When I first heard the term shadow work I had no idea what it meant but instinctively I knew it was work I needed to do.
Shadow work is an exploration into the unconscious or disowned part of your personality. If you bury it down too deep, sometimes your shadow self can pop up at the least opportune times. For example, have you ever been going along having a good old time and then suddenly something triggers you and you fly off the handle and wonder, who was that? Or have you ever done something so “out of character” and thought, well I am not sure who she was but I hope she never shows up again! Well that was your shadow self emerging and operating outside of your conscious awareness. This sort of behavior is present in all of us and it is not something to be afraid of or dismissed, in fact, the better you get at understanding your shadow and shine a light on it, the smaller and less destructive it will become. While working on accepting and loving all of yourself you may even discover positive aspects, gifts and talents that have been repressed and are waiting to be uncovered and brought into the light when you embrace and practice intimately knowing every nook and cranny of yourself.
Carl Jung said the shadow self is born when something or someone created doubt, trauma or judgement upon you in your childhood. A more spiritual understanding of the birth of the shadow self comes from events that happened to us in past lives. In my own personal exploration I can recognize shadows that stem from both. Regardless of their origin this work might be the breakthrough you have been looking for so let’s explore how to spot your shadow self and a few tips and trick to do shadow work.
When I first started doing shadow work I was not sure I would recognize when my shadow self showed up. My counselor at the time shared with me some very clear situations to look for and assured me when these things were happening, there were shadow aspects at work there!
Projections: She explained to me that how I see the world and others around me may actually be a mirror image of myself. Whoa! That whatever I dislike in someone else lives inside of me because if it wasn’t in me, I wouldn’t be bothered by it in them. Thats a big one for me and something I grapple with daily.
Emotional Triggers: Emotional triggers can show up in the form of jealousy, envy, protection, irritably, anger whatever the emotion is that bubbles up. The best practice is to ask yourself why you are feeling that way. By first recognizing the emotion, taking a deep breath and trying to understand your why, you’re getting out ahead of your shadow self and the negative affects it can have on your behavior.
Patterns: This is a big one for me and also a pretty easy one to spot. When the story starts to repeat itself over and over again, you can be sure there is shadow aspects at work there that are begging for your attention. What is that profound definition of insanity? Repeating the same pattern and expecting different results. Your shadow self is a master at this behavior.
Introspection: Journaling about where in your life you see projections, emotional triggers and patterns is a great way to work through spotting your shadow self. Ask yourself what parts of you do you dislike, disown or fear. What parts of you do you judge or hide? Answering these questions can help to remove the veil and integrate the shadow self with the whole of you.
The goal of shadow work is integration. We want to shine a light on the shadow and diminish it, we want to bring light into the darkness. If you leave your shadow self unexamined it can and will be very disruptive and create chaos in your life. It is also important to remember that this is work, it requires you to be awake and aware. The shadow self wants to stay hidden behind its cloak of unconsciousness, that is its job! Also, remember that your shadow was born from a place of non-acceptance so when doing this work coming from a place of complete acceptance for all parts of you including your shadow is key. When you spot your shadow love and accept it and be grateful that you are on a path to be the best version of you for yourself and all the world around you.
Do yourself a favor, this Halloween take some time to get to know your shadow to make yourself feel loved as a whole. Dance around a candle to play with your shadow. Write down the parts of yourself that you would like to be healed and then burn that paper. Or you can do what all of us at Olive + M are doing and follow this ritual by Elephant Journal, we LOVE LOVE LOVE it!