long process that I personally am working through and that I will continue to write about. A good way to get started, however, is to visit your inner child.
Nurture the inner child:
- Imagine a time in your life when you felt most vulnerable. Maybe there's a scene you remember, or a time in your life. Hold the image of yourself in your mind's eye, and first stay aware, taking in any messages that arise
- Give that younger you compassion. Tell yourself, "I love you and I'm here for you. It's not your fault. You did nothing to deserve this. You deserve love and you have a wonderful life ahead of you." You may even imagine yourself giving the younger you a hug.
Traveling back in time to give yourself love like this is very powerful. Maybe it sounds hokey, but I guarantee you will feel shifts if you include this practice in your shadow work. This inner child work is another tool to have in your box.
Peace comes from loving every part of your journey, even the dark places.
Wherever you are along the path, know that the way to peace is not ignoring the shadows, but rather shining light in even the darkest corners, so you feel love and peace emanating from every part of your soul.
Once you become aware of shadow beliefs that are hindering you from living your fullest life, you can consciously change your behavior and, in doing so, change your life. Each discomfort becomes an opportunity to investigate more fully, to learn more about yourself, and heal on an increasingly deep level.
This, my friend, is true peace. And this is why we can be grateful for even the rough days. Because when handled appropriately, every dark day is an opportunity for even more healing.
There's so much more to know! That's why I've created a workshop for you...
What are your experiences with shadow work? Share your story in the comments below.
[…] Shadow work: embracing the dark side […]
[…] are the scenes from which I don’t draw many potent lessons, but only return for inner child healing, again and […]
Thank you so much for that insightful post Suzanne!
This is something everyone should work, as you can only find the light once you have accepted the darkness or the shadow.
Thank you Daniella! So happy you enjoyed it!
All the best,
The timing for me to find your writing and the meditation that changed your life will change mine and the work I have been doing for a very long time to come. I sit here and cry out to the universe so that more would hear the power and impact this kind of work can do to heal. Bless you on your journey. Your words and guidance have truly blessed mine.
Your kind comment made my day Sharon! Thank you so much! I’m so happy that we connected and that you found medicine for your soul. Lots of love!!
I WORK AND WORK ON THESE THINGS. UNLESS THERE IS SOMETHING I DON’T REMEMBER! I HAVE HAD A LOT OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, BULLYING FROM OTHERS, SIBLINGS, PARENTS NEVER ON THE SAME TRACK, ALONE A LOT. I NEED TO WORK ON FORGIVENESS OF MYSELF AND OTHERS. I HAVE WORKED ON IT ALL AND WANT TO CONTINUE TO DO SO. I DO FEEL LIKE I NEED MORE GUIDANCE IN MEDITATION.
Hi Brenda! I’m sorry to hear you’ve experienced so much pain, but I can tell you that you will find healing through the process of sitting with it. Meditation can really help. It’s a transformative practice. If you’d like guidance, check out my meditation course here. Let me know if you have questions!
Brenda, your situation sounds very similar to mine, and the HARDEST thing that I had to learn was to FORGIVE MYSELF, especially with the Childhood Trauma’s. Once I mastered that, the rest just fell into place, and it’s so much easier to forgive others, along with myself! I wish you nothing but Peace and Happiness on your Path!
[…] Feedback is often about what the other person would like you to change so they can be happy, but they’ve fixated on this thing about you that annoys them, which is their trigger and says more about their unhealed wounds. […]
“Traveling back in time to give yourself love like this is very powerful. Maybe it sounds hokey, but I guarantee you will feel shifts if you include this practice in your shadow work. This inner child work is another tool to have in your box.”
I chuckle when the universe connects everything. I’ve been in my own recovery process for some years now. I began ‘traveling through time’ awhile back when doing some DEEP work and would travel as an angel to my younger self at times when I felt most vulnerable and afraid. I literally pick up my Self as a young child, ask her if she wants to leave, buckle her into a car seat in my car and take her home with me where she can be safe. It’s a remarkable experience! Somehow when we start really connecting to our truth we all seem to tap into the same energy resource! Thanks for writing about this!
That’s awesome Jana! Sounds like a beautiful experience. Thank you for sharing! ❤️
I just can’t figure out this work or deep work I’ve just struggled with loneliness and fear of abandonment since I was about 25 now 66 . I’ve had all kinds of therapy medicine ect. My family has been deceased since 1993. My wife was unhappy with me and we went to marriage counseling and I was also going to therapy . I was getting strung out and only sleeping 1 to 4 hrs for weeks on end. I was overwhelmed and stopped both . I do meditate with a group. I cope by working sometimes . My anxiety really kicks in if I’m exposed to people with big families and friends I really envy them as I have none I’m safe just feel like it’s chronic sucks
I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling. You might enjoy the book The Power of Now. It will help you accept your life, which will help you access your true power.
Lots of love,
I live in another country and have been a traveler, therapist, and now 73, and lucky to be alive. Reading your entry, I would like to share as a man of similar age, we grew up in a very different world, with many of what we thought to be or were taught to be a man have changed. Many of the traditional and methods used in these discussion I Have utilized either as a practitioner, or personally experienced. The feeling of being stuck and or not able to move on is not uncommon with men our age. Some may disagree. What has changed me the most over the years is to give to others, as a volunteer, a smile, a pat on the back when you see a friend, or a hug when more needed.. By doing this and of simple but so important giving we start to receive something we so longed for. I cannot put this into words but many masters of so many disciplines relate how important this is to humanity’s survival. This includes us. As a guy from many years back, I am very sorry and in some cases ashamed of actions that were hurtful, often not intended, but many times were selfish. To forgive oneself has been truly the most challenging. Making amends is so key in many 12 step programs, when possible. Collectively many of us guys may feel left in the dust when in fact we have so much to give. That you have invested in so many options to improve, perhaps the most important one is to value yourself, and what you have to offer us with your gifts, which I have no doubt are present, given the sincerity you have emanated All the best, Danny
Hi, Mike. My name is Angela, and I know it’s been almost two years since this post, but I want to tell you your post is dear to my heart. I feel the very way you describe on a day to day basis. I hope this finds you in better spirits. May we both find the peace we seek.
I have a question. Can you overcome sickness by doing shadow work
It’s possible! I believe physical ailments start as spiritual problems.
I am concentrating more on further shadow work. I guess you can say where Carl Jung never got to.
The true origin of it all, I mean who we really are as a person.
Glad to hear <3
[…] What is Shadow Work? (and how to do it) […]
Good point. We might do shadow work to improve our emotional life and find, at least initially, that is stirs things up even more. It’s amazing people do it at all.
What a find! I started on this page after a google search, and thanks for the tips I have a path forward! I also am just now also reading your 5-steps to stop negative thinking post — treasure chest! Now I have some tools too! Gonna be a hell of a ride starting this weekend!!! <3 Thank you!
Love hearing that! Thanks Jeff ♥️
Thank you for writing this. I thought you should know that somebody has published a copy of this under their name, they have just juggled some words around but a lot is verbatim. Here is the link https://hackspirit.com/7-shadow-work-techniques-to-heal-the-wounded-self/
thank you so much!! I’ve contacted them and requested they remove it. Really appreciate you looking out. <3