Psychologist Carl Jung coined the term ‘shadow self’, which is comprised of the repressed traits, emotions, and beliefs that are considered unacceptable, unworthy, or somehow wrong about ourself. It could be that these have been rejected by our parents, family, teachers, or society in general. Thus, throughout life we learned to shove them into a box deep within us and pretend like they don’t exist.
A large part of personal growth and finding ‘wholeness’ within oneself is by dusting that box we’ve so desperately tried to hide and face its contents through shadow work. By doing shadow work we can shine light onto the dark and begin healing the wounds and limiting beliefs that lie within us. Engaging with our shadow can be very emotional, uncomfortable, and potentially even scary, because, let’s be honest, most of us don’t want to see our ‘ugly’ side or become aware of our deepest, darkest desires.
However, shadow work can bring about numerous benefits from better self-awareness and -compassion, improved relationships and greater creativity to name a few. So, if you’re ready to get down and dirty, below are 4 ways to begin exploring your shadow already today.
Journaling is a powerful tool for emptying your head of all the thoughts spinning around and for gaining a better understanding of the emotions you are feeling. The key is to just start writing. Don’t think about what it is that you’re writing down, just let your hand move and pour everything from your mind onto a piece of paper. You cannot go wrong with this.
Try to dig deeper into what you feel by asking questions such as “What am I feeling”, “Why am I feeling this way”, and “what is triggering this feeling within me” etc. After you’re finished writing you can either throw away the paper or keep it for later reference. It is completely up to you. I tend to throw them away as a symbolic release to let go of the negative and move on with a lighter energy within me.
2. Get creative
Draw, paint, write fiction or poetry. Often when we let go and get creative we may come up with interesting drawings or paintings that at first may not really speak much to us. With closer inspection and analysis, however, we can potentially find some messages our subconscious is trying to bring forward into our awareness.
I’ve found writing poetry, well, writing in general, has massively helped me in my shadow work. At first, writing was just for my personal ‘shits and giggles’ and I didn’t think much of it. However, as I began to reread and examine the poems and texts I had written, I gained so much more clarity on my “inner world”. I have been able to bring forth a wide range of emotions and thoughts that I had never really felt or dealt with before. At first I found it all quite shocking and ripped several poems apart, but then I began to feel a sense of lightness like I was letting go of a heavy burden that I had been dragging along for too long.
3. Write a letter
Similar to journaling, you can also write a letter to your current self, younger self, or someone that has deeply hurt you, for example. Don’t worry, you never actually have to send these letters to the person. In the letter explore how you feel and explain to the person in mind why it is that you feel that way.
If you grew up feeling like your feelings weren’t valid, were downplayed or completely ignored by those people that mattered the most to you, writing a letter is great for validating yourself and whatever it is you feel or felt. Here too, it may be helpful to throw away or burn the letter to remove any negative energy. I find this to be surprisingly empowering 😉
4. Observe your emotional reactions
We tend to project the parts of us that are suppressed in our shadow-self onto other people. If you find that something bothers you greatly in another person, this could reflect that you have repressed the same trait within you. Therefore, it is useful to be aware and take note of any strong negative reactions you experience towards another person, whether it is a colleague, partner, or friend. Through observation you can grasp onto the emotion you feel, explore it, and integrate it into yourself. This way, the next time you interact with that person you will feel less provoked by that emotion. In fact as an article in Medium explains:
“Each of our relationships, therefore, assists in making us conscious of who we really are, and if we perceive a moral deficiency in others, we can be sure that there is a similar inferiority within ourselves.”
How we project and the dangers of projection is a wide topic I’m curious to explore with more detail in one of my upcoming posts.
Have you heard of the shadow-self before? And more interestingly, have you ever done any shadow work? I’d love to hear your stories and experiences in the comments!