What is The Shadow?
Many of us like to believe that we should only be light and cheerful beings, but we all have a dark side. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst, was determined to understand why otherwise good people could do bad things.
During his research, he found that people often keep parts of their psychology hidden from others – or even themselves – in an attempt to gain acceptance from others.
Each time we hide those parts of ourselves, we contribute toward the growth of the shadow self, a disassociated “other” self. The shadow self is the side of us that we usually repress, the yin to our yang. It’s every bad feeling, belief, fear, and association that we don’t wish to accept about ourselves, our primal and most adverse desires.
The mutual human tendency to hide our dark sides harms us more than it helps us.
Jung states that:
“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.”
Meaning that every time we look away from the parts of ourselves that dissatisfy us, we add to the size of our shadow, and if left unchecked, that part of our psyches will grow darker and make us more prone to exposing our worst characteristics.
How is the Shadow Formed?
Our shadows are individual creations of our subconscious that common social standards play a large role in affecting. When our minds are most malleable during childhood, we form our shadows through our various reactions to our environment’s “rules,” namely society’s rules.
On average, we don’t teach children effective ways of dealing with discomfort and bad feelings.
Because of that, the average child’s response to that is to ignore, explain, or blame those feelings away.
When you were younger, were you ever taught specific ways of handling sadness or anger?
Did anyone ever show you proper methods of self-care?
Hopefully, the answer is yes, but that is not the case for many of us.
Throughout our years of socialization, we continuously grow and modify our shadows. Every time we attempt to seem normal and fit in, we hide an aspect of ourselves and add to our inner darkness.
That constant repression causes what is known as “Cognitive Dissonance,” which is a mental disconnect between the person you “think” you are and the person you “actually” are.
That stresses the ego, and your ego will always go to great lengths to keep itself comfortable. As a result, many men and women navigate their lives with their shadows completely unchecked.
And that is a huge problem; to become the best version of yourself, you’ll need to access your ENTIRE self.
What is Shadow Work?
An essential component of expansion is learning to face your shadow self, and the practice of uncovering and embracing your other self is called shadow work.
Humans have engaged in shadow work since ancient times.
Countless civilizations have used many methods to explore consciousness’s hidden aspects.
It’s easy to celebrate our strengths, but what triggers the growth that many of us seek to create is learning to face our weaknesses, thus forming a healthy relationship with our shadow.
Jung believes that your shadow tends to sabotage your life if you avoid it. Repressing it can result in addictions, low self-esteem, and mental illness.
Additionally, you may soon find yourself experiencing messy interpersonal relationships, frequent emotional outbursts, less passion, and recurring patterns and consequences.
Ways to Spot Your Shadow
Learning how to spot your shadow is vital, but that also requires recognizing how it moves. The shadow hides with the ego’s help, and the ego is quite tricky.
These are the three main ways that our egos hide our shadows:
1. Rejection – This is the mental mechanism that we employ to deny aspects of ourselves that we do not wish to be a part of us. This denial helps us maintain the image of the type of person we want to believe we are and what we’re capable of doing.
When we recognize qualities that we’ve already rejected about ourselves in other people, our natural reaction is to judge and dismiss them as well.
2. Rationalization – This is the method we use to justify and explain, to ourselves, the parts of ourselves that we otherwise wouldn’t like. This is different from rejection as it is not a complete denial of self.
However, it is a way to sugarcoat our perceived bad qualities to appear reasonable. This way, the ego is protected, and you still feel like a good person.
3. Projection – This is probably the most common and difficult to recognize of the ego’s three coping strategies. Projection involves casting the qualities that we can’t stand about ourselves onto other people.
We do this even when the other person hasn’t displayed those qualities. This is likely the most challenging mechanism to recognize because it might sometimes occur due to previous unconscious rejections about other things.
So, if you’ve ever angrily said or done something hurtful that you didn’t mean or found yourself getting upset at someone for seemingly no real reason, then you’ve experienced your shadow manifesting itself within you.
And it’s likely a result of your ego acting out in one of the three ways mentioned above, so remember to stay vigilant of the ways your mind naturally copes with discomfort.
As you go about your day, you will encounter many emotional triggers; see them as opportunities to shed light on your shadow.
Integrating The Shadow
Now that you know some of the passive ways of catching your disassociated self in action, it’s time to explore the ways that you can proactively bring your shadow to the forefront of your conscious.
There’s a wide range for you to consider here. You don’t have to try every one of these shadow work techniques out; simply choose the one(s) that calls to you the most.
Freewriting or journaling is an excellent way of exploring yourself, as it allows you the opportunity to examine yourself as you write. The more words you write, the deeper into yourself you go.
As an exercise, write a letter to the people who have hurt you in life. Explaining what you feel and why you feel it, even if only to yourself, will help you validate yourself and release those emotions.
Many of us are unaware of our shadows partly due to modern society’s distractions.
Cell phones, streaming services, and the like encourage unconsciousness.
In the case of shadow work, silence is golden. Make sure to spend some time sitting with just yourself, as that silence will provide insights into how you feel.
Perhaps try envisioning someone you don’t particularly like during this time.
Inspect why you don’t like them, then wish them happiness in life.
Track Your Judgements
If you make it a habit to catch yourself when you judge others, you will soon begin to notice which judgments you usually make the most. Seeing what you consistently dislike about others will reveal a lot about the things you don’t like about yourself.
Everyone in the world is a mirror; we are all reflections of each other, so the next time you have a bad thought about someone, ask yourself, “what does my reaction to this person say about me?”
Feel Everything with Compassion
When you encounter one of your emotional triggers, allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions that follow. Inspect your feelings as objectively as possible and with a TON of compassion for yourself.
Ask yourself, “what am I feeling? Why am I feeling this?” And then wait and see what answers come to you. However, please do not judge yourself when the answers come, even if they are mainly negative.
Engage with Your Inner Child
Most of us develop a good chunk of our shadows during childhood. Go back to moments in your life where you felt hurt or vulnerable; inspect who or what made you feel that way, then be gentle with yourself.
Tell your inner child that you love them and that they aren’t alone because you’re with them. Revisiting the child version of yourself that endured your traumas is incredibly remedial.
Celebrate Your Shadow and Own Your Sh#t!
The absolute truth is that learning to work with your shadow will help you live your life more proactively. You will find yourself reacting to less and consciously responding to more.
You will own all of yourself. The benefits of a well-integrated shadow include:
- Greater Creativity
- Better Relationships
- Heightened Energy and Passion
- Higher Self-Esteem
- More Resilience
- Higher trust in Intuition
It’s safe to say that when you own every part of yourself, the path to becoming a more embodied and whole person opens up.
These practices will not eliminate your other self; that isn’t possible, as anything that casts light also creates shadows. What shadow work will do is normalize the good, the bad, AND the ugly for you.
When that happens, you’ll begin to experience greater levels of agency and control over your reality. By telling both your light and dark selves to come to you, it becomes easier to guide yourself towards the outcomes that you desire in life.
After all, you’ll no longer have a part of you to run away from, and once you no longer need to run away, the only outcome for you is to move forward with literally everything you’ve got.
About the Author
Ian is a Freelance Copywriter. He helps compassionate coaches and leaders reclaim their time, energy, and confidence by creating content strategies that help them channel their higher purpose. A free-thinking ambivert, Ian encourages individuals to walk the path of open-mindedness, compassion, balance, and self-mastery. He loves to exercise, meditate, and cook. He is also an avid reader, writer, poet, and gamer. He currently resides in New Jersey.