Discovering Self Through Shadow Work

Discovering Self Through Shadow Work November 11, 2019

Psychology teaches that every human being has a “dark side.” This “darkness” is known as the “Shadow Self/Aspect”. A hidden repository for primitive impulses and emotions most people prefer to ignore or deny. Shadow Work is a method of inner-reflection which helps an individual to acknowledge, heal and bring those hidden parts of ourselves into balance.

Shadow Work
Know Yourself.  Image by Helmut Strasil via pixabay.com

Shadow Work Encourages Knowing Ourselves

Carl Jung coined the term “Shadow self” as part of a psychological concept to describe human personality. The Shadow is the Unconscious self (Id) which the Conscious self (Ego) does not identify within itself. The Shadow exists outside of the Conscious self, with character traits, behaviors, and attitudes which influence behavior.

However, this “dark side” is also effected by experiences which occur throughout our lives. As a result, this can create beliefs held deep within our subconscious. Many attitudes and behaviors which are deemed “negative” originate from the Shadow. This can include anger, jealousy, anxiety, addiction, etc.

Here’s the thing. As negative, difficult, or undesirable as these emotions/traits can be, The Shadow is still a natural (albeit hidden) part of our psyche. Through Shadow Work, we have an opportunity to uncover the mystery, which in turn helps our conscious self to recognize and embrace our whole being.

Shadow Work
We can learn important things from our Shadow.  Image by Geralt via pixabay.com

Shadow Work Acknowledges Inner Darkness

 

As Carl Jung said, “There is no light without shadow. No psychic wholeness without imperfection.” When we acknowledge our Shadow self, we have the ability to heal wounds, manage negative impulses, express feelings in a healthy manner and find balance.

As a Witch, I’ve found Shadow Work to be very beneficial. In my experience, through this type of self-examination there is less opportunity for an unconscious issue to crop up while doing spellwork, allowing greater focus and clear intention.

Shadow Work
Shadow Work is not easy.  Image by StockSnap via pixabay.com

Shadow Work WILL Be Painful

Shadow work should not be rushed. Deal with one issue at a time as it’s made known. Make sure you have a good support system with whom you can talk through difficult emotions. Do not undertake this type of self-reflection if diagnosed with or experiencing an unaddressed mental health issue.

Shadow work is not easy. If you decide to proceed, be kind to yourself. Taking a deep look into one’s unconscious self is painful. So, if you are dealing with a stressful situation (moving, new job, death in the family, etc.), then wait until life is more settled.

Additionally, for those with a strong religious framework of “evil”, it may be best not to attempt Shadow work. Why? Delving deep into one’s psyche can uncover things which (especially in a strong religious framework) may cause a person to believe themselves to be “evil,” “wrong”, or “bad.” This is not the point of the exercise and could be emotionally/spiritually harmful.

Do not try to tackle all the issues you have recognized within yourself in one fell swoop. Shadow work will dredge up related issues, so make a note to deal with those later. Shadow work is a self-reflective practice which can be re-visited as needed, over time. As human beings, we are always moving forward (or should be) and shadow work can be a way to process difficult emotions, habits, or experiences throughout adult life.

Be honest with yourself. The point of shadow work is to recognize traits within your personality which you dislike (or even hate). The goal at the end of Shadow work is to be able to love yourself regardless of those difficult inner aspects, recognize how they came to be, then do what is necessary to accept, heal and move forward.

Shadow Work
                                                                                Image by John Hain via pixabay.com

Basic Methods of Shadow Work

Journal — Choose one part of your shadow you want to acknowledge and work through. This can be a free-associated method. Ask yourself a series of questions “Why do I do…” and answer them honestly. Keep digging deeper with those questions, examine how you feel about it, until you get to the root of the issue. Take your time.

Meditation and Visualization — Use the same process as above but within a safe space in your mind/imagination. This can be done in state of trance or self-hypnosis if creative visualization is difficult for you. One possible suggestion is to talk to your “shadow” about these issues you wish to address.

Memory Regression — This is a method which should be done with a skilled hypnotist or licensed therapist who can help you remember a traumatic incident or period in your life and help you work through what happened and how to heal. Do not attempt shadow self memory regression alone.

Re-enactment/Performance — Act out (in a symbolic way) your bad behavior/habit, or what you do not like within yourself, to call up the emotions and then wrestle and deal with it in honest recognition. Ecstatic dance, drumming, or vocalizations (singing, shouting, etc.) can assist with this process by focusing on these “inner demons” and releasing them.

About
Gwyn is one of the hosts of 3 Pagans and a Cat, a podcast about the questions and discussions between three pagan family members, each exploring different pagan paths and how their various traditions can intersect. The most practiced pagan on the path, Gwyn is a Modern Hekataen-Green Witch, Devotee of the Covenant of Hekate, and Clairsentient Medium. She loves working with herbs, essential oils and plants. In the past, she has been a musician, teacher, and published author. Now, together with Car and Ode, Gwyn is a teacher/presenter at multiple Pagan events, and loves to chat about witchcraft, spiritual things, and life in general. You can read more about the author here.

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  • I. H. Hagar

    I have been doing some study with shadow work. I remembered an incident in my life when I was ten or eleven (I’m 71). I was in my bedroom and my Granny was in the kitchen adjacent to my room. Suddenly my grandmother’s sister in law came storming in all in a rage. She proceeded to beat up my grandmother savagely. My granny would have been in her fifties and this woman would have been in her mid-twenties. My grandmother was under five feet tall and this woman was at least five foot five and robust. She was punching,slapping,pulling hair, kicking, anything she could to hurt my granny. I was ten or eleven and the size of an eight year old. I froze. I just stood there like a deer in the headlights. I couldn’t do anything. Someone did finally come in and help my grandmother. She had to go to the hospital maybe with broken or badly bruised ribs. She had an arm in a sling and a badly swollen face. That I know we never made a police report on this woman. She fled to Mexico and eventually her husband took her back. No one ever blamed me or asked why I hadn’t helped my granny. I was a kid. I froze. I must have hidden this incident away in my shadow cave but it resurfaced recently. I realize now that all these years I’ve felt guilty and ashamed that I didn’t help my grandmother. She raised me and I felt so helpless not being able to help her. I felt anger and hate toward this woman who hurt my granny. Like I said I eventually buried it in my Shadow Cave. Now I have remembered it and I have been able to work through the guilt, shame, and pain. I have seen the truth of what could I have done. I can see this scene like a movie in my head but at least I have dealt with the feelings. Shadow work can help so much but do be careful. You might need help.

  • Gwyn

    Thank you for being so open and willing to share your experience. Your example is the reason shadow work can be helpful in healing but a reminder of how much it can reveal as well.