Shadow Work 101
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Can we talk about our shadows and shadow work?
In Finding Home: In Yourself, we spoke with Tina Ford, Ugandan Neo-Afro soul musician based in Toronto. We talked about finding home in ourselves, not only by looking at the light (what we and the world love about ourselves) but also the dark or the shadow which are parts that we hide. She also spoke about how shadow work has helped her find herself and feel more whole. Shadow work has a lot of layers to it. It is not black and white. It’s grey, and complex. But this is where we’ll start.
When we're trying to discover this world, we're presented with what's "good" and "bad". This process starts in our childhood but thanks to the subconscious mind, a lot of us are adults, but our inner child is at the steering wheel.
Sitting quietly is "good"
Throwing a tantrum to express anger is "bad"
Keeping it together is "good"
Crying to express sadness is "bad"
Always being active is "good"
Being bored is "bad"
For some, being quiet and unnoticed is “good”
Being the centre of attention is “bad”
These notions subtly reinforce the belief that it is undesirable and childish to show or feel emotion whether that's sadness, anger, grief, boredom, shame, self pity, fatigue, self doubt and so much more. The belief that being vulnerable and sensitive is bad gets stamped into our psyche that we start to believe that the opposite of all this is "good" and "mature".
But suppressed feelings and denied emotions, don't just go away because they are real and they are part of real life whether we like it or not and that is how our shadow self is formed.
What is the shadow?
The shadow is the culmination of our suppressed, rejected, ignored, misunderstood parts of ourselves.
The shadow part of our subconscious selves that keeps being faded away from the light or from our active consciousness.
It's that part of ourselves that tries to communicate while we constantly leave it "blue-ticked" or on "read" without any replies. We hide it with the busy, too. Work. Social media. Addictions.
"The shadow is the unconscious and disowned parts of our personalities that the ego fails to see, acknowledge, and accept." Carl Jung
What happens when we don't do the work
Monsters can be real and they take our form. When our shadow selves are constantly pushed down and away from sight, they grow and feed off the energy that resonated with them.
Suppressed anger for instance can turn into pettiness, passive-aggression, being mean or having a sharp tongue, and even violent outbursts.
Shadow work is hard. There's no sugar coating it.
Imagine facing someone who's been trying to get your attention and acknowledgement for possibly decades. Imagine having to face something you wish didn't exist. It's hard work. It's patient work and so it takes time. But like most things that we are intentional and steadfast with, the pay off is golden.
How to spot your shadow:
Using projections to spot your shadow involves paying attention to how you project yourself to the outside world. Ask yourself these questions: how do you see the world? how do you perceive others around you? Oftentimes what we dislike or are judgmental of in other people, mirrors who we are because we're sensitive to that energy.
"It's like when there's a piece of lint on the projector's lens. We think there's a flaw on the screen, and we try to change this person and that person, whomever the flaw appears on next. But it's futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realise where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering, and the beginning of a little joy in paradise." Byron Katie
We are the projector's lens, the lint on the lens is our shadow self. Using projections to spot our shadow helps us to spot that lint.
“If someone is accusing you of being something, either you are that or you are a mirror in which they are seeing their own reflection.” Shunya
What triggers you? What triggers feelings of fear, shame, anger, jealousy, defensiveness? Triggers show us where our wounds are and they definitely shine a light on our shadow self. Using emotional triggers to spot our shadows involves paying attention to what triggers us and catching ourselves before we react or even during the process of reacting. and recognising the shadow. It might be important to delve a bit deeper to understand the true meaning or origin of this shadow feeling.
If a friend shares with you a great big milestone that they have reached in their lives and you feel deep feelings of jealousy and envy, recognise that shadow. Why do you feel this way? Is it because what you've been trying to achieve yourself hasn't worked out? Or is it the little insecurities creeping up? I am not smart enough. Things just never work out for me.
By understanding the “why”, we also recognise what we haven't been working on to help you feel whole.
In Finding Home: In Your Roots, Julietta Achieng uses the analogy of a tree to explain the root of patterns and behavior in human beings. The patterns that have been passed on from generation to generation in our families, are within us too. Want to get to know yourself? Pay attention to your patterns.
This is likely the hardest process. It involves spotting the shadow before it shows itself. Journaling is a great way to do introspection. Here are some journaling prompts to get you started in introspective shadow work: what parts of myself do I dislike? what parts of myself do I judge? what parts of myself do I fear. While shadow work is about the self, you do not have to do it all by yourself. Find your community. Take it one day at a time. Healing is a lifelong process.
“When we are aware of our weaknesses or negative tendencies, we open the opportunity to work on them.” Allan Lokos Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living