Shadow Work, Demystified
Several years ago, on the advice of a trusted friend, I consulted a renowned psychic about why I was feeling stuck in my life. Six months prior, I’d felt spiritually called to transition from my well-paid marketing consultancy to becoming a full-time shamanic healer. Because of my marketing background, I thought I’d have no problem attracting business, but for all of my efforts, I had very few clients and the bills were adding up. So in our session, the psychic and I talked for a few minutes about the nature of my question, and then she consulted her spirit guides. After a few minutes of silent but intense communication, she suddenly gasped and peered intently into my face, as though she was just now seeing me clearly.
“Come now, Carrie, you must decide!” the psychic said urgently, as though my life depended on it. “It’s the Light or the Dark. Which side are you on?”
Little did I know what a rabbit hole that question would open, one that would take the next five years for me to authentically answer. At that moment, however, I emphatically responded that I was a light-worker. I mean, of course, right? I wanted to help others heal, and I felt I had gifts to share. While conscious me believed that to be true, unconscious me had a very different agenda. And, unbeknownst to conscious me, unconscious me was running the show.
So how could this possibly be? Because: the shadow self. A psychological concept first developed by Jung, the shadow self is comprised of forgotten, repressed and rejected aspects of ourselves. These parts suffered wounding too painful to integrate into our conscious mind, so – relegated to the unconscious – they grew to have personas of their own. The shadow’s persona is comprised of coping strategies for managing the pain of the original wound…as well as the addition pain of us rejecting it. The wounding our shadow selves carry may have originated in early childhood or in past lives; in either case, in having no conscious memory of these wounds, we are completely oblivious to their existence. Our rational mind wants us to remain obvious, so it does everything it can to continue to suppress these memories, protecting us from feeling the difficult emotions that come with them.
When we commit to healing ourselves, we are committing to bringing these forgotten, repressed and unloved parts of us into the light of consciousness. To do this, we first name the darkness within us so as to see it clearly. We then feel the emotions we have been avoiding. Finally, we forgive ourselves by accepting these shadow aspects as great teachers on our journey.
SEE ALSO: Why Forgiveness Is An Inside Job
4 ways you’re triggering the shadow
So how do we begin to bring our shadow into the light? The first step is to know when our shadow self is in control. This happens when we are:
- Emotionally triggered (eg, when our emotional reaction to an external circumstance takes over and we go into fight/flight/freeze mode);
- In a power struggle (trying to control a situation, being attached to outcomes, judging ourself or others);
- Giving away our power (dissociation, spacing out, spiritually bypassing, not speaking our truth, attaching to outcomes, comparing ourselves to others); and
- Self-sabotaging (consciously working towards a goal but having self-made difficulties/setbacks in achieving it).
Once we have identified situations in which our shadow is in control, we begin the work of getting to know this estranged part of ourselves. We do this by observing ourselves in any of the above situations, listening to what recurring thoughts and beliefs are present. It is much easier to do this work when we are objective in our observations, as the judgment will scare this part of us back into hiding, and the unconscious behavior will continue.
But when we are able to patiently observe ourselves, we begin to understand how this wounded part became this way. Through this understanding, we start to forgive – and ultimately accept – all parts of us. When I started unpacking my shadow’s motivations, I realized that a very ancient part of me believed that being human is unsafe. This part felt very strongly I should protect myself by any means necessary…even if that meant hurting others. When I first uncovered this part of myself, I was shocked, and very judgmental (“As a healer, I shouldn’t feel this way!”), which caused me to continue my unconscious self-protecting behavior. Over time, however, I started to understand the trauma this part of me had experienced, and I was able to have compassion. It was through this compassion that I was able to accept that experience as part of my soul’s journey, and I am ultimately grateful for it.
Having done this work, I can tell you that it is no cakewalk. It requires a level of presence and self-awareness that the egoic mind categorically objects to (given its preference for running on auto-pilot). This work also requires the patience of a saint and the perseverance of an ultra-marathoner. There are times that I’ve wanted to revert to a state of unconsciousness, rather than learn about yet another difficult aspect of myself. But I’m here to attest that it’s well worth the discomfort of doing the work, for in accepting who we truly are, we gain deep inner peace. No longer affected by external judgment or validation, we step gracefully into purpose, living the life our whole selves want to live.
So now I can truthfully answer when asked which side I’m on: while I used to work in the dark, I am recovering from that darkness. With great patience and love, I am moving into my light, one conscious step at a time.
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