Updated: Sep 1, 2020
It's Mindful Monday and today, we're talking about Shadow Work. It's not as scary as it sounds. It is a method of healing, used to help one feel whole and move on from past hurts.
The ‘shadow’ is a concept originated by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist who developed analytical psychology. He describes the shadow in his book, “Aion”, published in 1951:
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”
— Carl Jung, Aion (1951)
Essentially, the shadow is the dark parts of ourselves that have been repressed, and shoved so deep in our psyche, that we don’t immediately recognize how those dark parts manifest in our day to day to lives, hence the term ‘shadow’; our shadow is always there, following us wherever there is light, but we rarely take the time to look on the ground for our shadow. We know it’s there, but we choose to actively ignore it.
In terms of how the ‘shadow’ works in our day-to-day lives, it usually manifests itself in very strong emotional reactions. For example, if someone tells you that a color doesn’t look good on you, and you feel your stomach sink. The rest of the day you feel really anxious and can’t stop thinking about how you’ll never wear that color again, and you go home and cry.
This reaction is indicative of negative feelings you have rooted very deeply in your psyche. Perhaps you were insecure about your body image your whole life, and you never gave yourself the time to examine how you really feel about yourself because it’s too painful. So you just ignore these outbursts, and the past events that have led to you having these feelings about yourself, for them to only keep happening in different ways. Next time you might be the one triggering these feelings, telling yourself how ugly you are, how no one wants you, how you’ll never find love. Sound familiar?
These reactions will keep happening until you decide enough is enough. It will keep happening until you decide to open up and let yourself be vulnerable about your pain and trauma. And speaking from experience, shadow work is hard. You will be crying -- wailing-- and one session can last for hours. But I will say this: you will feel a huge weight lift off of you after you’re done. You will feel like a whole new person, because you will be! And the person or insecurity that hurt you will no longer follow you around, taunting you everyday, and causing you to have those strong, emotional outbursts I mentioned earlier.
So, how do you do shadow work? I’ve linked a document here, with different ways you can practice. This is what I personally do, derived from one of the links in the above doc:
Choose what you want to address. You can have a shadow about anything and anyone. An easy way to identify your shadows is by examining what caused you to have a strong emotional reaction. This doesn’t have to be crying; this can be something, or someone, that made you really angry, sad or worried.
Take a piece of paper and a writing utensil and write out everything that you hate about that person. EVERYTHING. Do not hold back, because no one is going to ever see it. This is between you and the paper. Just let it go, let your shadow speak.
Imagine the person in front of you, and tell them how you feel. Tell them what they did that hurt you: the words they said, or didn’t say, the way they behaved, and what you went through as the result of their actions.
Now imagine their responses. Speak as if you were them. Imagine what they would say, and say it out loud. Have a conversation with the person you have a shadow about.
After you feel like you’ve let everything out, take the piece of paper and rip it to shreds. Take the shreds in your fist while holding the fist over a trash can and say, “I now release these emotions. I am healed.” and let the shreds fall in the trash can.
Take a deep breath, walk away from the trash can. And go about your day.
I like to shower or go to sleep right after a shadow work session. It’s emotionally draining, and what better way to replenish than washing the past down the drain, or taking a nice, post-crying, nap? You’ll finish your shower, or your wake up from your sleep, a brand new person. You’ll feel it. Trust me.
Other notes about shadow work:
This is not a substitute for seeking professional help from a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist.
You can prepare for shadow work by planning out time where you know you won’t be disturbed. You DO NOT want a sibling or cousin or parent bussin' in your room to find you weeping and talking to yourself. It ruins everything.
I listed YouTube videos you can watch if you want more in depth explanations of the ‘shadow’ in the same doc above.
Continuing to repress and reject parts of yourself because they’re too painful to address is worse than putting a band-aid over a bullet wound. If you don’t address it, relationships with loved ones will be burned and feeling happy and at peace with yourself and your life will be delayed.
I only want the best for you all, and this work, though painful (as healing always is), is life-changing in the best of ways.
Love and Light,