I started to seriously do shadow work over a decade ago. I cannot remember how it all started but I think that on some level I realised that in order to move past trauma and the effect it was having on me I had to face it. It sucked, and it sucked bad, but not only was it the only way, it was also very effective.
What is shadow work? Many of us cling to the myth that all we need to do to be get on well in life or to heal from past trauma is to let ‘love’ and ‘light’ guide us. As long as you keep your mind focused on what is good and true things will right themselves and you will be just fine. Right?
Focusing on bringing more love and light into focus in our life is just one side of the equation and it can even become a kind of ‘spiritual bypass’. No matter what you do, your deeper and darker problems do exist and until you bring them out into the open they will very much control your life and how you see the world around you.
The truth is that to become genuinely whole and healed you will need bring all that into your consciousness and you must integrate it, own it, rather than keeping is supressed and repressed. You have to look your demons square in the eye and you have to love them.
How do you do that? Your shadow is anything that has been rejected and disowned. Simplistically put, you have to bring out all the things that you are ashamed of thinking and feeling up into your consciousness, examine it.
Why do we need to do that? Well, if we do not do it then we will keep being burdened by anger, rage, self-loathing, guilt, shame, disgust and grief. ‘What you resist, persists’, as Carl Jung said.
How do we begin to ‘befriend’ the shadow? Pay attention to everything that is important to you, good or bad. Pay attention to what upsets you. Pay attention to when you become controlling. Pay attention to when you want to start criticising others or when you start to judge them. Pay attention to when fear arises in you and you start feeling uncomfortable or threatened. Whatever riles you up, shocks you, infuriates you, disturbs you and terrifies you are things that you should take note of. Make a note of it and you will begin to see a pattern. Take it slow, this kind of work is not done in an afternoon. What you will find depends on what is inside you. What you inherited from your family. What was with you when you grew up. What’s happened to you throughout your life.
Whatever it is that is in there, it is aching to come out.
Get to know yourself. Ask yourself questions. Where do you come from? Who do you think you are? Who have you been told you are and who have you been told you are supposed to be?
Scan for feelings that are bothering you. Depression. Grief. Anger. Guilt. Shame. How often do you feel like that? Do you know why you feel like that? Is there a voice attached to feeling like that and whose voice is it?
It is important to understand that the shadow is both our biggest ally and our worst enemy. It is the unconscious part of you that has been left behind and it is pissed off. It feels rejected. It is aching to come out. All it wants is to be loved, seen and held but at the same time it will use all its power hide so it cannot be loved, so it cannot be seen and so it cannot be held. It will do whatever it takes not to come out into the light and it will do this in your subconscious so unless you are paying attention you do not even now it happens.
Most of us are in our heads so much that it takes a small miracle to get them back into their bodies, and to be present in the now, and to do shadow work on a deeper level you have to start feeling deeper. You have to start paying attention to responses in your body. Do you tense up when you are talking about a subject? Does your stomach know up? Do you get anxious when you have to talk to some people. Are you afraid of being seen?
We are all wounded and terrorised inside. We do what we have to do. We do it because it works……..until it does not work anymore.
Unexpressed anger turns to rage and unexpressed rage turns to self-loathing and self-loathing turns to shame, and it gets projected out into the world. If it does not get projected out into the world and onto others we may store it in our bodies until it becomes disease. We all do it. We are not taught to deal with negative emotions so it all gets stuck in our body and it manifests in different ways. If we do not get to respond in the moment to what is happening we are not actually there, we are not present and we don’t get to move through the experience. If we cannot name our emotions and feelings in a given moment we are not present; we are not aware.
The majority of people in this world do not listen to their intuition and they do not get to the point where they are reading articles like this one, learning about it or working on themselves. Most people are completely ignorant of what is happening to them and inside them. If you are here reading this you are waking up to it, you are preparing to get ready to work on it and there is something in you that is wanting to bring this out into the light so you can heal.
It is your sacred duty to yourself to do this work, to heal the wounds your shadow is carrying and to integrate that back into you. And when you are doing that you are healing your ancestral line and you are healing yourself. You are doing the work your parents and your ancestors could not do. Your parents did not have the tools you have. They did their best and sometimes that became their worst, and now you have the opportunity to heal that, to make it your best for you, for the generations that are coming after you and for the generations that came before you. They did their best and they did their worst and it is important that both are honoured. You have done your best and you have done your worst and it is important that you honour that.
If you do not heal these wounds in you, you will keep seeking out experiences and people who echo those experiences until the day you do heal it. You will try to relive these experiences until you are forced to face it, to bring it out in the open. The only way to heal is to go through it. If you grew up with parents who lashed out at you telling you that you are useless because that is what they were taught love looked like, then you will either do it too our you will overcompensate the other way. Neither is good. When you bring out into your consciousness you can see these patterns playing out and you can begin to heal the wounds that are behind these patterns.
Shadow work is a deep and it is hard but the payoffs are great, and in a lot of cases you have to end up doing it in order to heal completely. My recommendations is to seek help from an experienced practitioner if it feels heavy and hard, and to give it the time and attention it needs. While you are doing the work it will be tough but you will find that when it is done a lot will change for the better in you and in your life.