Misconceptions About Shadow Work

Image Credit: Paweł Sierakowski | Standard License

Misconception: The Shadow Is Our Negative Aspects

In the writings of Carl Jung, the Shadow is not purely positive or negative. While it contains a lot of really negative things about ourselves that we don’t want to look at, it’s not just purely negative things. It’s simply the parts of ourselves that we’re disowning or unconscious of that are outside of the light of our consciousness, or rather the Shadow of our consciousness. By becoming conscious of who we really are, we step into real sovereignty because we then have the ability to master ourselves and our lives. Socrates taught that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” It is only by being honest in our introspection that we can examine our life and ourselves for what we truly are.

Misconception: The Shadow Must Be Defeated, Suppressed, or Disowned

The Shadow is not something to be fought against or condemned. It is not something that’s meant to be defeated or suppressed. The Shadow is an aspect of ourselves that is crying out for inclusion and integration into our personality. The more it is ignored, the more it throws unconscious fits crying for our attention and inclusion. Disowning the shadow or allowing it to be an excuse is only a permission slip for the shadow to run more rampant, which is antithetical to the path of self-sovereignty. The more the shadow is ignored, the more it unconsciously rules us.

Shadow Work is an eternal process of making the things we don’t want to look at, acknowledge, or own about ourselves conscious so that we can work on it. Shadow work is an Alchemical process of transmutation. That transmutation can only be done with honest introspection, acceptance, and a desire to figure out a healthy way to give those parts of ourselves new healthier roles and jobs in alignment with our Highest Will. For example, if your shadow is competition, you can work on understanding this part of yourself and repurposing it to compete against yourself and strive to do better and better. You aren’t abandoning the core which is competition, you’re giving it a healthier conscious role. 

Misconception: Shadow Work Is Temporary

Shadow work is not something done for a short period of time, a class, a workshop, or an event. It is lifelong work. It is about discovering the aspects of ourselves, our personality, and our lives that we’ve either disowned and refuse to look at. While human, we will never be in a state of pure perfection. As we grow and work with our shadow, we discover more and more about ourselves. We keep digging deeper and uncovering more and more about ourselves that we’ve pushed back into the shadows of our consciousness. It’s not a temporary process meant to abandon aspects of ourselves.

Misconception: Shadow Work Is Masochism

Shadow work is not an excuse to feed or stroke our own inner emotional masochist or martyr. While shadow work can be uncomfortable and at times painful, it shouldn’t be self-inflicted abuse or pouring salt on our wounds. I have seen many people do this, and I myself have done this in the past when beginning Shadow Work. 

Misconception: Shadow Work Allows Us Be Jerks

Shadow Work is not a permission slip to excuse the shadow or allow it to take control and run rampant. Being conscious of our shadow doesn’t mean that we can consciously allow it to behave the way that it was unconsciously. Shadow Work should make you a better person, not a worse one.

In Summary

“Taking it in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries. Only monkeys parade with it.”

– Carl Gustav Jung
The Integration of Personality

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"This makes so much sense. Thanks, Mat."

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