Shadow Work: A Complete Guide

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Over the past few years, Shadow Work has become a renowned practice. Most practitioners of witchcraft and other spiritual traditions have come across this method. Many swear by this technique, as it is very powerful and very effective. Unveiling the Shadow can be a life-changing experience. It can unleash our full personality and our repressed traits. While the Shadow is usually composed of traits that society considers negative, positive traits can also be hidden inside it. This is why Shadow Work is so important and rewarding.

As many people already know, the concept of the Shadow comes from Carl Jung’s psychological approach. But there are still some common questions surrounding the Shadow and Shadow Work. What is Shadow Work exactly, and how does it work? Keep on reading to find out!




Carl Jung’s Theory

Before we begin, it’s important to acknowledge that Jung’s theory uses gendered terms such as “man” to refer to a person. His work is also binary in its conception of gender. This is also the case with many other theories developed in the early 20th century.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology. His most well-known work concerns different archetypes that form the collective unconscious. Now, let’s take a moment to unravel what that means. You might have heard of the unconscious, the part of ourselves that we are unaware of and that escapes conscious thought. This term was coined by Sigmund Freud(1856-1939), the father of Psychoanalysis. The unconscious is individual. In contrast, the collective unconscious is a part of the unconscious mind. It comes from universal experiences and ancestral knowledge. It is common to everyone. This part of our mind rules intuition and reflexes and allows us to make quick decisions.

The collective unconscious is made up of eight archetypes. In Jungian psychology, an archetype is an ancestral mental image that has been inherited from ancient humans. The eight archetypes that compose the collective unconscious are: the Self, the Shadow, the Anima, the Animus, the Persona, the Hero, the Wise Old Man, and the Trickster.

The Self is your conscious awareness, the center of your personality. The Shadow, however, is the unconscious aspect of your personality. It is something that has been hidden and repressed. According to Jung, the Anima is the unconscious feminine side of a man and the Animus is the unconscious masculine side of a woman. The Persona is a mask that we wear to face the world. We hide our true, inner self. The Hero can overcome obstacles and achieve goals, whereas the Wise Old Man archetype is characterized by its wisdom. Finally, the Trickster is a cunning but playful character who is disruptive and can question authority.

So, what exactly is the Shadow?

Simply put, the Shadow comprises aspects of ourselves that we have denied or repressed. It is the dark and emotional side of our conscious Self. The Shadow is a part we don’t know and don’t recognize in ourselves. In general, it is considered to be negative because the Shadow usually includes primitive impulses such as envy, rage, greed, and others. But there are positive aspects that can be found inside our Shadow Self. This is why Shadow Work is such an important tool.

In childhood, we can express our emotions in a direct way. However, as we grow up, we note that some emotions and traits that are accepted, even encouraged, in children are rejected in adults. Being talkative, for example, can be considered endearing when you are a child, but annoying when you are an adult. Society divides some behaviors into “good” or “bad”. As children, we learn, for instance, that sharing is “good”, but being selfish is “bad”.

At the same time, every person has a desire to fit in and be loved. Early on, we realize that some behaviors are not tolerated by our peers. This threatens our need to belong. Humans are social animals, and we always want to protect our face. This is why, when we grow up, we repress or deny those aspects, traits, and emotions that we now consider unacceptable, inferior, or even “evil”. We put aside every behavior that we deem unlovable, for instance being talkative or “selfish”. This is how the Shadow Self is formed. For many people, the Shadow is also associated with trauma, especially childhood trauma.

If you don’t acknowledge your Shadow, it might lead to undesirable effects. Some of them include poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-sabotage, self-absorption, self-deceit, and problems having healthy relationships.

Recognizing the Shadow

So, how do I recognize my Shadow Self? How can I access it? Fortunately for us, there are ways we can tap into our Shadow. One way is by taking a look at which traits we find unacceptable in other people. For example, do you always find people who put themselves first annoying? That might be because, as a child, you were told that your own selfishness was unacceptable. You still haven’t owned up to your selfishness. This happens due to a process called ‘Projection’.Through this psychological process, we can see in other people things that we have repressed in ourselves. However, we don’t usually realize we are projecting. The issue with Projection, Jung claims, is that it creates a veil between how we really are and how we perceive ourselves.

Secondly, what we have repressed usually comes to us in the form of negative self-talk. Listen to your inner voice: what does it tell you about yourself and your shortcomings? You might start to infer which aspects you’ve repressed by listening to the voice in your head that doesn’t like you.

Another way of recognizing our Shadow Self is by paying close attention to the way that we react to other people’s words and actions. Some situations can threaten our identity by exposing our Shadow. Let’s say that a friend tells you that they’ve met a person who is loud. You might take it personally and feel ashamed for no apparent reason, or you might want to explain that being loud is not so bad. You might feel unwell and have no idea why. This happens because you haven’t worked to accept your own loudness. Unconsciously, you fear that your Shadow will come to light. This is seen as a threat to your Self, your identity.

As you can see, sometimes the Shadow has a mind of its own. It can take over without us being aware. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean. Often, we regret having done something that seems ‘out of character’ for us. We might not recognize ourselves in the actions that the Shadow pushed us to take. If we don’t discover our Shadow, it can appear at crucial moments and it can affect our life. Our work and relationships might be at risk.

Definition and benefits of Shadow Work

Shadow Work is a term used to refer to an introspective personal process that allows you to unveil your Shadow. Revealing your Shadow Self is a life-changing experience that can bring about huge personal growth. Before you begin, keep in mind that your Shadow is not a flaw or a mistake. Instead, it is a natural part of who you are. 

There are many benefits to this method. First, Shadow Work is a powerful tool for personal improvement. Through Shadow Work, we explore hidden aspects of our personality. This can lead to more self-awareness. We might discover and understand our behavior more, and we might be able to change it. Integrating your Shadow into your conscious Self will make you feel whole and will ground you. Unveiling the hidden aspects of your personality can also teach you self-acceptance.

In the second place, when you become aware of your Shadow, you get a clearer sense of who you are. If you unveil this dark part of your unconscious, you will find traits and aspects that you will dislike. However, if you can overcome the initial contempt for your Shadow Self, you will be one step closer to your authentic Self. All feelings of superiority or inferiority will dissipate. Also, discovering the hidden aspects of your personality might actually be beneficial. There are some traits that we have repressed but would be helpful in our lives, such as fearlessness.

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Thirdly, once you’ve tapped into your Shadow Self, it will be much easier for you to accept other people’s Shadows. Your interpersonal relationships will improve. You will be able to communicate more effectively with other people. Shadow Work is also an exercise in compassion, both self-compassion and compassion for others. The fourth benefit of Shadow Work is that you will unlock your creativity. According to Psychology, creativity flows more spontaneously if you are in a healthy mental space. Integrating your Shadow might pave the way for more creativity in your work and your life.

In fifth place, your confidence will improve. Unveiling the Shadow means that there are no more hidden parts of yourself that you hate. You will accept your Shadow Self and, as consequence, your self-esteem will improve as you discover your authentic Self. You might discover hidden talents and personality traits that are actually beneficial for your life but you’ve repressed. Additionally, you will feel more energized. This is because we unconsciously spend a lot of energy in keeping our Shadow Self repressed. If we integrate the Shadow into our lives, we can begin to claim back the energy we were spending in keeping our Shadow hidden.

A final benefit to Shadow Work is that it helps with manifesting our wishes into our lives. This technique can help us uncover our deepest desires, and knowing this is key when manifesting. If we don’t unveil our Shadow we might feel like we’re stuck or our manifestations aren’t fulfilled.

Starting Shadow Work

As a psychotherapist myself, there are things I want to tell you before you begin Shadow Work. Above all, please note that this method works best when you are accompanied by a licensed professional. If you don’t have access to these services, you can do Shadow Work on your own. However, there are some issues to take into account. The most important is to never do Shadow Work if you’ve suffered recent trauma. Instead of being ready to face your Shadow, you’ll be in a vulnerable state in which your memory, perception, and sense of Self can be compromised.

Another moment in which Shadow Work is not recommended is after you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one. If this is your case, please avoid doing Shadow Work. This is the moment for you to grieve your loss, and you shouldn’t be doing introspection. Shadow Work can only be beneficial if you’re in a good mental space, to begin with. Please be very careful. This method is not dangerous provided you aren’t in the two situations mentioned above. If you suffer from anxiety and/or depression, Shadow Work can be for you, but take it easy at the beginning and go slowly.

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Photo by Serrah Galos on Unsplash

The most important thing is to start Shadow Work with an open mind. Try to center yourself and find a mental space devoid of judgment. Nothing you will find in your Shadow Self means that you’re a bad person. The trauma you have suffered is not your fault. All of us have repressed several things. Practice radical acceptance with yourself.

Shadow Work takes time, so it’s important to be patient. It can’t be rushed, and it won’t solve all your issues immediately. As with every other technique, it takes practice. Before you begin, there are some tips that you can follow:

  1. If you think it’s necessary and you can afford it, seek professional help. A licensed psychotherapist can be a really valuable guide for you in this process.
  2. Observe yourself every day. It is a good idea to keep a journal in which you reflect on your behavior and feelings on that day. Do this for several weeks before working with other prompts.
  3. Practice self-acceptance. It is a good idea to start and end your day with affirmations. Start by reassuring yourself: “I am enough”. “I am loved”. “I am worthy of love”. “I believe in myself”. “I am important”. You can repeat these affirmations in the mirror or write them down in a place where you can see them every day. Personalize these affirmations and adjust them to your needs. There are also some affirmation apps that might help you.
  4. Another good idea is to meditate, as meditation brings about self-awareness. Before attempting Shadow Work, try to start meditating for a couple of minutes each day. You can put on some relaxing music and light a candle. Imagine a landscape that brings you peace. Natural landscapes work very well. You can even look at a picture for a couple of minutes before meditating.  Don’t force your mind to go blank, as it will make it even harder to stop thinking about your day-to-day chores.

Exercises for Shadow Work

When you feel ready, you can begin. Start by thinking about yourself. Ask yourself 2 or 3 simple questions. Write down the answer. Think about the questions for a couple of days. Feel your emotions and write them down as well. Do what you need to do: laugh, cry, create art, or talk to a loved one.

Once you feel happy with your answers and you’ve reflected upon them, you can take another three questions and repeat the process. Do this for a couple of weeks or even months. Some questions that are safer for beginners are:

  • How would I describe myself?
  • How would I like to be? Which traits would I like to have?
  • What traits bother me in other people?
  • What aspects of myself would I like to improve?
  • What’s a trait that I have and I don’t like?
  • What image am I trying to project?
  • Which behaviors and words are triggering for me?
  • How am I similar to members of my family? How am I different?
  • What are my parents’/primary caregivers’ best and worst traits?
  • What negative emotions am I avoiding? What would happen if I felt those emotions?

After a while, see if you feel ready to take things up a notch. If so, you can start reflecting on your family and your upbringing. Remember that the Shadow is usually formed due to childhood experiences and trauma. If there’s been a traumatic event in your life and you’re not ready to face it just yet, don’t force yourself. Keep on working on the previous questions and, if possible, look for professional assistance. If you’re sure you’re ready, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was I like as a child?
  • When was a time that I opened up to somebody and I felt rejected?
  • What is the worst thing that a person could say about me?
  • Which is my biggest shame? Am I embarrassed by who I am?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • Who do I envy, and why?
  • What is my worst childhood memory? How did I feel at that moment? How does it make me feel now?
  • What makes me feel self-conscious?
  • When is the last time I forgave myself? Have I been too hard on myself?

There are many other prompts that you can work with. We suggest looking them up online or on social media. Here are some other good tools to keep on practicing Shadow Work:

  • Write a letter to yourself as a child. Explain everything that was confusing to you then but is clear now. Forgive yourself. Reassure your inner child. You can keep the letter or dispose of it if you want. It’s up to you.
  • Write a letter to the person that’s hurt you the most. Tell them whatever you need to tell them. Read the letter. Then, burn down that letter.
  • If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, you can write them a letter as well. Say anything you need to say, then burn down that letter as well.

In conclusion, Shadow Work is an introspective process that can enhance your general well-being. In a nutshell, Shadow Work will help you develop self-awareness, and the journey will lead you to self-acceptance. It can also help you work your way through trauma. There are many benefits to Shadow Work, but please keep in mind that you need to go slow and be patient. Seek professional help if you deem it necessary and if it’s available to you. Get some rest between each Shadow Work session. Above all, keep an open mind. We wish you the best in this journey to the depths of your soul!

Do you practice Shadow Work? Tell us in the comments!

Verene Snopek
Verene Snopek

is a Content Writer at Aquamarine Content. She is a Cancer Sun, Gemini Moon, and Libra Rising. A Jane of all trades, she is a certified clinical psychologist specializing in CBT and DBT. This cat lover also works as a professor of History, Literature, and Ethics in a Teacher Training College, in addition to teaching English Language at the National University of Córdoba. She is interested in past lives and energy healing and has been learning about Astrology and Tarot reading for over a year. Her favorite crystal is Amethyst and her favorite Tarot card is The Lovers.

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