How To Use Shadow Work To Embrace Your Faults And Fully Come Into Your Own

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Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung was a pioneer who became well-known for identifying the distinction between extroverts and introverts, coining the phrase "the collective unconscious," and popularizing the concept of the shadow in human behavior. The shadow is the hidden, dark side of the personality, everything we repress, disown (including good qualities), or reject. Jung explained that "The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself." He famously said, "That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate." 

'Doing' shadow work means making the unconscious conscious, and this process can heal early childhood wounds and help us feel more whole and adult. As daunting as it may sound to face the most hidden, shameful, or repressed aspects of yourself, shadow work is a powerful, freeing way to integrate and welcome the parts of your personality that have been splintered off.

How the shadow shows up in life

The classic novella "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" represents how the shadow shows up in human behavior, albeit symbolically. The story follows Dr. Henry Jekyll, a kind, compassionate scientist who explores his other side, the evil Mr. Edward Hyde. The book ends tragically, with Jekyll losing himself to his darker side, unable to transform back. John A. Sanford argues in "Evil The Shadow Side of Reality" that Jekyll's fundamental mistake is his inability to accept the tension between good and evil aspects of his character. 

In your life, think about someone who you absolutely cannot stand, someone who is guaranteed to irritate you. People who trigger a strong emotional reaction in us, including a positive one, might be revealing one of our shadows. Enter into a compassionate space and picture the behavior of the person who gets under your skin. See if you can spot a shortcoming of theirs that also lives in you.

As Sarah Regan writes in MindBodyGreen, "When you consider words like 'shame,' or 'fear,' what do they bring up for you? Is it some aspect of yourself you'd rather not think about? Well, congratulations, because you may have just found your shadow." If, for example, you grew up in a home with parents who yelled and fought constantly, you may have adopted a hyper 'nice,' spiritual persona, someone who rigorously avoids conflict. Boom — your shadow could be a part of you that feels aggressive and confrontational but never acknowledges it. 

How you can start to do shadow work & feel more whole

There are a few techniques you can experiment with at home, but this is a starter kit. To do in-depth shadow work thoroughly and safely, consider working with a qualified therapist. And if you're contemplating hiring a professional, you could always try somatic therapy. Using Sarah Regan's idea, identify an aspect of yourself you feel shame or fear about, give it a title or label, and jot it down. Naming a shadow loosens its grip on you.

Adapting some techniques as explained by consultant Scott Jeffrey, center yourself in a loving internal space, name a disowned trait or two, and write a dialogue with it in your journal. Imagine you're having coffee and asking it what it wants for you or from you. Another exercise is to write down all your finest strengths, then reverse engineer to find your shadow. For instance, if one of your great strengths is that you're tidy and organized, a shadow might be your inner slob. Welcome it in instead of slamming the door on it. Another tip: read "King, Warrior, Magician, Lover" to learn about shadow archetypes.

The benefits of doing shadow work include much more accurate self-awareness, more compassionate and less judgemental communication with others, a burst of creative energy that's been freed up from repressing ourselves, and a sense of stepping into our full, adult self-expression. As you deepen your journey, it's also possible to heal by mothering yourself.