Explore Your Dark Side with Shadow Work

By . - Thursday, November 18, 2021


What is Shadow Work?

Shadow work involves getting in touch with the parts of yourself that you've repressed — or what many might refer to as their "dark side." ... It's called "shadow work," and involves "diving into the unconscious material that shapes our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors," according to therapist Akua Boateng, Ph. D.

The Benefits of Shadow Work

1. Tapping into your intuition.

Depending on what kinds of things you've tucked into your own shadow, there's a good chance shadow work can help you get in touch with your deeper knowing, or your intuition. If you were discouraged from using your intuition as a child—trusting your gut and inner compass—then you throw that into the shadow.

2. Freeing yourself from the unconscious shadow.

When we're operating at an unconscious level, our shadow effectively controls us. So while, yes, facing our shadow is hard work, it's also incredibly freeing. 

3. Empowering yourself and accepting your strengths.

For people with very low self-esteem, they'll often put good things about themselves into their shadow because they don't feel worthy of it. In instances like that, shadow work offers us the chance to reclaim the gifts that make us who we are, which we've been hiding away.

4. Taking a step toward self-actualization.

If you're reading about shadow work, you're likely also interested in your own development and personal growth. And according to many Psychologists, shadow work is necessary for anyone who wants to become fulfilled and self-actualized. 

"To become the best version of yourself, you need to know what the bad bits are that are holding you back or are hidden."


Exercises and prompts for getting started with shadow work

1. Think about someone who triggers you.

A good place to start with shadow work would be to think of someone who bothers you, and reflect on what it is about that person that might also be within you. To figure this out, ask yourself gentle questions such as:

  • What is it about this person that I don't like?
  • Do I find that I have some of those same traits sometimes?
  • What makes it so difficult to be around them?
  • What parts of me does that person enliven when I'm around them? And how do I feel about that part of myself?

2. Examine your family tree.

Make a family tree of your two sets of grandparents, all of your aunts and uncles, and your parents because they're the generations above you whose attributes—good and bad—might be in you. This practice is all about getting honest enough to say, "I love my family, but one of my uncles drinks too much," as an example.

The next step is to really look at all those qualities that exist within your family, and ask if any of those things are in you.

3. Confront your shadow.

Another exercise involves meditating on, and confronting, your own shadow. 

  • What are you addicted to?
  • What toxic traits do you exhibit?

Once you've got a clear (or at least somewhat clear) view of the aspects of your shadow self, you can begin the work of confronting and releasing them with positive affirmations such as:

  • I allow the darkest shadow that's buried within me to be released.
  • I release fear; I release doubt; I release shame; I release insecurity.

When doing shadow work, don't forget to...

1. Watch out for your triggers.

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." 
As you're doing this work, you'll become more and more aware of the little things that trigger you—and why. So, keep an eye out.

"If there's something you've always wanted to do and you see a friend achieving that," Swart gives as an example, "then that triggers shadows, because it's like, why does that person have it and I don't?"

2. Give yourself grace.

Shadow work is by no means easy, and offering compassion to those parts of ourselves that we have hidden away for so long is important.

3. Call on others for help.

If considering the shadow sides of yourself brings about pain, suffering, or fear that you feel ill-equipped to handle, it's time to seek the help of a licensed professional.

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