Truly knowing yourself without facing your dark side and embracing it is not possible according to Carl Jung, one of the most influential names in psychology. In his theory, Jung suggested that we are a combination of many different characters within us, one of them being the ‘shadow self’. The shadow is the part of us that has been exiled and buried deep within in childhood. What has been deemed shameful, unacceptable, or even evil by the parents and authority figures in childhood has been exiled from consciousness. But the shadow stays relevant in every decision we make, continuing to operate from the unconsciousness without us being aware of its existence. When we grow up we fail to notice how much we are driven by the same unhealthy patterns from childhood. We find ourselves doing things we don’t understand. These are caused by the shadow self which dominates us in secret.
‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’
According to Jung, integrating the shadow self is necessary to reach self-acknowledgement, live a balanced life, and reach the wholesome version of yourself. So getting to know your hidden side will help you grow as a person and reach your full potential. This is called shadow work. Shadow work promotes inner healing, is very transformative, and can help you heal childhood trauma. You can practice it in therapy or you can do it on your own by using specific tools and techniques regularly.
Shadow reflects itself within our decisions and behaviours. What has been repressed always poses a danger to come out, as it demands to be seen. There is a part of you that you are running from and your mind is conditioned to do whatever it takes to ignore its existence thus you can engage in destructive behaviors from time to time to keep that part buried. When you are ready to face the shadows you can break this unhealthy cycle and adapt better mechanisms. With shadow work, we can learn to meet our needs in better ways. Once you open pandora’s box and face what you have found with bravery, nothing is hidden and you can be in control.
Shadow work follows a Socratic approach where you question yourself tirelessly and explore yourself deeper and deeper each time. With this approach, you bring the unconscious mind into consciousness. You ask objective questions and facilitate a critical thinking process. This questioning makes you reconsider your beliefs, cognitions, behavioural patterns and explore the deeper meanings behind them.
One of the key elements of a safe shadow work practice is being kind to yourself. Once you start digging you will learn darker things about yourself. You will see things you don’t like and it can be a painful journey. You have to remember that you are worth it, you deserve to feel wholesome. It is essential to have a rooted sense of self-love to guide you through the way. When you face the shadow, it is not a great strategy to blame and shame it. Try to give love and acceptance instead. The shadow itself was born from rejection. When you become critical of that side, you are rejecting that part of yourself once again and fueling your shadow even more. But when you accept yourself unconditionally with everything you have got, the power of the shadow will subside. Every part of you deserves love. Mindfulness meditation can help you internalise this nonjudgemental awareness of yourself.
Self-honesty is a fundamental concept for shadow work. You need to be willing to face unpleasant aspects of yourself. Your shadow will contain unacceptable, shameful, sinful parts, “rage, jealousy, hatred, greed, deceitfulness, and selfishness” and that is okay, that is being human. How can you love something you don’t truly know? Love is being brave enough to face the ugly with the beauty otherwise it is not true.
One of the most important benefits of shadow work aside from reaching self-realisation is improving relationships. You become more grounded, balanced, and mature as you learn more about yourself. You learn to take responsibility for your emotions. It gets easier to accept others with their flaws when you embrace your darker side. You don’t get triggered easily by other people’s behaviours and can regulate your emotions better. All these improved skills will help you communicate in your relationships with significant others, friends, and family members.
One strategy to get familiar with your shadow is questioning your childhood. Think about this: Were you completely and unconditionally accepted? Which of your behaviours and emotions were judged and criticised? This criticism caused you to repress some parts of yourself in the first place. Another strategy to notice your shadow self is paying attention to what triggers you. The shadow is most salient in strong emotions thus it can become easy to identify its existence. Triggers remind you of a trauma. It is not the situation itself that has power over you. It is your perceptions of the situation and how it relates to your past traumas. These triggers signal some important information about ourselves and they touch the buried parts of us. You can use them to trace back to your wounds. Catch the triggers and take a deeper look at them. Identify what situation is your trigger, how your body reacts, and identify what your exact emotional responses are to that situation. Try remembering your earliest memory of this trigger. Where do you think it originates from? Is it something you have been shamed for before? If working with your triggers and traumas feels too much at any point, it is best to get help from a mental health practitioner.
One of the ways to acknowledge your shadow self is by saying it out loud and admitting it to your loved ones. What is silenced holds more power and once you say it out loud there is no longer shame and fear. After identifying your shadow parts you can discuss how they originated and their impacts on you. Moreover, you can explore how to manage and cope with these aspects. Finally, nothing can be completely negative. Try to find the ways your shadow has been beneficial to you. List all the ways your shadow has helped you and constantly remind yourself of these qualities.
We all have a shadow self that needs to be acknowledged to better regulate psychological health and personal relationships. It is important to remember that nothing about you is unbearable. What is unknown is always more dangerous. Facing the shadow makes it safer and easier to manage. Once you can see yourself as you truly are, you will feel wholesome. Self-realisation is a process of integrating the opposite sides of personality into a harmonious whole and shadow work is a brave step towards this direction.
Learn how to work with the unconscious mind to uncover the parts of yourself that you repress and hide. Join the InnerCamp Tantra Method teacher training.
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