It’s time to journey into the remote regions of your subconscious and discover who you truly are. Shadow work can help you achieve just that.
Although complex and often uncomfortable, shadow work is essential to understand our true selves. Working through unresolved issues and trauma is vital for living a full, happy life.
What Is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is a purposeful dive into our subconscious to uncover aspects of our personalities we try to hide or deny.
According to Dr. Raffaello Antonino, Counselling Psychologist at Therapy Central LLP, shadow work helps us better understand who we are and become more integrated as individuals.
We often attempt to repress our humanity’s negative sides, including our jealousies, insecurities, anger, and shame. However, these aspects of ourselves don’t go away, despite how much we want them to.
Shadow work helps us acknowledge and embrace everything about ourselves, including parts we don’t like.
What Is Our Shadow Self?
Famed Psychologist Carl Jung popularized the idea of a “shadow” self, the hidden aspects of our personalities containing impulsive, primitive, and unsavory thoughts or ideas.
Though many take it as a negative, the “shadow” also has positive aspects. It helps us make snap decisions and is often the cradle of our creativity.
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How Do I Start Doing Shadow Work?
You must get into the right mindset to get started with shadow work. Acknowledge that there may be aspects of yourself you don’t like and make a conscious decision to face them.
Mentally preparing for shadow work before starting will help you accept whatever you find and give you the confidence to make positive changes in your life.
Top 10 Methods for Exploring Your Shadow Self
There are numerous ways to explore your shadow self. These methods will help you come to terms with your inner emotions, ideas, and behaviors.
Everyone is different, so different methods might work for different people. You don’t have to use them all. Sample them and decide what works best for you.
Journaling is a tried and true method for exploring your inner thoughts and feelings. It allows you space to write down your behaviors and explore why you did what you did.
Journaling has numerous benefits. It helps you become conscious of your thought patterns, gain a new perspective on events and behaviors, and gain awareness of yourself over time.
These positive aspects of journaling are essential to exploring your shadow self.
Mediation helps us clear our heads and become more comfortable with our inner selves. When you meditate for shadow work, you consciously use the session for self-exploration.
When meditating for self-discovery, set your goals ahead of the session. Clear your mind of everything except your intention to dig deep into your subconscious. Start with shorter sessions and build up to longer ones if you’re new to mediation.
Mindfulness is an awareness of your thoughts and feelings in a particular moment. Typically, when discussing mindfulness, we talk about being present in the moment so you can enjoy everything life offers.
Practicing mindfulness for shadow work is about identifying your feelings in the moment and becoming aware of how you react to different things.
When you sense an emotional reaction, stop and identify it. Acknowledge the emotion and allow yourself the freedom to feel it.
Scrutinize Your Emotions
Becoming mindful of your emotions is a significant first step, but you can dig even deeper by scrutinizing them.
Dig deep and try to understand why you had each emotion. Consider the reasons certain events or actions make you happy, sad, upset, or jealous.
Journaling is a great way to work through your emotions. It will help you identify your triggers and uncover instances where you may have overreacted. It’s challenging work but can prevent you from letting your feelings guide your decision-making.
Art can be a gateway to our subconscious. Art therapy can help us conduct shadow work through visual mediums rather than the spoken or written word.
Many people struggle with expressing their thoughts and emotions via writing but can explore their inner selves through art.
Proper art therapy is guided by a professional. However, art as a shadow work method doesn’t necessarily require professional help.
Art lets us express ourselves with color, shapes, patterns, and imagery. It helps us turn off the logical, rational side of our brains for a minute and lean into the primitive side bursting with feeling.
Overtly exploring our shadow selves can be challenging for some. If journaling and mindfulness have you drawing a blank, consider traversing your shadow self through fiction.
Writing a story can be cathartic. Your fictional characters can do things you’d never do, whether due to fear, shame, or social norms. Through them, you can explore your darkest desires and uncover hidden trauma you never knew existed.
When writing for shadow work, don’t worry about crafting a best seller that everyone will want to read. These stories are for you to help you work through deeply seated beliefs and ideas. They don’t need to be perfect; they need to be useful.
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Getting started with shadow work can be tricky. If you don’t know where to begin, consider using prompts and exercises as a starting point.
Shadow work exercises are actions you can take specifically designed to help you identify and confront your shadow self.
Explore Childhood Memories
Our childhood experiences shaped us. Things we learn and experience as kids stay with us for our entire lives, significantly impacting who we become.
These formative years often hold secrets to our shadow selves, so exploring them is vital to shadow work.
Look through photo albums and yearbooks to spark memories from your childhood. Remember both the good and the bad, and consider how those experiences relate to your current life.
Analyze Your Dreams
When we go to sleep, our subconscious minds take over. If you remember your dreams, you can use them to explore your shadow self.
Write down everything you can remember about your dream as soon as you wake up when it’s still fresh in your head. Note the colors, symbols, events, and people who appeared in the dream.
Next, analyze your dream, looking for common symbols or threads related to your inner self. Consider what message, if any, your subconscious mind was conveying through dream imagery.
Work with a Professional
The best way to explore your shadow self is through therapy. A professional can provide a safe space and objective eye for exploring the negative personality traits our conscious minds try to suppress.
Some of the things we uncover during shadow work can be scary, painful, and upsetting, and a professional can help you work through any complex feelings you have about yourself.
Dr. Antonino says shadow work can be challenging and triggering, particularly for those with trauma or mental health issues. A trained professional can provide support and guidance throughout the process.
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Benefits of Shadow Work
Although challenging, shadow work has numerous benefits that can’t be ignored. Psychologists and mental health experts highlight some of the top reasons to consider exploring your shadow self.
Dr. Carolina Estevez, Clinical Psychologist at Infinite Recovery, says shadow work can help you gain awareness of your innermost thoughts and feelings. This awareness allows you to identify behavioral patterns that impact your life and help you make conscious decisions on moving forward.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist Chelsea Sarai also points to increased self-awareness as a benefit of shadow work, saying that it can help us “gain a deeper understanding of who we are and what motivates us.”
Dr. Estevez also cites improved emotional intelligence as a benefit to shadow work.
“By engaging in shadow work, you can gain more insight into your own emotions and learn how to manage them better. This can help you become more emotionally intelligent and better able to navigate complex relationships,” she says.
Another massive boon to tackling shadow work is that it helps improve your relationships with everyone in your life.
“By exploring our shadow,” Dr. Sarai explains, “we can become more aware of our projections and triggers, which can improve our relationships with ourselves and others. We can learn to take responsibility for our own emotions and reactions, rather than blaming others.”
There’s no better feeling than living authentically. Being true to yourself is vital for a happy, fulfilled life, yet many struggle to achieve it.
Shadow work can help us discover who we really are and what we really want out of life. It’s a key to living authentically that most of us don’t think of unlocking.
We’re too hard on ourselves. We often judge ourselves far too harshly for the simple mistake of being human and all the flaws and imperfections that come with it.
Justin Gasparovic, who has a background in psychology and founded the productivity resource The Enemy of Average, says that shadow work can help us develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with ourselves.
“By acknowledging and accepting our shadow aspects, we can begin to see them as a natural part of our human experience rather than something to be ashamed of or hide from others,” he says.
Creatives may turn to shadow work as a source of inspiration.
Dr. Sarai says our shadows contain pure creative potential. “By integrating it, we can tap into new sources of inspiration and innovation,” she remarks. “We can also become more comfortable with taking risks and exploring new ideas, which can lead to greater creativity and fulfillment.”
Many of us struggle with unresolved trauma. Although using shadow work to uncover and come to terms with these wounds is challenging, it’s worthwhile and can lead to healing.
“By exploring the unconscious patterns and beliefs that may be holding us back, we can begin to release the emotional charge that is attached to them and move towards greater emotional freedom and well-being,” says Gasparovic.
When exploring shadow work to uncover and resolve past trauma, it’s best to work with a licensed therapist.
Another benefit of engaging in shadow work is that it can help you develop empathy. When you do all the challenging work to understand your own complex behaviors, you’ll naturally start to understand why others behave the way they do as well.
Shadow work can help those without a natural gift for empathy understand how complex human emotions are and use that deeper understanding to relate better to others.
Shadow Work Can Change Your Life
Although challenging, shadow work is worth the effort. It can help us achieve our fullest potential, uncover the secrets of human behavior, and ensure our actions align with our life goals.
The results can be life-changing. You will learn to accept your true self and will no longer be beholden to automatic emotional responses. Shadow work helps you take control of your subconscious and align your deepest truths with your current actions.
Try shadow work and get comfortable with your true self. You won’t regret it.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.