I have a friend who has no problem pointing out all of the ways I am not doing what she thinks I should be doing.
She frequently lets me know the ways I am failing her – not calling, not hanging out at the frequency she would like and not adhering to her how to be best friends rulebook.
Obviously, this behavior is exceptionally irritating to me. However, it’s not so much what she says but the expectation that I should follow what she deems socially acceptable. I frown upon conformity and her belief that I should conform is what gets under my skin.
But if I look closer at my irritation, I uncover that it is not my friend that is the cause of my irritation. Instead, it is a hidden part of myself that I have projected on her that triggers me. It is my shadow side.
I pride myself on being an anti-conformist and look down upon anything that does not allow me to express that sentiment. However, if I am completely honest with myself, I conform all the time. A large chunk of my life is spent doing the socially acceptable thing to avoid confrontation. Like not calling out my friend.
What is Your Shadow Self?
Carl Jung defines the shadow as the part of ourselves that we deny, hide and refuse to acknowledge. The side most often projected onto other people to take the blame off of ourselves, it is essential we not only acknowledge our shadow but also accept it if we want to move forward on our soul path.
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
How to Recognize Your Shadow Self
1) What Irritates You?
Start closest to home: your spouse, friends, kids, parents, co-workers. What consistently bothers you? When you find that irritation, pinpoint the exact quality trait and then look at yourself to see how you do the same to others.
Irritation: You are annoyed because your spouse is always late
Quality: You feel it is rude to have to wait.
Shadow: How are you rude or do you make others in your life wait on you? It could be as simple as scrolling on your Instagram feed when your kid is trying to ask for help
2) Who Do You Admire?
Your shadows are not only dark, they can be light as well. In the same way you did when looking at your dark shadows, look for the people in your life you admire and look up to. Then, dig into the quality it represents until you can find that same in yourself. The cool thing about shadows is that if you can see it in others, you already possess that same quality in yourself.
Admire: I admire Oprah and think she has done so much good in the world.
Quality: Courage to be herself and live her soul purpose
Shadow: I also have the courage to be myself and live aligned with my soul purpose. If I didn’t, I would never have noticed that about Oprah.
Related Reading: The Moon: What is Shadow Work and Why is it Important?
3) Look at Your Repetitive Behavior Patterns
Start to pay attention to situations you repeatedly find yourself in. Perhaps it is drinking too much and feeling hungover the next day or it could be having the same argument with a friend. These instances give you clues to your shadow and help uncover addictive behaviors you exhibit.
Let’s go further into the drinking too much example.
What is the root cause?
Are you hiding from something? Maybe you drink to escape the way you feel about yourself as a person. Why do you want to avoid your feelings? Because you are ashamed. Why are you ashamed? Because you don’t feel anyone will love you with extra weight. Why do you feel your weight matters to anyone else? Because growing up, your parents put a large emphasis on being overweight is unacceptable. Why did your parents care so much about body weight? Because of their own insecurities.
Keep asking yourself why after every answer you give until you get to the real reason for your addictions. Your standard reactions and responses to certain situations is a clue and can help you understand and rewrite why you behave the way you do.
4) How do you talk to yourself?
We all talk to ourselves, whether you want to admit it or not. Another impactful way to do shadow work is to monitor your self-talk. If there was a recording device in your brain that you could play back each night, what would you hear? A sweet, encouraging voice that was supportive and loving? Most likely you would hear a voice with a hard edge pointing out all of the ways you screwed up today. If you wouldn’t speak to a friend in this fashion, why are you doing it to yourself? Ask your whys so you can find the root.
Another helpful way is to notice how you introduce yourself to others. If you find yourself attaching adjectives, labels and excuses, pay attention. For instance: “Hi, I’m Julie and I am the weird spiritual life coach you hear about but I don’t do any crazy stuff and I know it’s not a totally normal job” vs “Hi, I’m Julie and I am a proud spiritual life coach”.
Julie is making excuses and labeling herself instead of owning that she absolutely adores her job and is good at it. Don’t do the same thing. Own your passion. If you don’t know what your passion is, take a look at your shadows.
5) How are You at Setting Boundaries?
Do you find yourself saying yes when you really want to say no? Does your guilt force you into doing things you don’t have time for? Do you allow yourself to be a doormat and get walked on by other people just to keep the peace?
If the answer is yes to any of those questions, you have limited to no boundaries.
Identifying where you are lacking boundaries in your life. Then, like every other step above, get to the core of why you lack them.
6) Do you allow yourself to feel?
“My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed – which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely – all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocks, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”
– Candice Pert
One thing I learned the hard way is that no matter how much you try to ignore your emotions, you will never succeed at it in the long run. They will always explode out of you when you least expect it (usually at a very inopportune time) or you will feel physical pain in your body. The key to successful shadow work is to feel your emotions and allow them to be just as they are – simply energy. Neither good nor bad, your emotions are guideposts that help you find your way.
I have a bad feeling about this guy I just met = red flag, be extra careful
I have a good feeling about this job opportunity = possible clue to the next step on your soul path
As you experience emotions, take away the labels you give them. There is no right or wrong way to react. You just do. And when you do, that’s when you take a step back and start asking why to get to the root.
7) How Do You Conform Against Your True Nature?
On a recent family vacation, I was told to keep the fact that I am an intuitive tarot reader to myself. The reason behind this request was that it would turn off some members who were there and put a damper on our time together. I obliged, grudgingly, and kept my excitement over my recent certification to myself.
Take a look at how you do things that don’t resonate with you to keep the peace. Maybe it is a job that you hate or not speaking up when mistreated. Ask your why questions until you get to the real reason you have a hard time standing up for yourself.
8) What is Holding You Back?
Think about where you want to be in your life and what you are being called to do. What scares you? What is keeping you from achieving the goal you set for yourself? Each one of us has a reason we are here, a soul purpose. It’s what fulfills you completely and drives you to do what it takes to get there. Keep your dream in mind as you work with your shadow.
Shadow work is not easy but it certainly pays off if you stick with it. There is no doubt in my mind you have the ability to do the work and benefit greatly from it. Stay compassionate and kind to yourself as you do this, remembering that practice is what makes you better.
What shadows have you uncovered today?
Proud introvert, intuitive entrepreneur, and spiritual activist. On a mission to embolden my fellow introverts to quietly change the world.