Shadow work is accessing the different parts of ourselves that we’ve denied or repressed over time. It’s a branch of Jungian psychology used to become a more whole and well-rounded adult.
You don’t have to have a major trauma or have had really horrible things happen in your life to do shadow work or to access your shadow. Because it’s always there.
We have a shadow, regardless of whether horrible things happen to us or not. It’s just part of the psyche. It’s one of the levels of our unconscious world.
Shadow work is, plain and simple, diving into the unconscious mind, seeing what it’s composed of, and learning how to work with the shadow to allow it to seep up to the conscious mind.
Essentially, it is a tool for healing. It is meant to be done from a safe space, typically during the “second half” of your life when you’re more mature mentally.
The shadow self never gets “integrated.” This is a lifelong endeavor. You don’t just do a couple sessions and then you say, “Got it. Cool. I’m healed. I’m fixed.”
You can never integrate the shadow because it’s not conscious. That shadow is never going to rise up and stand next to you. That’s not how shadow work works.
It’s always going to be a container for those unconscious elements. And you’ll always have those unconscious elements. But the question is, are you paying attention to them? Are you aware enough to deal with them when they crop up before they become a problem?
Shadow Work Meaning
There’s always going to be something that you need to check in on from the subconscious. So you see the signs of your shadow starting to build before it becomes a problem.
You and the shadow are never going to become “one” because it’s an unconscious portion of the psyche. It’s always going to live there and there’s always going to be different archetypes that come in and out of it, depending on what you’re dealing with in your life.
Self awareness is what helps us move past our triggers. If you want to really work on it, you have to see that that’s happening, that you’re doing that, and you have to stop it a little bit sooner each time you work with it each time.
And then at some point it gets less and less and less. It’ll probably always be there, but you get better at it. And that’s the whole point. And then at some point, it won’t trigger you anymore. It won’t be a thing.
The more you do shadow work, the more you have to continue to do shadow work. Once you’ve opened the door, you can’t help but shine more lights on things.
And when you start shining light on things, what happens? It casts more shadows. So the brighter you shine, the bigger you get, the happier you get, the more wellness you incorporate into your life, the more shadows you expose.
Shadows don’t have to be bad. Remember they’re just a container for an archetype.
That’s why I say that this is never ending in life because the more we develop that unconscious world, that psyche of ours, the more light we’re shedding on it. And then it just creates further reaching shadows. So you learn to deal with them more and more as you grow more and more.
How to Do Shadow Work
As much as I would love to give you a handy, step-by-step checklist to do shadow work, it’s not that simple. This is not a cookie cutter healing technique. It’s going to be different for everyone because all of our shadows are so different.
This is the most important shadow work technique, you don’t have to do it alone if you don’t want to. If you feel like you need therapy to just have someone hold your hand and guide you through it for a while, then do it.
Or if you get into it and you’re like, “Whoa, like this is wild. I didn’t realize all this was under here.” Because it’s unconscious, you don’t realize it’s under there until you get in. That would be a good time to find a therapist.
You should see a therapist sometimes, especially if it’s trauma or issues that you feel are becoming too heavy for you to deal with. And sometimes it’s not good to do shadow work on your own. It should be done in tandem with therapy.
Tracking Your Dreams
This is straight from Carl Jung himself. Now I’m a huge proponent of dream tracking. You should be tracking your dreams for all kinds of reasons. And this reason we’re talking about today is just because of shadow work.
Dreams are one of the easiest ways to have a glimpse into the unconscious world, the shadow lives there. It’s a safe space to play everything out with no repercussions. Your shadow can do whatever it wants in the dream world.
So it’s really important to take note of what you’re doing in your dreams and kind of thinking, “Well, why am I doing that?”
The shadow comes through in our dreams with different symbols or people. It’s a direct link to the unconscious mind. So by recording your dreams and taking notes of the symbols and the patterns that you see, you’ll begin to recognize your shadow.
There’s a lot of really good shadow work journaling prompts out there. And I think that’s a really helpful place to start to answer those prompts. They’re really tough to answer if you answer them truly.
It’s looking at yourself and analyzing, “What am I, the problem? Is it me? Am I really the one doing this?”
You might realize that you unconsciously contributed the problems you’re dealing with. “Yes, I had things happen to me, but now I’m just using them as a crutch to be kind of a jerk.”
Go through these thought-provoking journal prompts every three months or so. And if you get really into it, you can even come up with your own or ones that you feel fit your certain situation better.
Shadow work prompts I definitely recommend, especially if you’re just getting started and you don’t know where to start.
And this is one where it can kind of get a little intense, I’ll say, depending on what you are thinking of, because when you’re auto writing, you shouldn’t hold anything back.
No one needs to see it. No one’s ever going to read it and you don’t even need to read it again because you might not want to. It can get very dark and intense, but shadows are dark. They’re not bad, but they are not the light portion of us.
Write it all down without judgment or fear of what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. And the other thing is you don’t have to mean everything. If your trauma involves other people, you might write some really nasty things about them that you’re just feeling.
Just being honest with your stream of consciousness, that’s coming through at the moment and you’re just letting it go. You’re giving it physical form.
I think that’s really important to do because we live in our heads full time. So much is contained there that when you bring stuff up from the unconscious and then it’s in your conscious world, it needs that physical outlet.
It needs to be put in a physical container to really be released. So no matter how bad the thought is, write it down and then you have to face it and then you have to see it in front of you. Then you can assess if you truly feel that way (you probably don’t). It’s good to get it out regardless, so you can process it from there.
Automatic writing and allowing yourself the freedom to be as dark and intense and just really go there with it, allowing yourself the freedom to do that is really liberating for your shadow.
Finding an Outlet
Again, the shadow’s not physical. It lives in the unconscious. It’s the container that holds all of these archetypes that we’re sifting through and dealing with.
So it needs some sort of physical outlet, whether it be writing, painting, music, sports, weight lifting, any kind of energetic release.
Whatever the shadow is saying, what it wants to do, put it out into the world to let it go. Definitely a blowing off steam type thing, but also again, channeling it into something beautiful.
And again, you don’t have to share it, but if you do share it, there are people that are going to relate to it. When you first start shadow work, you might not feel very creative because it can be very gloomy.
Then you’re trying to find the pieces that fit together. And I think the outlets and the creation kind of comes down the further down the line. When you start to understand it a little bit.
Carl Jung Shadow Work
Everyone in the spiritual community knows about shadow work. Carl Jung was probably the first psychologist to incorporate spirituality and elements of the unconscious into his work. Although he didn’t necessarily deem it “shadow work.”
He believed there was so much more beyond our ego minds and our humanity. His big one is the collective unconscious, as well as shadows and all these different archetypes.
Jung illustrated the mind as being an iceberg in the sea, with the majority of it being unconscious (beneath the water’s surface).
Working with the subconscious mind, Jung believed, was something that should be done during the second half of life.
The first half of our life was more about just having experiences, just living life. And it’s what happens to you, how you deal with it.
And then the second half of your life is the individuation process where you are working with the shadow. You are diving into your unconscious world and bringing it to light because.
To learn more about Jungian psychology and the origins of “shadow work” therapy approaches, read The Beginner’s Guide to Jungian Psychology by Robin Robertson, PhD.