A process of identifying your shadow self and embracing your darker side, as a deep and valid part of yourself. It is learning to live as the whole person in duality – The light and the dark.
We all have a shadow/dark side. It’s the part of us who takes control when we act out of character or loose our tempers. It’s the part of us who takes control when we react before thinking. It’s the part of us responsible for the impulsive acts which may get us into trouble.
When we suppress our dark side or haven’t integrated our shadow self into our whole self, we can feel divided and that darker side of us can spring forth in some rather destructive ways.
If your shadow self is not given an appropriate outlet, you may encounter a wide variety of problems or maladaptive behaviours such as;
– Promiscuity and risky sexual behaviours
– Social anxiety
– Limiting beliefs
– Quick to anger
– Other social disruptions
What is my “shadow” and why should I work with it?
Carl Jung – “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”
We have a raw self, an authentic nature, which we gradually surrender to social conditioning. This enables us to function as an integrated member of society, restraining our unacceptable ‘true’ self. However, during times of distress or doubt, the raw self can manifest, exposing our shadow natures.
Our self expressions are contained within the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, which can lead to dissonance between our subconscious and conscious selves. Individual and collective repression cause our innermost fixations and tendencies to become lost. Shadow work is the process of integrating these lost parts into our more present and conscious mind.
Cognitive dissonance is experiencing discontentment due to disparities between who we think we are and who we actually are.
To alleviate the discomfort of cognitive dissonance we use projection, rationalisation and social masks. All of which together repress the shadow self, preventing us from reaching self actualisation.
Projection occurs unconsciously when it does not feel safe for us to own things about ourselves and we instead ‘project’ those qualities onto others. Seeing someone else as having the unwanted quality.
Rationalisation involves us using our intellect busily against ourselves, in that we construct justifications for our choices rather than confronting uncomfortable truths.
We wear social masks rather than showing up as our authentic selves. Masks are the selective ways we represent ourselves in different roles for example as parent, friend or employee. The masks encapsulate our sense of ‘who we should be’ in that role.
The dark night of the soul
Carl Jung – “a threatening and much to be avoided experience. Yet perhaps a quarter of the seekers on the road to higher consciousness will pass through the dark night. In fact, they may pass through several until they experience the profound joy of their true nature. There is no coming to consciousness without pain.“
Feeling low or even depressed or in existential crisis can be attributed to a need for shadow work; a need to bring new and deeper understanding of the whole self forward, to progress towards your own enlightenment.
We suppress aspects of ourselves due to social conditioning, and these repressed aspects cause us to act out. Shadow work is about answering the question ‘what is actually me and what is socially directed?’
Balancing your selves
Carl Jung – “He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens.”
Unless someone chooses to take control, there is every chance that the wheel will keep on turning and the next generations children will inherit the behaviours and thought processes they witness playing out around them.
So what we have to achieve is a balance between the shadow self and the social, conscious self. We cannot outwardly express our shadow selves due to the nature of the shadow. What we can do is identify our shadows and bring them into the light so that we might harness the positives which can be found there and recognise our full selves.
The skill of shadow work lies in identifying your true self and stepping whole heartedly, with peace and acceptance, into who you are in the full.
When we master this way of living and seeing ourselves we are more able to provide love, support and servitude to others and ourselves too!
I’ve seen it argued that shadow work is a solitary practice – I believe this to be inaccurate. We need support to deal with big emotions and to cope, as such we shouldn’t hesitate to seek support from people around us and tell them that we are working towards understanding ourselves.
Shadow working will bring you to tears. You will meet and face parts of yourself that you forgot, never met, or simply want to deny. In your strength through this process, you stand to liberate yourself.
You deserve to walk in the light, in your full.
Lets see if together we can embark on a journey into our individual darkness. I will openly be sharing parts of my own journey through my shadow realm in the hopes that people find relate-able content and feel less alone.
If you are wanting to engage with shadow work and would like to see where this journey leads, subscribe so that you don’t miss ‘Engaging with shadow work’ and the posts to follow in this series.