So you’ve heard about shadow work and now you’ve got questions. No worries. This Shadow Work FAQ is an excellent place to find answers.
If you have a question that is not here, let me know. I may include it in an update!
What is Shadow Work?
The term was created by psychiatrist Carl Jung at the dawn of psychology. Jung says that our shadow is the part of ourselves that we don’t want to see. We reject it because we find it unacceptable.
Today when we hear about shadow work, it could mean all kinds of things, so it’s best to start with a definition so that the speaker and listener can be on the same page.
When *I* speak of shadow work, I am talking about the things that we are blind to. Sometimes we have hidden these parts of ourselves because we find them objectionable (as with shame). Often they are simply hidden.
Does Everyone Have a Shadow?
Yes. Everything is dual in nature. Masculine balances feminine. Light balances darkness. Life balances death. So, it’s only natural that we would be composed of things we can see and things we can’t see.
Another way to think of the shadow is to call it your unconscious.
How Does Something Get Into Shadow?
There are three common reasons.
Some things are unconscious because they happened before we had the type of memory that we can recall with words. Consequently, we have no way to talk about them.
For example, let’s say that I grew up in a household that believed that Santa brings toys to good children, then I break a lamp. I’m two-and-a-half and I know that’s not good. I can see from my parent’s body language that they are upset.
Now, if my father loses his job shortly afterward, I might conclude that it’s because I was bad. If Santa rewards good children, surely he punishes bad ones. Now my unconscious belief is that I am bad.
The second way that things go into shadow is that they are so unpleasant that we “forget” about them. This is typically a trauma response to keep us safe. We’ve all heard of people who don’t remember when they were harmed. This is our brain’s way of protecting us from being overwhelmed.
The third common way that things get into shadow is that they are so common that we overlook them. The brain is efficient. It doesn’t see and process everything. It assumes that something that doesn’t change is staying the same, so it may not notice something it’s already processed unless and until it changes.
This means that if I typically wear dark, drab colors, it’s highly likely that nobody will notice if I have a new olive green shirt. It’s in shadow. However, if I wear an orange one, that’s likely to get a lot of attention because it’s novel.
It’s the type of thing that is hiding in plain sight, but we can’t see it until it’s pointed out to us.
Can I Do Shadow Work By Journaling?
Anything is possible, but probably not. SHADOW WORK IS NOT JOURNALING. If we can put something into words, it’s probably coming from the conscious mind, not the unconscious mind.
The way I work with clients to do shadow work is through the unconscious. I work through the body, symbols, and metaphors to bypass the thinking brain and go beyond the words. In fact, the more that someone talks, the more that they interfere with the process, so I don’t think it’s likely that a person can get very far in shadow work with journaling.
Journaling is a useful tool for processing something once it comes to light, but not for uncovering it.
Can I Do Shadow Work Alone?
If you are good at being nonjudgmental and turning off your analytical side, you can do shadow work through your dreams. Dreams are already encoded with loads of insight from your inner knowing. If you learn the language of dreams, or join a dream group, that would be an excellent way of doing solo shadow work.
Mindful practices, like meditation, might also yield insight into hidden material. Any creative endeavor may also lead to uncovering hidden aspects of yourself. However, without a modality for doing that, any breakthroughs are likely to be random.
Also consider that if you should get a breakthrough, it could come in a rush of painful feelings. If you are unsupported during this time, it could be re-traumatizing.
Personally, I don’t recommend doing deep shadow work without the help of a qualified professional. You could pull your own tooth, but would you?
Is Everything in Shadow Undesirable?
No. You may uncover that you have hidden talents! I know someone who discovered that she was a great painter in her 50s. She’d never painted before. Something you thought was undesirable may turn out to be an asset. Be prepared to be amazed!
Actually, I think that what you will find is that whatever seemed horrible before isn’t as monstrous as you feared.
What Are the Benefits of Shadow Work?
We’re all whole people already. Doing shadow work brings hidden parts of ourselves into the open where we can heal them (if necessary). Once healed, the learning and the energy of that hidden part becomes available. We may become more compassionate, powerful, and more authentic.
So, some benefits are:
- improved relationships
- more understanding of ourselves
- more able to forgive others and ourselves
- better boundaries
- showing up more authentically
- increased intuition
- stronger spiritual connection
- more courageous
- a feeling of empowerment
- more ready to ask for, and receive, what you want
- increased empathy
- feeling more connected to the larger world around you
- a thirst for learning and growth
- less judgmental
Should I Do Shadow Work?
We all benefit from doing shadow work; however, if you feel sick-and-tired of being sick-and-tired, if you’ve been on a self-help hamster wheel, if therapy doesn’t help, shadow work may be just what you need.
It’s hard to ask someone for something if you are not aware of what you need. Even a professional may not be able to read your mind and know what to do if you can’t articulate it. Since the problem is in shadow, how would you know who to ask for help?
Here are some other signs that shadow work might help:
- you self-soothe with drugs or alcohol
- people avoid you because of your negativity
- you have problems doing daily things like getting out of bed, getting dressed, feeding yourself, or cleaning up after yourself
- your self-talk is damaging
- you don’t know who you are or what you want
- something is “off,” but you don’t know what it is
What Are Some Tips for Getting Started In Shadow Work?
- Go slow. Life is an endurance sport. Don’t run out of energy before you reach the finish line.
- Listen to your body. There is a difference between a “no” response and a “this is scary response.” Respect the no.
- Build safety first. Shadow work can be rough. You want to be able to care for yourself if you get into deep waters.
- Have support. This can be a group, coach, therapist, or trusted friend. You need someone to lean on and talk to about what you’re experiencing.
- Spend some time learning mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you to see what you currently overlook. It’s a highly underrated skill that will make the journey so much easier.
- Work with a qualified professional so that you don’t get re-traumatized.
- Work with someone you trust. This is vulnerable work, and you want to feel safe with your helper.
Is Shadow Work Dangerous?
If you do shadow work alone, don’t know how to ground yourself, and aren’t supported, shadow work can be scary. It can even be overwhelming. If you use drugs or alcohol to cope, or if you engage in suicidal behaviors or other risky behaviors when triggered, shadow work could push you over the edge.
However, if you put those safeguards in place, it gets uncomfortable at times, then it feels better. Little by little, life gets lighter and easier.
Is Shadow Work Evil?
No. Shadow work is not a battle of good vs. evil. We’re not expelling evil.
Everyone has light and dark within. All of nature is based on a system of complementary duality. We need day to know night. That’s how we make sense of reality, but I wouldn’t call it “bad.” Nothing necessary can be bad.
What’s Shadow Work Like Working With You?
We work with symbols, pictures, metaphors, and your body in 25 minute sessions. So, it’s quick and intense. As long as you aren’t talking about your experiences, explaining, or getting into details, we can do a lot of work in 25 minutes.
Typically, we tease something out that has its roots in childhood or even a past life! We release it from the root, then give your body a chance to integrate it. Once we finish, we can chat if you like.
It’s like playing a game of Jenga. Sometimes we get a small piece and not a lot seems to shift. Sometimes we remove a piece and a whole unpleasant program collapses completely. For example, if you have a negative self-belief of “I’m not worthy,” it’s possible to release that in a single session. Who knows?
If you have a lifetime of darkness, shadow work can be like being flung into no-man’s-land with no parachute. It’s like you are without boundaries, just drifting in space. When you let go of everything you knew, but you don’t have another reality to replace it with yet, it can feel very uncertain. The temptation is to create another comfy box to climb into.
You may do that the first, second, or third time it happens. If you keep doing shadow work, there may come a day when being without boundaries feels like your true self.
Shadow work may also lead to a complete shift in religion, career path, or relationship. It can impact your entire life. Don’t worry. If you weren’t leading an authentic life, this is a good thing. Just be warned that it is that powerful, and it takes courage to see it through.
Want to know how to prepare for your shadow work session? Click here.