“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”Carl Jung
WHAT IS SHADOW WORK?
To understand shadow work, one should first be familiar with the shadow self. This idea was first conceived by 20th century psychologist, Carl Jung. In his field of Jungian psychology, the word ‘shadow’ refers to hidden parts of our being. The shadow self can be the parts that we hide or repress in order to avoid. It can be our fears, shame, flaws and weaknesses, and toxic traits.
Though shadow work has its roots in psychology and is still used in the field today (even if not always referred to as such), it is also an important spiritual practice. Shadow work is the practice in which one acknowledges the shadow self, takes notice of how it affects oneself, and works to accept that part of oneself in a healthy way. It is a way for us to work toward healing ourselves, understanding our authentic selves, and finding our full potential.
How Does The Shadow Self Manifest?
The shadow self can manifest in many ways that are often ultimately harmful to us, as well as to those around us. These may be unconscious to us when they present. They can include feelings of low self esteem, jealousy, anxiety, anger, and fear. The shadow self may cause one to lash out at others, be passive aggressive, lack boundaries, or find difficulty in standing up for oneself. It can lead to a struggle with addiction, as well as other self harming behaviors.
How To Practice Shadow Work?
The basis of shadow work is the acknowledgment of one’s shadow self. There are multiple ways in which one may do this. One way is practicing mindfulness: calmly focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, acknowledging and accepting one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Rather than attempting to push away anger, sadness, or any other emotion one may perceive as negative, we can allow ourselves to learn from it. Yes, this can be painful, but it is a necessary step in shadow work.
Other things we can do in shadow work include journaling an honest account of one’s thoughts and feelings, teaching oneself to respond rather than react, questioning why one feels certain emotions or what triggers them, and meditating on aspects of one’s shadow self to better understand it.
One more step that should not be neglected is self compassion and self soothing. Shadow work can bring up feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety. Although these feelings need to be acknowledged, they need not lead one into a downward spiral. Learning these things is a crucial practice that will aid in getting through the process.
All of this said, due to the nature of shadow work, it is recommended that it be done with a safety plan in place. For some, particularly if they struggle with mental health issues, that may include having a licensed therapist or other trusted person available. It is generally not recommended that one practice shadow work while in a fragile mental state.
Deities and Shadow Work
As a polytheist Pagan, it would be remiss for me to leave out any mention of deity work within this topic. I have found that deities commonly considered “dark” are often highly effective in assisting with shadow work. This is not to say that they do the work for anyone. That is far from the case. As with anything, I believe that the gods expect us to put in the work for ourselves.
My own work with The Morrígan, Loki, and Fenrir (as well as others) has offered me insight that has helped to start me on the path toward acknowledgment and acceptance of my own shadow self. Through meditations on these deities, learning their stories, and UPG experiences, they have shown me that the shadow aspects within themselves as well as myself are not to be feared, but understood. Those who may not view the gods as literally as I do may still benefit from gaining such insight from their stories.