Shadow Work

This year has brought me primarily one thing: the opportunity to do introspection. It’s the reason why I’m slowly working my way through my life, identifying the parts of me that I need to reconcile or do away with completely. Today I heard someone’s summation of people, “there are two kinds of people; those with issues and those who are dead”.

I’m almost at my mid thirties and I think it’s about time to cut the shit. I’ve lived in a victim mentality for a long time and it’s not the way I want to live any longer. Blaming others, living with resentment, pointing fingers, holding on to grudges does not give me anything but a burden to carry. I’m reading the books, I started a meditation practice with TM (transcendental meditation) in June, and I’ve come back to blogging and journaling as my form of expression. I am working at releasing everything I no longer need, a spiritual decluttering if you will.

The shadow self is considered the parts of yourself that have negative traits attached; shame, greed, envy, rage, selfishness, etc. Psychologically, the shadow is defined as the part of yourself that you can’t see. It’s related to projection, when someone ‘projects’ their own insecurities onto someone else it is part of the shadow. Think of it literally, when you shine a flashlight (project) onto an object, you produce a shadow behind it. What sits in the darkness is often what we do not want to see or approach. This is why, if you ever find yourself with a strong dislike for a person for no logical reason, it is likely that the person holds aspects of your own shadow personality. On the other side of this, if you’ve ever encountered a person who accuses you of doing things you very well know they are guilty of (projecting) it’s because that person refuses to see or acknowledge their shadow.

So where do we start? Deepak Chopra taught me a valuable exercise in his book, “The Book of Secrets”. You take a piece of paper, fold in half lengthwise, on one side you think of someone you love and write 10 traits you love about that person. On the other side, you think of someone you strongly dislike and write 10 traits you dislike about them. Now open the paper and look at those 20 traits, accept that you are all of those traits.

Pretty powerful stuff if you do it right.

I did the exercise and I found it to be brazenly accurate. I love people who have passion for the things that interest them and I hate people who easily lie. I know how quickly I fall down rabbit holes of interesting topics and I can lose myself in focus of new ideas but I can appreciate that part of myself in others. On the other side of this, I am not a good liar but I’m also not going to pretend I’ve always been 100% honest. I have been hurt by lies many times and I’ve hurt others with my own dishonesty and so that pain, resentment, and shame are all my in my shadow self.

There are many exercises out there to help you in doing this work. I found that one to be very simple so I share it with whoever will listen. It is all a process, it’s important to acknowledge yourself and be graceful to yourself while you unpack all of this.

Another useful practice I have learned is for processing emotions. Shadow work will pull out many emotions and in order to work through these feelings effectively you much detach yourself from the story. Take this example; you’ve had your heart broken, you are sad and angry and your thoughts start to run away from you, “I will never get over this”, “I will never love another man/woman again”, “I am nothing without them”. Those thoughts are stories you are telling yourself, stop the storytelling. Instead, allow yourself to process the emotion, close your eyes, feel where the emotion is in your body. Is it in your stomach? Are you carrying it on your shoulders? Allow yourself to feel the emotion and let it move through and out of you like a ball of energy passing through your body and out at your feet. Do this as many times as necessary until the emotion no longer produces a physical sensation. Allow your feelings from the situation to process, forgive them and forgive yourself. You are not your thoughts. You are not responsible for anyone’s thoughts, feelings or actions except your own. It is human to have emotions but you don’t have to hold on to them forever.

If any of this resonated for you, I encourage you to dig further. Look up shadow work exercises and find what works best for you. There are many of us on this journey with you, you are never alone. If you’d like one on one guidance, I offer shadow work coaching. Check out my services page for more.

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