This "Theme of the Week" topic has been coming up here and there all year, but especially in the last couple of weeks. Guides have been recommending shadow work for those who are on the verge of accepting some powerful healing energy into their lives - the power to become a crucial catalyst in others' journeys of healing.
I think that shadow work is a fascinating topic, so, in this post, I'll write a little about what the shadow is and why it's important to explore, and then provide some steps to start integrating your own shadow self into your conscious awareness.
What is the shadow self?
The concept of a shadow self originates with psychologist Carl Jung, who described the shadow as those aspects our personalities of which we are unconscious. It is comprised of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts, and shortcomings. Because we tend to reject or remain ignorant of aspects of ourselves that we perceive to be bad or wrong, much of what comprises the shadow is negative characteristics. We then tend to project these characteristics onto others, becoming very critical of those who demonstrate (in our minds) the same traits that we have relegated to our own shadow selves.
Why do shadow work?
In "shadow work", the goal is to bring the shadow into the light, to become consciously aware of those aspects of our personality we have repressed and may be projecting onto others. Integrating the shadow is a critical step in developing accurate perceiving and relating, which is helpful for everyone, but especially necessary for those who want to work with life's subtle energies, such as intuitives, psychics, and energy healers.
If the shadow self is not integrated, it can create all kinds of blocks, mistaken interpretations, and troubles in working with people and their issues. It is necessary for the healer to heal oneself first, before helping others.
"Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected." - "Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
OMG! I totally want to fix this shadow thing. What should I do?
According to Jung,
"The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge." - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
Actually, once you accept that you have a shadow self and decide you'd like to know more about it, working with it couldn't be simpler. Note that I didn't say "easier", because shadow work can be a long, hard process that takes many years. Like peeling the layers of an onion, there always seems to be another layer to the work, and tears may be involved. But, really, the basic steps (which I shamelessly appropriated from elsewhere) are pretty simple:
Think of a personality trait that really annoys you, disgusts you, or makes you angry. Think of the many people you've known with this trait, and describe their worst personal qualities. Example: I can't stand people who are toxically self-absorbed. Self-absorbed people are selfish, hurtful, disrespectful, lack empathy, use and manipulate others, and are immature and irresponsible.
In a worst-case scenario, what would the life of someone with these qualities be like? Example: In the worst-case scenario, a toxically self-absorbed person would be lonely and broke, with no job, no relationships, and no home. This person would feel lost all the time, mired in shame, addicted, and unhealthy.
What would the person you described in step #1 think about you? What would they likely condemn about you? Example: These people probably think I'm too giving, that I have poor boundaries, I'm illogical, sentimental, ruled by my emotions, and am soft and weak.
In a worst-case scenario, what would the life of someone with the qualities you listed in step #3 be like? Example: In the worst-case scenario, they would probably say I would be constantly caretaking for other people, never getting my own needs met, and losing my sense of self to the other people in my life.
What would happen if you were to become a little more like what you loathe? Not a lot; just a little bit more like #1. How would you be different and what would your life be like? Example: I would be assertive. I would get my needs met more often, and have more fun in life.
This new self, label it. What kind of person would you be if you incorporated a small amount of these bad qualities? Example: I would be a fun-loving, assertive, strong woman.
How have you been suppressing these qualities you loathe in your own life? Example: I avoid having the traits I wrote about in #1 by putting my own needs last too often, working really hard, going out of my way for friends and family, engaging in tons of self-reflection, and having a lot of self-discipline around healthy behaviors.
What can you commit to doing to become more like the person you described in #6? Example: I can notice when I'm feeling over-extended, and take action to care for myself first. I can watch my tendency to give my time and energy to others when there's nothing in it for me, and think twice about doing it. I can ask for what I want and need from others, even when I'm afraid of what their response will be. I can work toward a better balance of fun and responsibilities.
Every time you encounter something that irritates you, it's a gift from Spirit, helping you to learn the contours of your shadow self. You'll learn to love being annoyed, and you'll find that your annoyances become less and less as you start to carry out your commitments to integrate your shadow self. It's hard work, but it's worth it.