What is shadow work and how can it help you heal? 

Have you ever felt like you’re holding something back, as though there’s another version of you lurking just beneath the surface? Perhaps you find it hard to just be yourself and are constantly worrying that others are judging the way you behave. 

Introducing shadow work. For the uninitiated, shadow work is a process of intense reflection and self-exploration that’s sometimes called Inner Work. 

This incredibly personal journey allows you to unpack deeply rooted fears, anxieties and traumas by looking more closely at the darker parts of yourself. It’s an exploration of the parts of your personality you hold back.

The shadow self was popularized by psychoanalyst Carl Jung who said this hidden chunk of us is made up of the parts of ourselves we reject; those thoughts, behaviours and personality traits we keep hidden from view. They are aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge, embrace, or accept. 

Imagine you were scolded as a child for being bossy and outspoken and you now feel deeply ashamed of yourself if you ever act this way as an adult. That’s your shadow and it’s preventing you from being your true self. 

Another example? Growing up you were told that it’s bad to be boastful, and so you constantly downplay your achievements and accomplishments, never allowing yourself to bask in the spotlight, even when it’s richly deserved. 

One of the biggest benefits of this personal growth technique is that it helps you shift unhelpful patterns – some of which you might not be aware of – so you can lead a much happier life; one that’s free from emotional baggage. 

With a little self-exploration, you can dig out those parts of yourself that you’ve exiled – maybe it’s an experience from your childhood you’ve repressed or a personal trait that you don’t like and have kept hidden – and gently make your peace with them.

Are you ready to heal your shadow? You’ll need to meet her and make friends with her first. You can normally spot your shadow self when you feel triggered. 

Had a strong reaction to something seemingly innocuous? That’s your shadow coming into view. It’s a good idea to start noticing these emotions and keeping a note of them. Become an observer of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Grab a journal and put pen to paper if it helps. 

During this process, you might find some familiar emotions bubbling to the surface: like shame and embarrassment to name a few. Practice non-judgement: the art of observing without putting yourself down. 

Next? Ask yourself some probing questions, like ‘When did I learn this thought, behaviour or attribute wasn’t acceptable?’. Or, ‘How did I feel when I tried to express this part of myself in the past?’. Consider how these wounds have created emotional and behavioural patterns that have held you back in life. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. 

The final step may well be the hardest. Think about what your life could be like if you didn’t let these parts of yourself hold you back; if you were free to express yourself as you please. Imagine yourself acting this way now and start subtly letting your shadow self out around others. 

This is by no means a quick fix, it’s a long process, but gradually, you’ll allow your shadow self to make itself known. Consider showcasing your shadow aspects around people you love and trust first. Eventually, you’ll feel brave enough to express yourself in this way among others. 

Here’s the thing: we all have a shadow and when you allow space for yours to shine through, you pave the way for inner fulfilment and healing. It won’t be easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile.

Written by

  • Victoria Stokes

    "Victoria is a polished mental health and wellbeing writer with a decade of experience in online and print media. She regularly contributes to publications such as Happiful, Health & Wellbeing, and Healthline, and writes for smaller coaching and wellness brands too.

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