This post is for you if you…
- want validation that shadow work is hard but very doable
- are looking for a way to make it easier
- need to know that what you are feeling is normal
The Purpose of this Post
I can’t quite remember the first time I heard the concept of having a shadow self. Maybe it was during my frantic search for the meaning of life at 37 years old when my world came crashing down around me. Or possibly I learned about it years before that when I became fascinated by the idea of collective archetypes and how they show up around us every day. Whatever the avenue of discovery, one thing I do know is throughout all of my self-discovery and growth over the past 6 years, my shadow is the one area I hate working with.
The purpose of my post today is twofold. First, I want to encourage you not to give up on doing your own shadow work when it becomes overwhelming. Second, writing this is therapeutic for me as I continue my own work and as we all know, you learn best when teaching others.
What is Shadow Work?
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.”
Shadow work is the process of uncovering your shadow, understanding how it became your shadow in the first place and ultimately accepting it as an essential part of yourself. It is extremely important work because if you don’t acknowledge it, it shows up in your life over and over again creating chaos. Think of all the repetitive situations you have found yourself in over your lifetime. Relationships, missed opportunities, irritations and desires you don’t believe you can achieve. That is where your shadow lives. That is where your greatest chance at growth resides.
Why is Shadow Work SO Hard?
For all of you who have had the pleasure of dancing with your shadow, you know it is not an easy endeavor. The confusion and intense emotions that inevitably rise to the surface when you stir things up by digging deep are not what I would consider fun. Feeling like you might crack open from the pain. This is no walk in the park by any stretch. For everyone else who feel called to start your own shadow work, please don’t let what I just said scare you away. I think Carl Jung said it best when he wrote “there is no coming to consciousness without pain”. If you truly want to live your best life without restraint, it is non-negotiable that you not only get to know all parts of yourself but accept them as well.
So let’s break this down and find out exactly why shadow work is so hard.
Humans love to feel comfortable. It’s why we have air conditioning, comfy couches, soft beds and cold drinks. We are creatures who crave the miracle cure and look for the easy way out. I’m not throwing shade on any of us, I believe that if given a choice, we all would pick the one that causes the least amount of distress. It’s human nature.
Involving yourself in not only uncovering parts of yourself you would rather ignore forever but also learning to love them *gasp* is almost asking the impossible. I’ll take Easy Street for $200 please, Alex (<– I miss him, btw).
Ahh, your amazing and pain in the ass ego. We all have one, some more hyperactive than others. The point of having an ego is to protect us from danger – you know, the whole see tiger, run fast story. I have read a lot about how people think to truly be enlightened you must crush your ego and banish it from your life. It may be a relief for you to hear that I think that idea is ridiculous. Your ego is as much a part of you as your left foot and to remove it would serve no purpose.
The key to working with your ego during shadow work is to think of it like a child. A small, frightened little being who only wants to be loved, heard and accepted and will do anything to make that happen. When my ego gets loud and demands to be heard, I stop and ask her what she truly wants. Yes, I have a relationship with my ego. It is amazing what you learn when instead of blindly following or ignoring yours, you listen without judgement. Listening doesn’t mean you allow your ego to call the shots, it means you are acting like an adult listening to a scared child.
Limiting beliefs are ideas you formed as a child, usually before the age of 6, that affect how you view yourself, others and the world around you. You develop them based on patterns you observed and experienced, then made your own assumptions on cause and effect. Limiting beliefs are what your ego operates on and the reason you hold yourself back from your true potential.
Because your ego feeds off of these beliefs, you must uncover how you sabotage yourself from living the life you are meant to live. Until you do, you will continue to make decisions based on the outdated rules you established for yourself as a child. Think about that for a minute. How many of us go about our lives on a daily basis as a 6 year old in the body of an adult? I don’t know about you, but I find the thought horrifying.
Have you ever stopped to think about just how much you allow the expectations of others to run your life and define who you are? Conditioning makes working with your shadow so hard because what you uncover does not fit the persona you have created for yourself. You wear so many masks, whether you realize it or not, that sometimes you forget who you truly are.
This was definitely the case for me and when I finally made the decision to take off my masks, I had no idea what parts of me were real and which weren’t. In order to know and live your authentic self, you have to get naked. You must strip away the layers of conformity you have placed on yourself as protection over the years.
In case you haven’t noticed, all the reasons I have listed about why shadow work is so hard are interwoven with one another. Your conditioning caused your limiting beliefs which feed your ego which make you uncomfortable when working with your shadow. Take out one part of this chain and the entire thing starts to fall apart.
What’s the Point of Shadow Work?
After such a glowing report I just gave you about shadow work, why would anyone in their right mind actually want to do it? Well, as I just mentioned above, if you desire to live your true purpose in life and make a difference in the world (or even in your relationships), you have to know who you are first.
As I mentioned before, we have been so conditioned from the onset of our existence in this lifetime to be someone we are not. Parents, teachers, friends, society – you have been molded by their expectations from day one. You learned from a very early age what was acceptable and what wasn’t and most of us did everything we could to make sure we were loved by repressing the undesirable parts of ourselves. The problem with this is each of us is unique. Our purpose in life is not to ignore the so-called “bad” parts of ourselves but to use all of our qualities to do what we came here to do.
The people who shaped us did not do so out of malice or ill-will, but rather out of the own repressed parts of themselves they did not want to face. They wanted to feel comfortable and anything that stirred up their own dark (and light) parts was anything but. The good news is you can break the cycle of disowning yourself. Because if you are ashamed of part of who you are, you can never love yourself. And if you don’t love yourself, living a purpose aligned life is merely a pipe dream.
How to Make Shadow Work Easier
Now let’s get to the encouraging part. There is a way to make this necessary work a little easier. Let’s talk about how.
Accept You Have a Shadow
I think the easiest way to explain this is to use the Kübler-Ross stages of grief as an example.
- Denial – You are crazy. This whole shadow bs is too woo-woo and hippie for me. Keep drinking the Kool-Aid, I’m gonna stay right where I’m at. By the way, can I just tell you how irritating my partner is?
- Anger – So I thought about what you wrote about having a shadow and decided to see if I really had one. Now I’m super pissed and feel angry at myself for even starting this, angry at you for giving me this idea and angry at the Universe for making life so hard.
- Bargaining – Okay, here’s the deal. I started working with my shadow and I hate it. If you can just make this pain go away, I will give my entire next paycheck to charity.
- Depression – What’s the point of this? I am a terrible human being and I wish I never, ever started this crap. My life was so much better BSW (before shadow work). No one will want me now and all of my dreams are just flushed down the toilet. I suck.
- Acceptance – Is it just me or are the birds singing for the first time in a while? The sunshine is beautiful today! Oh, hello shadow self. I’m sorry I ignored you for my entire life. How do you feel about getting to know one another a bit better?
Until you fully accept you do indeed possess a shadow, any attempt at this work will be an uphill battle in a torrential downpour.
Take Away Your Labels
In an effort to make sense of the world, we humans love to label things. It puts everything in a nice, neat little box and allows us to ignore thinking about things with any depth. In the context of shadow work, I am referring to the labels of “good” vs “bad”. We repress the bad and embrace the good.
But who made the determination of what is okay and what isn’t in the first place? And why did they get to choose what would shape and mold the rest of everyone who came after them? Just thinking about this makes my blood boil and excites the rebel who lives inside of me. If you want to make working with and accepting your shadow easier, you must buck the conventional rules. You have to challenge how you traditionally view the parts of yourself you are ashamed of and wish would go away.
I am here to tell you there is no part of you that is bad. The only reason you believe this is because you have been conditioned to feel so.
Don’t Attempt Shadow Work When Triggered
If you want a disaster, try facing your shadow when you are all into your emotions. It ain’t gonna be pretty, trust me. It will turn into a confrontation that will not end well.
One way I have found to work around this while still actively doing this work is to write down what I am irritated by in a small notebook I keep with me. As I go throughout my day, I pay attention to my feelings. It is the easiest way to know when your shadow is emerging without having to pay constant attention to your thoughts, which can be exhausting. When a feeling comes up that causes me to take notice, I write it down. Then later, when I have time and am not stirred up, I look to see what my shadow is telling me.
Related Reading: 8 Ways to Identify Your Shadow and Why It’s Important
Make Time for Healing
Understand that working with your shadow is not an overnight process. You may never fully complete it and most likely will be continuing on for the rest of your life. This is not as daunting as it seems, however, and the more you practice exercising your shadow muscle, the stronger it becomes.
I have been working with my shadow for 6 years now. The growth I have experienced is exponential and I attribute it mainly to making the time to heal my ignored wounds. By creating a consistent routine and establishing a process has moved me forward into areas of abundance I never imagined. I want you to know that you, too, have the ability to move forward into living a purpose aligned life and manifesting what you desire if you find the courage to love all parts of your beautiful, authentic self. And in case no one has told you yet today, I believe in you.
I want to know! How do you feel about working with your shadow self?
Proud introvert, intuitive entrepreneur, and spiritual activist. On a mission to embolden my fellow introverts to quietly change the world.