Shadow Syndrome is characterized by feelings of unworthiness, of being a fraud, and looking to others for validation. While this can be debilitating, it’s actually a gift that can lead us towards our truth. One of the costs of witchcraft is learning to understand the darkness, including that which lives within us. Often these symptoms arise because the true witch within is telling us that it’s time to walk our authentic path. This is the calling to heal our shadows and claim the title of real witch, however we define it.
Symptoms of Shadow Syndrome include perfectionism, chronic social comparison and feeling that you’re not enough. Sufferers of Shadow Syndrome often take no pleasure from their successes and dwell on their failures. One of the most telling external symptoms is the perpetual engagement trying to one-up others’ struggles with their own tales of woe. This is the shadow claiming their pain to be the greatest of all. Only through shadow healing can your unique, “real” witch inside of be unleashed.
#1 Being Paralyzed By Fear
Absolutely the biggest problem of Shadow Syndrome is being paralyzed by fear. The shadow tells us that, since we are fakes and completely unworthy, there’s no point in trying to achieve our dreams. That whatever we say to someone else will be stupid, and that we can’t solve our problems. Complete rubbish. Witches are both born and made.
Recovery: The key to overcoming this most disabling symptom is to start with small, specific goals. Whenever you are faced with fear about doing something, say to yourself, “just for this moment, I am choosing ________.” Making huge plans with vague details almost never works. This approach to spells leaves them weak and likely to fail, or manifest in bizarre ways. Don’t say “I am releasing all that blocks my path.” Get specific. If you don’t know what it is that’s blocking you, consult your cards, bones or stones. Ask them to reveal your way and for guidance on overcoming your frozenness.
#2 Striving for Perfection
We are simply not meant to be perfect, although there are times when things can appear to be so. No one is perfect. Stop trying to be. Do the best you can with what you have. Commit to growth, not being the best. Those suffering from Shadow Syndrome always have perfectionism. This can lead to being overly competitive, but also freeze us from pursuing our dreams. Our spells and rituals don’t need to be perfect; they should be well-planned and powerful. It’s not always possible to achieve this. Instead of worrying about perfection, put your effort into crafting a working that speaks truth for you. Honestly, the spirits are less concerned with perfection than they are with authenticity.
Recovery: Intentionally arrange your altar with at least one object not in the place where you think it should be. Or perhaps even create a “messy” altar. Go a step further to only put objects on that altar that you love. No objects that follow what you think should be done. Your altar is your connection to the forces you work with, an expression of your truth, and is about as real as a witch can get. The altar should be “whole” not perfect.
#3 You Are More Than Enough
Perhaps the most troubling symptom of Shadow Syndrome is the incessant feeling that we are not enough. Listen to Lady Gaga, okay? You were born this way. Exactly as you were meant to be. No, you’re not perfect. We all have limitations in varying degrees. As you release the need to compare yourself to others and to find validation from external sources, the more you’ll feel more than enough. It’s those nasty voices of others who convince us that we are unworthy.
Recovery: A daily affirmation practice creates the energy of authenticity. While looking in the mirror each morning (as you brush your teeth, perhaps) list off your attributes. Be specific.
#4 Feeling Like A Fraud
The shadow whispers that we aren’t actually the real witch we know that we are. Tricky little devil, that shadow, with its insidious hints and allegations that magick is foolishness and that we certainly aren’t a real witch. Proving that magick – with the “k” since I’m talking about intentionally working with spirits and forces rather than the general magic of life – is real is not my point here. I’ve made my peace with it being true to me. That’s all that matters. As for being a real witch, there’s no other word that is as true to who I am than this one. I struggled with this for years until I finally gave up. I believe that questioning the reality of witchcraft is necessary for effective practice, but not that we should feel like frauds for doing so. Run in the direction of your truth and away from those whispers of your shadow.
Recovery: There was a time when I was involved with someone who wanted me to convince him that witchcraft was real by doing party tricks like manipulating fire. I replied that wasn’t how witchcraft worked. That it was about the subtle influence in a desired direction. Then I let him make me feel like a fraud. Looking back, I only succumbed to his abuse because I wasn’t yet sure I was a real witch. No, I was sure, but I was still concerned about what others thought and that I might be crazy. I’ve since decided that if I’m nuts, then I’m happy this way. Being sane in the eyes of society made me insane because I was being a fraud. The practice I am recommending here is to develop a relationship with a spirit, be it plant, stone or otherwise, that completely accepts you the way you are.
#5 Looking to Others for Validation
Are you looking to others for validation? This is a huge thing. We all do it to varying degrees. The problem with expecting others to validate our existence is that we’ll always end up feeling less than. While learning from others is important, relying on them to quench our fears about being authentic isn’t at all. Authenticity comes from within.
Recovery: Make lists of the things that speak truth to you. Music, books, movies, clothes, etc. With each list, ask yourself why you enjoy these things. If the answer involves either the opinion or pleasing of another, cross the item off your list. Keep only the things that you love because they speak only to you. This is an intense process when taken seriously. Work slowly through your list. Witch it up by adding the dominant energy of your list to your arsenal of forces you work with. If you have mostly “sad” songs, for example, summon the spirit of the list in a spell to transmute your melancholy into contentment.
#6 Fawning Over Others
Do you adjust your behavior and beliefs to suit those who you admire/care about? Known as fawning, this practice often happens in those of us who have been traumatized. We’ve learned that the only way to ensure our safety is by making ourselves appealing. This is how the shadow protects us, but it’s also a symptom of imposter syndrome. If you’re still in a situation where you have to adapt to the demands of others, then you have my support. However, if you’re doing this chronically because of past trauma when there’s no need, it’s time to have a chat with your shadow. Let her/him/them know that while you appreciate their protection, you’re ready to stand in your truth.
Recovery: Fawning can be so tough to get over. Trust me, as long as you are shifting who you are to please others, you’re not being authentic with anyone, especially yourself. When it comes to claiming our witch-truth, it can be so difficult. We may not be in a position to externally display who we are on the inside. That doesn’t need to be an impediment to being a real witch (however you define it). Stopping fawning is all about knowing and enforcing your boundaries and enacting healthy self protection.
#7 Your Suffering Doesn’t Define You (NO, it doesn’t)
Do you have a chronic need to contemplate and share your pain? I’m giving some harsh truth: this is only blocking you from being the real witch you were born to be. There comes a time when it’s over. Put that shit down. I’m not trivializing the healing process, but, honestly, as long as you are spending most of your time thinking about everything that’s been done to you and/or is wrong with you, the shadow is in control.
Recovery: There are two techniques that really help with over-focus on suffering. The first is to limit the amount of time that you give energy to your pain each day. We are the energy of our thoughts and emotions. Our witchcraft is only an extension of our personal energy signature. The more we focus on our pain, the more influence it has on our workings. Set the timer for ten minutes, create your closed space using a black candle and then delve into the pain. Whenever a harmful thought or memory comes outside of this time, tell it that it must wait until the allocated time. The other practice that should be done in conjunction with this is a daily gratitude practice. Take a few moments to give energy to the good in your life.
#8 Being Consumed By WorriesWe all have concerns, but constantly obsessing over them is the work of the shadow. The energy shift from shadow to truth occurs when our focus is more on solving the problems we have instead of spiraling round and round about the issue.
Recovery: Use a cauldron or bowl (with a lid if possible) to cast in your worries. Make a list of the things that keep you up at night. Beside each item write what you can do to solve the problem. If there’s nothing that can be done, relinquish the worry entirely. Rip the list in two. Burn or shred the worries while releasing their hold on you. Keep the list of solutions. Focus on those.
#9 Being A Control Freak
One of the most debilitating symptoms of Shadow Syndrome is the excessive need to control everything. That’s because our shadow needs to maintain rigid order in order to continue to prevent us from being our truest witch selves. There are some things we can’t and shouldn’t attempt to control.
Recovery: We often get into being a control freak witch when we feel like we have no control over our lives. An energetic inventory of the things that are within your control can remind you how much power you do have. Stop obsessing over minor details that don’t matter. Figure out substitutions for spells using what you have on hand instead of waiting until you can afford that mandragora root, for example. Letting go of minor details helps. What else helps is the energetic control inventory.
#10 Not Standing In Your Own Power
When the shadow is in control, we often engage in pursuits that directly diminish our power. The shadow feeds off weakness. The more disempowered we feel, the stronger it grows. We make stupid decisions. Our spells don’t work as planned. We can’t connect to the spirits and deities we are drawn to. All because that shadow blocks our power. We are the universe wrapped in skin. It can be overwhelming to embrace this truth. However, once we begin to see how powerful we are, then our realness naturally emerges.
Recovery: “Air my breath, water my blood, earth my body, fire my spirit” is much more than a chant, it’s a method for claiming your power. As you recite the chant, feel the connection of these forces within you. Open up to them all around you. Spending your time doing this instead of looking to others for validation, engaging in social comparison, clinging to the past, and worrying will starve that shadow.
#11 Denying And Loathing Our Bodies
This one is a challenge for me. The lure of the being fully disembodied is strong for me. However, I do have this physical being that is just as important as my spirit self. The shadow wants us to deny our physical beings, or, better still, to loathe them. Chronic pain, disability and other forms of dis-ease can make it easy to resist our corporeality. As long as we do this, we’re letting that shadow run the show. Wanting to have a perfect body is a sign of that shadowy perfectionism I previously discussed. No one has a perfect one. We all have pain. No matter what your corporeality is, it is beautiful. Pain brings strength. Being different is a gift. Feeling out of place is your own skin is horrible. I want to mention that for those of you who have a mismatch between your authentic self and your outward appearance, I’m not diminishing your pain. I am saying that making peace with your current body as you work on transformation is necessary.
Recovery: Dance on the earth, beloveds. Whether on a grassy field of by connecting your roots to the earth far below your apartment, join together with the natural world and then dance like no one is watching. They’re not, they’re on their devices. Get your music list from the self-validation practice, put on those headphones and move however you can. Chair dancing is perfectly acceptable. If that’s not possible, get comfy and envision your body swaying to the tunes.
#12 Having a Fixed Mindset
Here’s the thing with the shadow: it hates growth. Think of the shadow as the necessary force that tempers excessive growth. When it is too powerful, there’s no growth. When we are in control of it, we can learn from it. That’s wisdom. The shadow works on our beings as the periods of destruction, death and decay work in nature. Those forces actually create more growth when they are in accordance with the natural order. Things like global warming mess up the system. Too much invalidation, trauma and pain do the same to each of us. The destructive energies take over. Destruction looks busy, but it’s the opposite. Then there’s the times when we are stuck. Also necessary, but spending too long in the mud prevents authenticity. No matter what is going on – whether you feel stuck or are in a destructive cycle – you can still create the energy of growth.
Recovery: A fixed mindset is characterized by resistance to change and the belief that we are not powerful. Since I’ve already talked about standing in your own power, the practice I’m suggesting now is focuses on growth energy. There’s so many ways to connect to this force. You can develop a relationship with a botanical or animal spirit, observing how they change over time. A challenge is to learn a new witchy skill. The more time you spend on learning, the less that shadow can hold you back.
#13 Never Taking A Rest
The shadow is weird. On one hand, it can paralyze us from acting, but on the other it can drive us to be constantly busy. Often this busyness is counterproductive. We’re overly involved in gossip (part of looking to others for validation), we’re hyper-controlling everything, or we’re obsessive worriers. When we do try to take a break, we’re antsy, always needing a distraction. Sound familiar? The witch standing in her/his/their power knows when to rest.
Recovery: Meditation is the antidote to this symptom. It’s not necessary to engage in sixty-minute sessions in an ashram. Set aside a few minutes each day to quiet your mind. Unplug from everyone else. Be within yourself. Notice your thoughts. Then release them. Breath all the way in, filling your belly, drawing it right down to your toes and up to your crown. This also helps to be a more embodied witch.
Shadow Bypassing on the Road to Authenticity
I wrote recently about the True Costs of Being a Witch. In that article, I listed many of the tolls we need to pay to claim our title – and power – as a witch. This article is the follow-up to that one in many ways. In my experience, those who call themselves a witch, but don’t appear to have done the deep shadow healing work required as part of the payment plan, are imposters. Some of you may disagree with that statement, that’s fine with me. My point is that initiation into witchcraft really does come with a price. Witchcraft is about power. We summon spirits and direct energy currents to achieve goals. Until we get ourselves in the position of authenticity, then all of our workings are wishcraft. Moreover, they can be downright dangerous. Way back when I first started to seriously pursue this path, I wanted the power, and not the costs. I’ve learned that shadow bypassing only leads to disaster. Shadow healing, including working with the thirteen practices I’ve described, will unleash your authentic inner witch.
Read more about Shadow Syndrome, including the lessons from a book cover and dealing with imposters here.
The Sacred Seven is my course for healing the shadow and unleashing your truth. Classes begin on October 1 and February 1. Learn more.