What Is Shadow Work?
The term shadow work has been popping up more and more in the mainstream. The term shadow comes from the term "shadow self" conceived by the 20th century psychologist Carl Jung. The phrase is referencing the parts of our mind that reside in the subconscious that our ego selves don't want to identify with. The shadow exists within us and we have the choice to continue to ignore it (and let it run the show from the sidelines) or to tackle it head on and integrate it into our conscious mind.
Let's back up for a second though. The ego is something that we need to address before going forward. The ego, what is it? It is commonly thought of as a personality trait of someone who thinks highly of themselves. This idea of ego makes one to think that if they don't think highly of themselves then they dont have an ego and why should they worry about any of this stuff anyway? Well the ego goes much deeper than just thinking highly of yourself. The ego is the default human programming. It is the self preservation and the voice that says "what about me?" It is also any sort of attachment that we might have to our identity. It is neither a good nor a bad thing, but sometimes when left unregulated the ego takes over and can lead you to make selfish choices. Your ego serves to keep you alive and safe, so it makes sense that the decisions made through ego alone would be selfish.
Most people in western society has something that they don't like about themselves. It's just the ways of life, especially in this western, perfection and comfort centric society. These parts of ourselves that we don't like live within us whether we like it or not. When it comes to trying to accept the things we don't like about ourselves, we must first face these things head on and start asking a lot of questions about where they come from.
I have been doing shadow work for a few years now and have been facing a really big shadow that I would like to use as an example for y'all.
I was raised in an alcoholic household that was ripe with narcissistic abuse. The person who abused me often used their words as weapons. Sometimes it was to directly beat down, other times words were used to silence and gaslight. Over the corse of my childhood I never really knew what it felt like to stand up for myself and not receive a tongue lashing for it. So to survive I learned that sharing my opinions and standing up for myself wasn't safe.
In my adult life, far far away from my abuser, I have been facing a lot of issues with using my voice. I have had a hard time standing up for myself, allowing others to use me as a doormat. I also find that when I am upset or angry, I use my words to hurt people in the same way that my abuser hurt me.
This is where the shadow lays. For a long time I was unaware of why I was the way I was. I didn't understand why I would just go along with things even if I really didn't want to be a part of it. Or why i've had a really hard time connecting with people. It all came from how I was treated as a child and lived in my subconscious shadow until I had the courage to look at it head on.
A lot of shadow work really consists of looking at the parts of yourself that hurt a lot to look at. Our egos hate being in pain, it wants to keep us safe and comfy and when we begin to look at the parts of ourselves that are painful, our ego flairs up and sometimes will try to convince you that the problem is really outside of yourself. Think demons, other people out to get you etc. It's easy to project the problem onto something else, when in reality the problem is coming from your own shadow.
This is a topic an entire person spent their whole lives working on studying and researching. So it's highly complex. No matter who you are, you can do shadow work. It's the kind of work that isn't easy though. It requires you to be in pain and to stand in that pain without moving out of the way. It's not easy, but if you are interested in making long lasting generational change for yourself, it is necessary.
If you are interested in shadow work and don't know where to start, I highly recommend therapy. Since shadow work involves standing in our own pain, you will need to have some sort of understanding in how to regulate yourself. How to regulate your emotions. And if you had a similar upbringing as I did, you might have to learn what emotions even are and how to identify them. For that kind of work a therapist can help you do in a safe way.
If you are aware of how to regulate your emotions then start by asking really hard questions. Where does this trait come from? How does the programming of my past effect my present life? What triggers your shame response? What is your shame response? You can even find shadow work prompts from other sources on the internet.
When it comes to actually doing the shadow work, be gentile with yourself. This is work that can be very painful and triggering and if you are new to this kind of thing, you will want to go slow and take it one step at a time.