Exploring your Shadow
We all have a dark side. An aspect of our personality that we try to mask and conceal from others. The reason why we are so afraid of the shadow is that we want to be validated and accepted in our circles. Additionally, we idealize that the other side of the human self predisposes us to thoughts, actions, and feelings that are not ideal and so we deny, avoid, or fear exploring this side.
The shadow concept has a psychological and spiritual basis that are alike to a large extent. In psychology, the shadow is believed to be anchored in the subconscious/unconscious mind. Whenever the ego or the conscious mind is involved, the aspect of the shadow ceases to manifest since a person will be displaying their conscious characteristics.
In spirituality, the concept of the shadow introduces a new phenomenon referred to as the ‘guardian of the threshold’. This means that the shadow is conscious and is aware of all the truths, fears, and deep-seated issues that define the inner self. Hence, the spiritualism school of thought stipulates that the contents of our shadows need acceptance for healing to occur. Fighting the deep secrets can be detrimental to spiritual wellbeing and this is the reason why exploring your shadow is vital.
From a spiritual and psychological perspective, the shadow harbors our dark fantasies, moral failings, twisted thoughts, and other unorthodox traits. All these undesirable characteristics are acquired over a lifetime through interaction with the environment and it is therefore not ideal to dwell on the cause but to process the result of the hidden self.
Acceptance, of the shadow, does not amplify your dark side. It instead moves your secrets from the subconscious to the conscious which gives you full control of yourself. You can therefore heal gracefully from your traumas and have a better control of your actions, feelings, and emotions.
Exploring the shadow work
Now that you are aware of what your shadow is all about, the next step is to discover your shadow. This process is referred to as shadow work or ‘shadow hunting’. It is necessary for healing and entails confronting your fears and hidden self rather than denying their existence.
In contrast to ‘light work’ which focuses on positive attributes, shadow work focuses on the negative traits from which problems emanate. Since the goal is to identify the unconscious part that is concealed, the aim is not to erase the bad side but to relieve the guilt and shame to allow positive mitigation of the underlying issue.
You need help to explore your shadows. Traditionally, shamans or spiritual gurus used to assist and some still do. However, modern therapists and counsellors have emerged, and they are offering shadow hunting services. At the initial encounter, facing your fears may be exhilarating and daunting but after a few sessions, you can be able to break the barriers, face your fears and turn over a new leaf.
In this workshop, we shall explore three techniques of shadow hunting. They shall be intense and draining but you keep your eyes on the goal of burying your old self and bringing to birth your new self that is free of unresolved issues.
Importance of shadow work
Shadow work is ideal if you want to accept yourself fully. This is because, even though some subconscious aspects of yourself maybe not ideal, concealing them makes you live in denial which makes you a dysfunctional person.
Human beings are oriented to categorize things as holy and evil according to spirituality and good and bad according to morality which has a basis in psychology, philosophy, and sociology. Therefore, we are likely to shun the bad and evil and this creates an internal conflict as we try to suppress our shadow. If we choose to confront the dark side and accept that these traits are innate, we can be able to control our thoughts, feelings, and impulses more effectively by assuming responsibility for our actions.
For instance, most people are repulsed by crimes such as assault and battery and they like to believe that they are incapable of hurting a fly. However, a trigger can change that, and the person could act out from the subconscious and commit a crime.
This underpins the reasons why shadow work is so critical. Suppressing, denying, and avoiding some aspects of ourselves creates internal tension. This makes traits such as violence and anger become more pronounced and pent up only waiting for a spark to manifest. This makes us unstable, unpredictable and hence a danger to ourselves and others.
Nonetheless, the guilt and shame may not be your fault entirely since behaviour, beliefs, and actions are determined societal norms, values, and beliefs. There is a wide spectrum of what is good and bad and anyone who is deemed as an errant or deviant person is classified as impaired and sanctioned.
Therefore, there is a need for people to accept that they are weak and vulnerable when faced with traumatic situations where the brain ill be unable to provide a good solution. This susceptibility is what makes the shadow to be such a formidable innate force that determined actions, thoughts, and feelings.
Acceptance of the shadow is an uphill task since accepting an uncomfortable truth may alienate us from the society that we try so hard to belong to by following the ideals. The resulting internal tension and dilemma make us unhealthier and more unbalanced, and a person may exhibit the symptoms of the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic which defines pathologically narcissistic people who have two different personalities. In the absence of the mental condition, shame and anger can beget paranoia, irritability, unpleasantness, and a miserable demeanour which may affect the well-being of an individual and others.
Unlike the conventional assumption where perfection is defined as the possession of good attributes, shadow work introduces a new concept of balance. This idea stipulates that embracing the bad attributes leads to a rebirth that revitalizes life just like the four seasons mark the end and beginning of something new for a greater good.
Conclusively, when you embrace shadow work, you will explore your old wounds and overcome their negative impacts on your life. The self-discovery will enable you to create an internal balance that will increase your well-being. After all, diagnosis is the key to healing.
Essentials of shadow work
When you embark on a shadow work journey, you first need to acknowledge that you have an unsolved issue that you have been denying or avoiding. You also need to be open to the fact that there are some aspects about yourself that you may not be aware of which could be inhibiting your psychological wellbeing and influencing your actions and thoughts.
Shadow work unravels what bothers people and the reasons why they feel bothered and burdened. Some of these characteristics of the shadow-self could be neediness, controlling, self-centredness, and more. Only after we acknowledge that there is a need for change can we make positive progress towards transformation.
Activity: Practical shadow work
To isolate the issues that have been badgering you, but you cannot put a finger on them you need to undertake a shadow work exercise. The most basic indicator of a repressed, denied, or avoided fact is establishing what you dislike about other people or flaws that you normally note in others. Often, people dislike traits in others that they themselves possess and are ashamed of.
Shadow work moves these aspects of yourself from your unconscious and subconscious mind to your conscious faculties. The exercise below will highlight your shadows.
Think of a common perception that you harbor such as ‘My partner is hiding something from me.’
Negate the thought and come up with;
Opposite- My partner is not hiding something from me.
Self- I am hiding something from myself.
Others- I am hiding something from my partner.
When you radically introspect yourself from a point of view of honesty and accountability, you will get a revelation of how truthful the statements are about you.
Facing your fears, denials, and newly discovered traits
Once you establish your shadow, you have to accept that you are imperfect in order to complete the self-discovery process. Afterward, you will be able to unlearn some of these traits through soul searching and breaking any traumas that you may have sustained. The process is lengthy and may you may need professional help.
For instance, if you are an abusive person, you should accept the fact and stop making excuses as to why the people you abused deserved your wrath.
You can confront the situation by saying. “I am an abuser and I apologize for the pain my actions caused. I did that out of deep-seated trauma, and it was a relief to cause pain to others. I don’t want to be a person who causes pain, and I am willing to change.”
The admission of remorse and the recognition of the internal triggers of the behaviour is a great start for facing your fears and denials. It is also the genesis for discovering old wounds to start healing.
Most importantly, you should know that all human beings err. Even the seemingly most perfect person has flaws, and you are not an exception.
Activity: Shadow parts
After establishing your shadow, you need to dissect the issue further to get a clearer picture of why you act the way you do. For example, you become belligerent when under pressure. You gamble all your money after a disagreement with your partner. Maybe you destroy your household properties when something enrages you.
You need to identify why you become belligerent under pressure, gamble when you have a domestic disagreement, or destroy household items when you are angry. For instance, examination of the issue could reveal that you become belligerent under pressure to protect yourself from being told that you are inept and incapable due to a parent who was too hard on you. You could also be a gambling addict who experiences a relapse after a domestic fight as you try to make quick cash out of fear that you could lose your property and wealth in case your marriage comes to a dissolution. The determination of the triggers can give you an alternative way of addressing your fears and impulses to avoid being hurtful to people around you.
Step 1: Clarify the part that you are examining such as selfishness, cruelty, or violence. Establish why the trait exists and what lessons you can draw from it.
Step 2: Determine the need that your shadow fulfills. For instance, you could be cruel to intimidate people into telling you about your imperfections.
Coping with an overwhelming shadow work
It is not uncommon for people to be overcome by emotions when unraveling their shadow sides. The pain, shame, guilt, regret, and discomfort are indicators that you are on course to discovering yourself. You need to understand that as a human being, you cannot be perfect. This is the chance to highlight your iniquities in order to control them and prevent them from leading you astray.
Amid your anguish, you should also note that every aspect, trait, and the habit has an opposite of itself. And most traits exist together in people’s minds. Thus, even when you deem yourself as a perfectionist who only portrays absolutes, you are also capable of some horrible things. For example, you could be a very generous person who donates to all charities but still neglects your kin in need.
Nonetheless, when the pain is too great to bear, you should take a break to recollect your composure to avoid negating any progress that you could have made by deepening your trauma. Once you regain your calm, you can continue safely with the shadow work.
3 basic rules of overcoming shadow work pain
Stop: The intensity of the shadow work can be unbearable. Once this happened, you should stop to give your time to calm down and prepare for the resumption of the exercise.
Breath: Breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth in a rhythmic pattern. This will allow you to relax, maintain your composure, to effectively confront your shadow.
Soothe yourself: Self-soothing during shadow work can be construed to mean denying or avoiding that a fact exists. However, you should avoid this misinterpretation of the technique by using techniques that temporarily distract and calm your mind such as yoga, swimming, or participating in a hobby that occupies your whole mind.
How to deal with denial
One of the major hindrances to shadow work is denial as your mind tries to repurpose your thinking to what you have been accustomed to such as:
Denial of facts
Denial of awareness
Denial of responsibility
Denial of impact
If you are not making positive progress in your shadow work, denial could be the root cause. To deal with this challenge you can use the following techniques.
Assume that what you are denying is the truth
Examine why you need to prove that you have been right all along
Ask yourself if you are reasonable and honest
Examine if you are realistic
Making the shadow part of your conscious
What is the next step after the shadow work? Once you have identified your shadow, the traits that you try to conceal will be part of your conscious. This will enable you to address these challenges and you will have better control of yourself. Since these issues could be deep-rooted, you may need professional guidance to mitigate their effects. You can consider counselling, therapy, or even dieting. You can also join a group that will support you to live with these traits positively.
Remember, radical acceptance and fearless ownership of your shadow are only the beginning. Be patient, trust the process, and be willing to be a better person and you will defeat the power that your shadow wielded over you before you embarked on the shadow work journey.
For example, if you are not self-confident and you always seek the validation of others, shadow work could highlight that you have self-esteem issues. By addressing the root cause of your self-esteem such as parental neglect, you will be able to overcome and re-orient your brain to be assertive and confident.