Awakening: Healing the Shadow Self With Light
Is it time to face your shadow?
We all have shadows — one visible, and one not. The physical shadow obviously refers to the shade created from blocked light, but the inner shadow refers to something else entirely: unseen, un-faced aspects of the self that have yet to be integrated into the conscious personality. With the total lunar eclipse coming up on May 26, 2021 — an astrological time where the light of the sun is blocked, symbolically paralleling an inward process wherein the shadow self is revealed — it is the perfect time to explore the roots of shadow work and its modern-day iterations that are practiced in healing modalities.
Every human possesses aspects of themselves that they would prefer not to recognize or own. These difficult-to-accept traits comprise the shadow self. Because facing these memories and beliefs would bring up feelings of shame and/or fear, the ego prefers to keep them entrenched in denial, simply pretending they do not exist. The problem is this form of repression results in inner division and tension that is psychologically unhealthy. Over time this can become unsustainable and result in dysfunction or unwanted symptoms.
Shadow work, a term describing introspective, inner-work to uncover, acknowledge, and integrate your shadow self, is a practice that comes with self-awakening on the journey towards wellness and wholeness. This philosophy has inspired practices for deep inner healing that are practiced today — from the offices of licensed mental health practitioners to more informal settings with healers and self-development practices — but its significance dates back to the work and career of Carl Jung, a pioneer in the early development of the practice of psychoanalysis, and the founder of Analytical Psychology, or Depth Psychology. His early work, and departure from Sigmund Freud’s teachings, helped to rē•spin psychoanalysis and the development of modern psychology as we know it today.
What is the “Shadow Self”?
When doing this work, it is important not to view the shadow as inherently “negative,” but as an objective, unresolved aspect of who a person is. Whether or not this results in ‘functional’ or ‘dysfunctional’ behavior, that helps or hinders a person’s achievement of their goals, is typically what inspires a person to look within or begin a course of therapy or inner-work. Confronting and addressing these hidden parts of your mind in a controlled and intentional matter can be downright healing. (Again, if at any time a person is experiencing acute psychological distress or exhibiting psychiatric symptoms, it is important to be sure to do so with the guidance of a licensed mental health professional.)
But what causes this phenomenon of the shadow to arise? It essentially refers to anything disturbing or distressing that a person could not adequately process at the time; thus, the memory and its corresponding disturbing cognitions and beliefs became suppressed in the subconscious mind. Note that while trauma refers to an experience that overwhelms the mind’s ability to cope, these forms of psychic trauma do not need to be so severe that they result in, say, a diagnosis of PTSD; everything occurs on a spectrum, and what you uncover in shadow work may or may not be so severe as to register as the conventional notion of trauma.
No matter the severity, what is repressed and hidden from consciousness in the shadow can still impact individuals adversely. After all, the subconscious plays a large role in driving human behavior. This is precisely what makes shadow work so effective; you essentially get to the heart of the issue, pattern, phobia, or behavior that you would like to change. In this school of thought, it is by facing and rē-processing the submerged “traumas” and memories that were too overwhelming to process at the time that a person can become more empowered in their lives.
Why Do Shadow Work
Jung believed that the shadow plays a major role in the balance of the psyche. Without adequate integration of the shadow, a person may be preoccupied with their personas — the constructed self (as opposed to the authentic identity) that forms based on social norms and the acceptance of others. Furthermore, an unintegrated shadow can express itself through projection onto others. This essentially means that what is present but unrecognized becomes triggering when perceived in others.
The underlying message is that by embracing and holding space for the entire self, there is freedom, agency, and empowered intentionality to be gained. The unaddressed shadow can block life goals and progress, impacting beliefs, hindering perspectives, and leading down a path of self-sabotage. Through practicing shadow work, clients can reclaim the parts of themselves that they have spent years repressing and hiding from; a process that is ultimately liberating, and that frees up a lot of energy and consciousness.
How to Do Shadow Work
Shadow work can be done alone, with a licensed clinician or therapist, or a counselor or healer. To seek out a practitioner trained in Jungian psychology, look for a Depth Psychologist. Meditation, journaling, and breathwork are other practices to help access the unconscious and rē-pressed memories. Even a combination of methods and modalities can be used to access the deeper space.
Though difficult at first, you’ll find that as you are able to accept all parts of yourself, you are actually healing and strengthening. By doing the deeper work, you can act — as opposed to reacting to — conditioning, living from a place of empowered authenticity. As the shadow self is balanced, but not banished, a person can live in greater harmony with themselves and others.
Disclaimer: If you are experiencing mental health symptoms or psychiatric distress, it is important to tell a licensed, mental health practitioner.