“All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow” – Leo Tolstoy
As shadow work is becoming more and more popular, a lot of people are trying to understand what is shadow work and why they should use it.
In this article, I will briefly present to you what the shadow is, why you should work towards healing it, and how to do a few of the shadow work techniques and practices which I consider most effective.
To help you gain a better understanding of how shadow work techniques will benefit you, I’d like to explain what the shadow is and why you need to heal it.
Any shadow work technique you put in practice will be more effective if you understand what the shadow is, how to heal it and how shadow work can magically transform your life.
What Is The Shadow?
The concept of shadow was first mentioned by psychology pioneer Carl Jung.
Jung spent a lot of time studying the human psyche and how it works, and ultimately came up with a very unique approach to it.
According to him, the human psyche contains 4 different parts: the self, the persona, the anima/animus, and lastly, the shadow.
He described the persona as the image we show to others to protect our real self, or “the mask” we all have to wear to feel accepted by society.
The anima/animus represents the real self, the one we feel that we need to hide and protect, and the self is the mediator between all the other sides or the part that balances the conscious and the subconscious.
However, the most controversial one, according to Jung, is the shadow.
The shadow is the part of our psyche that contains everything we were forced to reprimand and hide – our flaws, setbacks, and darkest secrets.
A few examples of what the shadow can contain are flaws such as greed, negative emotions such as anger and envy, unwanted suppressed behaviors such as aggression, prejudices, negative behavioral patterns, fears, and so on.
The shadow also contains the suppressed needs and wishes, such as sexual wishes we never accepted we have.
Why You Should Use Shadow Work Techniques
Before you start doing shadow work techniques, it’s important to understand why you need to do them.
First, shadow work techniques and practices are meant to heal your shadow.
The reason why you need to heal your shadow is that all these negative traits or behavioral patterns that you have can ultimately sabotage your life.
They can ruin your relationships, they can lead you to make the wrong choices, can cause you to have low self-esteem, and so on.
Shadow work also helps you accept, love, and integrate these unwanted parts of yourself into your psyche because as long as you repress them, they will continue to influence your life negatively.
Like Carl Jung said, “Until you make the subconscious conscious, it will lead your life and you will call it fate”.
The shadow needs healing and integration, because every time you suppress it or act on it, it grows stronger.
The traits, behaviors, and patterns from your shadow were acquired through trauma and painful experiences, from this life or the past lives.
For example, if your parents always compared you to children who were doing better than you, you started being envious of others and gained the hidden belief that you are not good enough.
Now, not only that you are constantly envious of others, but the belief that you are not good enough also makes you sabotage a lot of opportunities.
Another good example is when you grew up in an aggressive, violent family. In that sort of environment, you probably learned that aggression is a normal response to any situation that you don’t like.
Now you will be an aggressive person and this can ruin your relationships, work-life and many other aspects of your life.
7 Shadow Work Techniques And Practices That Will Bring The Best Results
I am going to describe 7 shadow work techniques that are perfect, to begin with, and which I consider most fruitful when it comes to results.
Also, I am going to present them in the order in which I think they should be approached, especially if you’ve never done shadow work before.
Think of them as steps to follow, in the process of familiarizing yourself with shadow work.
#1. Understanding And Knowing Your Shadow
To work with your shadow, you must first know what your shadow entails.
For you to understand your shadow, you need to have a good understanding of the Jungian archetypes. Then, you must find out what your own shadow contains because only then do you know what to work on.
So, how do you get to know your shadow better?
Easy. Start noticing your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Write a list of all the nasty thoughts and negative emotions that you experience often, then a list of undesirable or negative behaviors you often manifest. Then, notice what triggers each thought, emotion, or behavior, and by making the trigger-consequence connection, you will also understand your dysfunctional patterns.
When you understand these dysfunctional patterns, you will also know how your wounded self looks like.
#2. Review Your Childhood
Reviewing your childhood is an important step because most of your undesirable traits and behaviors stem from it, and from the relationship patterns that you saw at home.
So when you review your childhood, try to be as honest as possible, even if this means you have to admit some painful truths.
To understand your childhood and how it shaped you, try to honestly answer the following questions:
- What were the general mental and emotional states in my home? Did I grow up in a generally loving environment, or a hostile environment? How is that impacting me today?
- Who was there for me when I needed it the most?
- Who did I love the most and why?
- How was the relationship between my parents?
- How was my mother behaving towards me?
- How was my father behaving towards me?
- Did I have all the financial resources needed to grow and develop? If not, how is that impacting me today?
- Did I have all the emotional resources, such as unconditional love, acceptance, and patience needed to fully develop emotionally? If not, how is that impacting me today?
- Did my parents have high expectations? Did I receive punishments? How is that impacting me today?
- How were my caregivers/parents reacting when I expressed my emotions? Did I have the freedom to self-expression? If not, how is that impacting me today?
There might be other relevant questions for you to ask yourself to review your childhood, but these are the main ones that will help you understand how your shadow was born.
If you can truly ask all these questions, you’ve just built the foundation of a successful shadow work process.
#3. Notice Your Shadow Operating In Your Everyday Life
Once you are pretty familiar with your shadow, its negative traits, and dysfunctional patterns, notice how it impacts your day-to-day life.
You can do this by noticing every time you are about to have a negative reaction to something.
Surprise yourself at that moment and notice what exactly triggers you, and why.
Does it remind you of a similar situation in your life, perhaps from your childhood (but not only)?
Do you have a pattern of reacting or thinking that certain way in other areas of life as well?
How does it impact your relationships? Are you willing to replace this pattern with a positive one?
If yes, how could you react/think/ feel differently in future similar situations?
#4. The “Projection Mirror” Exercise
Carl Jung stated that the best way to understand your shadow is by analyzing your most difficult relationships.
He believed that every personality trait which we don’t like in another person, we also have, and every behavior that we despise we also manifest in a different form or situation.
Therefore, when we are bothered by something that someone else does, that is because we also act like that sometimes.
We tend to project what we don’t like in ourselves in others, and the reason why it bothers us so much is that we do it as well, and at a subconscious level, we know how harmful that certain trait/behavior is.
An updated form of the “Projection Mirror” exercise would be to think of a person you dislike or you have a difficult relationship with.
List the three traits you hate the most about them, then list the three traits you love most about them.
The traits you hate, are traits that you also manifest.
The traits you love could be traits that you already have but don’t manifest very often – latent traits, or simply personality traits you wish you had.
#5. Shadow Work Prompts
Shadow work prompts are a great technique that is set up as a series of questions designed to help you understand your patterns and triggers, to guide you in the process of healing trauma, or to help you love and respect yourself more.
This technique is usually done through journaling, either by using a journal that already has the prompts in it or by writing your prompts.
An important step before you start journaling is to clear your mind off other thoughts, by relaxing or meditating.
This will help you get in contact with your subconscious mind, where all the “dirt” is hidden.
If you want to find more about how to use shadow work prompts, have a look at my article “How to use shadow word prompts as a beginner“.
#6. Healing Your Inner Child
I find that inner child work is a great way of healing your shadow because a lot of the traumas and unpleasant thoughts and emotions that shaped your shadow happened during your childhood.
Maybe not all of them, but the events that took place in childhood have a huge impact on how our entire personality is formed – the persona, the anima/animus, the self, and the shadow.
Inner child healing work is another form of therapy that is very popular these days. This is because as people are awakening spiritually, they start to understand how important childhood is to their development, and how trauma acquired in that period can mess their whole lives.
There are a lot of techniques for healing your inner child, or “re-parenting” him/her.
All of them are based on releasing those negative emotions and thinking–behaving patterns acquired in childhood.
This is done by connecting to the past version of you – who you were as a child.
Inner child work is based on the idea that the child that you once were, still lives somewhere inside you, carrying all the emotions and thoughts he had back then, and imprinting them into your present thoughts and behaviors.
The purpose of re-parenting your inner child is to connect to the past version of you – the child you once were, all the love, acceptance, and support it never received.
This way, the dysfunctional patterns can be broken and then replaced with healthy ones.
Inner child work can be learned from books or online materials, but if you want to go more in-depth with it, I suggest working with a therapist that is specialized in this sort of work.
#7. Humbling Yourself
I suggest humbling yourself as a great way of working with the shadow because pretty much all of us have a strong ego as part of our shadow.
Even people who generally manifest low self-esteem, at a subconscious level have a strong ego. This is because the ego is the opposite of healthy self-esteem.
Healthy self-esteem is based on knowing your weak and strong points, while fully accepting both of them. In contrast, the ego leads to arrogance, which is the belief that you are better than others.
Arrogance usually compensates for low self-esteem and low self-acceptance.
The ego leads you to ignore your flaws and setback rather than actively working on improving yourself, and just masks them with the belief that “you are superior to other people”.
One technique I suggest for humbling yourself is to pay attention to people or behaviors you look down on.
This takes a lot of honesty and self-awareness because you have to be able to admit that deep in your heart, you do look down on someone. Then, try to put yourself in the shoes of that person, or even in their situation if possible.
For example, if you look down on poor people, try to live like a poor person for a few days. If you look down on lazy people, be lazy for a day.
I can promise this will help you understand the reasons why someone chooses a certain behavior and will help you to stop looking down on them, lowering your ego.
You will reach a more superior understanding towards the behavior you despised – the understanding that any behavior, as undesirable as it may seem from the outside, helps a person at that moment, or brings them major life lessons.
In conclusion, shadow work is a great way to help you understand yourself better, heal yourself, and to bring you closer to the life that you want.
Shadow work can be used to become the best version of yourself, by healing, accepting, and integrating all negative and rejected aspects of your being.
If you have any further questions about using shadow work techniques and practices, feel free to ask me in the comment section below, as I am happy to guide you on your self-healing journey, offering advice and unconditional support.