In my opinion, the most important thing we can do for ourselves is shadow work. It’s also one of the most difficult things we can do. Shadow work is unearthing the parts of ourselves that we try to hide or deny.
Our shadow begins to form at a very young age. Our parents/guardians and society condition us to believe that some things are “good” and others are “bad.” We take our “bad,” and we bury it. Our shadow is our core wound(s). It’s the little child that desperately wants to be acknowledged and loved. It’s the place where all of your demons reside. It’s where your repressed feelings, animal impulses, and “evil” exists. In order to heal, we must integrate our shadow. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it rewarding? Absolutely.
Meeting the shadow is a personal thing. Uncovering the parts that have been rejected is excruciating. Facing those inner demons can be liberating. Imagine fearing the boogeyman in the closet, and finally being able to open the closet door and finding a friend. That’s what meeting my shadow has been like for me. I won’t lie… my shadow is still not fully integrated. My shadow still looms over me casting a black cloud of judgment.
I’ve encountered my shadow through automatic writing, meditation, shamanic journey, journaling, and more. So what resides in my shadow? My compassion, my empathy, my love. Seems weird, right? I completely agree. Here’s the thing, I grew up in a household where you were punished for crying. A frequent memory involves my dad daring me to cry. “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about!” Mind you, I was already terrified of him. In fact, I’m tearing up, as I type this. The animal lover in me often cried at the misfortune of animals. That was also wrong. It was irrational and stupid to cry. It’s only natural that my younger self saw these things as unacceptable. Those sensitivities must be repressed was the message, and I received it loud and clear.
To this day, I struggle with compassion, empathy, and love. My walls are high. My walls are probably as tall as Mount Everest. I’m working hard to bring them down, but it’s a work in progress. My feelings are mostly shut off. Most of the time, I walk around on autopilot. The most difficult question I receive is “how are you feeling?” I really don’t know. I’m not in touch with my feelings. Those are my personal demons. Those are the monsters under my bed. Of course, there are other demons. They’re not all the “good stuff.” I’m human. It’s a good mix of things. We’re all light and dark. There is no “good” or “bad.” There is just us. All of our beautiful and messy parts. Our humanity.
So, how can you work with the shadow? First, and foremost, ensure that you are in a place where opening up the shadow is best for you. If you’re in a place of low self-esteem or depression, shadow work may not be the best thing for you to do. It takes a lot out of us to face our shadow. It’s ok to seek professional help.
- Work on self-love. You must be able to love yourself as you are. Love yourself with reckless abandon. Understand that you are perfectly imperfect. Commit to yourself, as you would to another.
- Self-care. As you undertake shadow work, you must make time for self-care. Some days that’ll mean a warm blanket and good book. Other times, it’ll be sleep. Whatever self-care means to you, commit to it.
- Allow the feelings. As you go through shadow work, you’ll have a lot of feelings emerge. Allow them. Hold space for them. Do not judge them or yourself (hello self-love).
- Be self-aware. Self-awareness is paramount in this process. You must be conscious of your intention, your feelings, your thoughts, etc. Without self-awareness, you won’t get very far. You must also be able to recognize when a break is needed.
Those are just some of the things you must possess for this process. I’ve included some ways in which you can do start shadow work below…
- Creativity – allow the shadow to surface through some form of art. Perhaps that’s through drawing, painting, writing. For me, my first choice is writing. I love journaling and storytelling. I create characters that embody my shadow attributes.
- Explore your shadow by exploring archetypes – if you’re familiar with archetypes, use them to get to know your shadow. As you can tell, I love archetypes. They’re just so useful.
- Meditation – use guided meditations to explore the depths of your shadow. Or simply, visualize! Set the intention that you’re going to explore your own shadow. Be open to what feelings, images, and thoughts come through. Remember, don’t judge (I know, easier said than done).
- Pay attention to your projections – what triggers you? What angers you in others? What feelings and thoughts come to mind? Whenever you’re triggered, ask yourself “am I projecting anything?” “Does this belong to me?” Honestly, not everything is a projection. I don’t believe that at all. Sometimes a person is just being a jerk. Other times, you’re truly projecting. This is where self-awareness will come in handy.
There are so many ways to explore the shadow. The more familiar we get with our shadow, the more we heal, and the more we connect to wholeness.