"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." C.G. Jung
Shadow work is essentially the process of observing and transmuting suppressed, painful parts of ourselves that subconsciously continue to cast shadows in our lives.
It's acknowledging the issues that keep coming up in your life as something that is calling for your attention. When we do this, not only do we step into wholeness and into who we truly are, but our life experience greatly improves in all areas.
In this article, I'm going to share what shadow work is, what purpose it holds and how to do it.
What shadow work means
Shadow work means uncovering, observing and transmuting painful, hidden parts of yourself for the purpose of living a more fulfilling life.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term shadow work. He said that the "shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors."
So your shadow self comprises both the experiences you've had personally as well as beliefs and/or perspectives that have been passed to you from generation to generation.
Shadow work is not trying to relive painful memories just to further victimize yourself. Rather, shadow work is needed when you notice a negative recurring theme or cycle in your life that is hindering you in some way.
These themes can be very subtle or glaringly obvious. Here are some examples of negative themes, or shadow traits, in your life that can be released through shadow work:
- patterns of toxic relationships (lovers, friends, employers, etc)
- mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression
- sexuality/sexual problems
- dis-ease, chronic pain, chronic psychosomatic illnesses
- addiction to anything that diminishes one's spirit
- greed, selfishness, jealousy
- fears and phobias
- low self-worth and esteem
- skin/digestive issues
- financial struggles
- disconnection from self and life
The purpose of shadow work
“When we are aware of our weaknesses or negative tendencies, we open the opportunity to work on them.” Allan Lokos
The purpose of shadow work is to transmute and transcend negative beliefs and patterns that are affecting your current experience.
When something keeps uncomfortably popping up in your experience, it's a belief or pattern in your vibration that beckons some curious exploration by doing shadow work around it.
Most people would be amazed at how much their inner child is actually running the show of their life, for example. They think the negative experiences they continue to have are due to bad luck, but in reality it's the tape inside their subconscious that's been looping their whole life.
Some beautiful benefits that come from doing shadow work are:
- increased self-awareness, which allows you to be more centered within yourself
- personal growth that leads to inner peace and deep joy
- greater authenticity, with self and others
- your true, positive and loving personality traits begin to run on automatic
- insights that lead to understanding and self-acceptance
- release of trauma and judgment of self that date back to childhood
- courage and freedom to be who you truly are
Do you always seem to attract the same type of people, financial experiences or health issues? You have a subconscious, looping tape that's causing it.
Shadow work pulls the curtains back, observes, transmutes and eventually releases. It frees you and allows you to be a more authentic version of yourself–a version that feels like home to you.
How to do shadow work on yourself
You can heal without therapy, if you choose. That's what I chose because shadow work for me is immensely personal and private, so it's not something I can easily do even with a trusted therapist.
You are capable of doing your own shadow work, and in fact, it will come quite easily if your desire is strong to release past trauma and behavior that isn't truly you. All it takes is some curiosity, reflection, and trust in yourself, which will create a pathway for moving forward.
The thing about shadows is that they are immediately cast away when the light is turned on. Your conscious awareness is the light, so when you pull the curtains back and shine the light on whatever you find there, just the act of doing that can sometimes be all that was needed to free you.
Other times it will take awhile. The number one thing you want to have for yourself throughout your time spent with your shadow parts is self-compassion. Be gentle and loving with yourself.
It's a rare few who ever face and transcend their shadow side, so the fact that you're reading this shows that there's so much more to you beneath the surface. And you know it. Your soul is ready and waiting, and so are you.
1. Diagnose where you are: 3 shadow work prompts
With shadow work, you want to work in blocks. By this I mean don't try to tackle every single thing in one sitting. Take one issue you're currently struggling with and begin connecting the dots.
The best tool for shadow work that I've found is journaling because when you write, subconscious thoughts and feelings seem to bubble to the surface and out onto the paper. It's extremely illuminating.
You do not have to be a writer or anything like that. You don't even have to have legible handwriting. You just need to be able to write on something. Here are some journal prompts for diagnosing where you currently are:
- Where am I struggling the most?
- If I had to guess, what am I possibly being called to heal?
- What is the pattern in my life that keeps showing up?
If answers don't come to you during your journaling session, just let them marinate on your mind for a bit. They'll surface eventually. Repeat the journaling session every few days to check back in with yourself.
The best times to journal are truly when you're feeling overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts. You may think that's the worst time to journal, but it's actually when answers will pour out onto the page that you didn't even know you had.
2. Link the emotions
Once you've laid it all out on the table with what you're struggling with, the next step is to link the struggles or triggers with the emotional pattern.
Just like events and experiences have patterns in our lives, so do our emotions. You likely have a few core emotions that you feel on a consistent basis, humming along in the background of your everyday life.
These are the emotions that will be the link to the suppressed beliefs or perspectives you're holding that is causing the dysfunction or pain in your life. Use the following journal prompt ideas for questions to ask yourself in order to better clarify what these emotions are:
- How does this (current struggle) make me feel?
- How do I feel when _____________ happens?
- If anger is present, what emotion is underneath it?
Your goal is to keep paring down the feelings until you get to a base emotion. Feel the feeling, and then ask "Is there another emotion under this one?" For example, shame could be an emotion underneath anger or vice versa.
Spend some time writing out and feeling into these emotions. Write out every feeling and thought that comes to you. Rage on the page! It's akin to purging. If you had drank poison, you'd be vomiting to get it out of the body.
Get these emotions out of your body and into the light. What emotions have you been stuffing away? What are you FEELING? Get it OUT.
3. Connect the dots
The emotions you've just uncovered, which boiled down are usually just a few core emotions you've felt time and time again throughout your life, are rooted somewhere in your past.
The process of making the connection between the emotions and an event or belief you picked up early on can take awhile. You're now aware of the emotion, which is huge in and of itself. Ask your inner being to help you be made aware of where this emotion is rooted.
Use these journal prompts to help make the connection:
- Can I remember the first time I felt this emotion? (Shame, fear, anger, etc).
- Going over each year of your life that you remember, write down any and all events that triggered this emotion in you.
- If the emotion is merely tied to a belief rather than an event, do you recall how you picked this belief up? Who in your family would agree with this belief you hold (in a more general light)? You may hold a belief about yourself but if you generalized the belief to be true for people in your family or for a certain gender, for example, who in your family would agree?
Even if you can't recall where an emotion or belief started, the very fact that you have acknowledged the emotion will bring up recollections over the coming days and weeks.
This is important because when the memory surfaces, just the very acknowledgment of it is enough to transmute it. You see it through the eyes of the adult you are now rather than the child you were.
4. Pave a new direction
The best part of shadow work is shifting the direction you're going in.
You've pulled the curtains back and shown the light of your consciousness on things that weren't serving you, so now is the time to decide what you want to manifest moving forward.
To do this, get out your journal and draw a line down the middle of a page. At the top of one side, write out "How I've felt for so long" and on the other side write out "How I want to begin feeling". You could do this with beliefs as well.
You can take this paper and fold it in half and keep it next to your bed. Look at it before going to sleep or upon awakening to remind yourself of how you intend to feel or think.
Here are some more shadow work journal prompts for clarifying a new direction:
- How do I want to feel most of the time?
- How do I want to feel when it comes to this specific area of my life that I'm healing?
- How would I be if I believed or felt this way? How would I treat myself and behave in a new way?
- In what ways can I be gentle, forgiving and patient with myself as I practice this new way of thinking/believing/feeling?
This is all practice. Transcendence doesn't happen overnight. It's a gradual process of releasing and letting go while moving towards that which you know your true self to be.
Shadow work is finding those scared parts of yourself in the dark and loving them back out into the light. It is gentle and patient work.
It is not digging up past wrongdoings in order to further victimize or blame, but to free your heart from the bondage that has felt safe for so long.
It requires a level of bravery and willingness to look into the dark aspects of one's self in order to come out on the other side more enlightened, authentic and connected to self.
To recap the steps of shadow work:
- Identify the current issue
- Figure out the core emotion underneath the issue
- Connect the core emotion to a past event or belief
- Decide your new direction while being gentle with yourself as you practice this new way of being
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this article and found something to take away with you. Please leave any questions or thoughts you have in the comment section below.
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Jessica Dimas is the creator of Manifesting Magic with the Moon, a spiritual self-care ritual bundle that focuses on aligning your energy with the cycles of the moon phases.