Out of the Shadows.....
I often get asked "what's the most important part of spirituality?" For me the answer is easy - doing your shadow work.
What is shadow work? Firstly, our shadow is a phrase first coined by Carl Jung - a Swiss psychiatrist, who identified that people often operate from a moral code that we attach to our personality, and this shapes our idea of what is a good or bad person. He further identified that there are aspects of our identity that we reject or repress, hiding in our shadow, and this part of ourselves causes us to project onto others what we don't like about ourselves. More often than not people are unaware of their shadow aspects, and push those parts of themselves into their unconscious awareness, so as to fit into a mould they believe is acceptable to society.
Shadow work is a process of identifying the dark parts of your soul that you either deny, are ashamed of, hide, or feel you are missing and envy in others. Some examples of these shadow aspects can be: aggressive impulses, shameful experiences, fears and wishes, immoral urges, sexual desires, or bold self-confidence. You've probably heard of the term 'projection.' Jung believed that deep within our subconscious we desire to bring these shadow aspects to the surface and work through them, so we see in others what lies beneath our own surface, and judge them harshly for such behaviour or personality traits - thus projecting onto them what we loathe in ourselves.
Our shadow selves are connected to our inner child and inner child woundings.
It is not surprising that our shadow selves are connected to our inner child. These shadow aspects began to be denied, repressed, or rejected around the first time we experienced fear, shame, guilt, and hurt as children. If we were reprimanded as a child for crying when we were hurt, then we may grow to develop a bravado or ability to control our tears in public when we are hurting - this ability is what kept us psychologically safe as a child. We may then learn to only cry in private, or berate ourselves for wanting to cry - instead of allowing ourselves to cry and express our emotions. In turn, we may grow to judge others for crying and inadvertently berate them for expressing their emotions in this way.
Whilst we develop our moral codes to keep us safe and allow us to fit into our families and societies, we often fail to realise that moral codes are simply ideals. We often fall short of achieving these ideals and thus hide the aspects of ourselves that fall short - pushing these aspects into our unconscious while we continue pretending to be the person we believe society wants us to be. Unfortunately what we repress never stays repressed and as our unconscious minds are inevitably the ones running the show, these shadow aspects come out when we are under extreme pressure, often in extreme ways in which we feel powerless to control.
The aim of shadow work is to identify and heal these traits so that we may merge our shadow and light selves in order to be whole. By bringing these shadow aspects into the light - or making the unconscious conscious - we are gifted with the opportunity to recognise them and decide whether and how to act upon them. Shadow work is the pathway to enlightenment as it truly allows us to 'know thyself.' Shadow work encourages us to observe our thoughts and feelings and what is happening within us. This way we can better understand why we are reacting or responding in certain ways to certain triggers, then recognise and disassemble the programs we are running.
As you do your shadow work you will start to recognise that you are becoming less reactive to triggers and are taking things less personally. You come to understand that everyone is running their own programs and while people may direct comments or judgements at you - they aren't really about you. You spend much less time holding imaginary arguments in your head, and more time lovingly accepting yourself and other people as they are. You become committed to being compassionate, loving and kind towards yourself and humanity by evolving a little more everyday, and using each interaction as an opportunity to learn and grow.
A side effect of regularly doing your shadow work is that you become infallible. Nothing affects you or knocks you off your course, every interaction is viewed as a wonderful experience and the darkest aspects of our human lives are less scary than society would have us believe. You will notice a surge in your self-confidence and self-belief, and a major increase in your tolerance levels. Shadow work encourages a new level of inner peace and self-love.
So embrace all parts of yourself and start your shadow work today!
Some of my favourite websites with great activities to get you started on your shadow work journey are:
Or you could try these books or journals:
The Red Book or The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
Work Book Shadowwork by Rachel Murphy
Shadow Work Journal and Guide for Beginners by Kelly Bramblett
Shadow Work Journal and Workbook by Victoria Stevens