What is shadow work & why do you need to do it?
If there’s something that has been kept hush-hush for too long throughout alternative, spiritual and New Age communities, it is shadow work.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? Or maybe this is the first time you are hearing this term. But either way, it’s high time we bring this work… um… out of the shadows of all our lives (sorry, forgot to give a ‘bad pun alert’!).
It’s easy for us to only want to seek and accept the ‘love and light’ within us when we start embracing the spiritual side of our life. After all, isn’t it the shadowy side of the world that has caused us to end up in the state our world is in right now?
Well actually, no.
Rather, it is the lack of collective acceptance of our shadow aspects that has caused the external shadow to ‘play out’ around us in the world – in order for us all to witness these aspects; accept these as traits we also possess within ourselves (even if we don’t choose to express them); and therefore, fully embrace our whole selves in order to create a better future.
What is shadow work?
As a little background, the original shadow work was coined and fashioned by the well-known Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who learned the deep importance of embracing all parts of ourselves – especially those parts which we choose to keep hidden away from the world, and often even from ourselves.
So why would we hide parts of ourselves away?
Well, that part is not so easily answered, nor is there any one reason why it happens. However, it typically stems from unhealed traumatic experiences (particularly from our childhoods) and how we ultimately learned to cope and temporarily move past this trauma in order to survive. I say temporarily, as we will need to revisit this trauma at some point in our future in order to heal it completely – but at that time in our lives, basic survival and moving forward from the trauma is the key priority.
Another reason why we unconsciously hide parts of ourselves away is so we can develop the desired outer persona (or mask) that we feel is beneficial for us to engage most successfully with the world around us.
How do I do shadow work?
The quickest way to start doing shadow work is to look at the things in your world that really ‘trigger’ you.
Maybe for you, it’s when someone is rude to you? Or perhaps one of your major triggers is when someone acts in a greedy way, completely infuriating you. Or it could, of course, be one of a million other things!
Make a start by looking at the things that you deeply react to (as in, you sit fuming for days over these occurrences), and within those triggers often lies a good starting point for your personal shadow work.
The reason why noticing your triggers offers the best place to start is because we tend to react greatly to those behaviours in others which we simply won’t accept within ourselves.
If we use one of the examples above about getting extremely annoyed by rude people, your deep irritation may extend from being taught in childhood that to be rude was ‘bad’ and completely unacceptable behaviour (therefore, you would judge yourself in the same way if you were to act in a rude way).
Or perhaps you get very annoyed with rude people because you have never allowed yourself to explore being rude at some stage of your life, in order to see whether it has a functional purpose (or even just to allow yourself to feel what it is like to act that way?).
Or maybe you knew someone from earlier in your life who you detested, and among their personality traits was rudeness – so you have always done your utmost to never behave like that person in any way; including not being rude to anyone (even if situations arose where it may have been deemed an appropriate or natural reaction to particular circumstances).
By no means is the above a conclusive list of reasons why you could be triggered by any behaviour or situation around you – there could be any number of reasons why you might be repressing our example trait of ‘rudeness’ within your own psyche. However, the point of shadow work is to find out why you react in an extreme way; learn how you can accept your own potential to act that way (even if you choose not to); and then allow yourself to act the way you consciously choose to be – without denying the fact that any particular behaviour, emotion or character trait indeed exists as a possibility within all of us.
Why is it so important to do shadow work?
The short answer is: without embracing all your potential human qualities, behavioural traits and the sheer multiverse of potential aspects within your psyche or mind, you can never feel completely confident that you are living an authentic life totally of your own choosing – and therefore, you will never feel completely ‘whole’.
To truly own and embrace your full potential, seek your sovereignty and know who you really are, you need to know who you could be, as well as who you consciously choose not to be. This acceptance of all human aspects existing within yourself is actually completely empowering – you will be who you consciously choose to be, not who you were raised, conditioned or even coerced into being. And to quote the Native American proverb, you will accept that two wolves of opposite energies indeed reside within you, and intimately know that it is always you who ultimately chooses which wolf you feed, embrace and follow!
To learn more about shadow work, I’d highly recommend the work of the late Debbie Ford who I feel made these processes readily accessible to anyone who wants to start doing this critical work on themselves.
*** If you live in Australia, take a look at these titles from Debbie Ford that we have on clearance, including a CD set which no longer exists in CD format – but only while stocks last ***