Digging Deep and Uncovering the Shadow

What comes to mind when someone mentions “shadow work?”

When I first started looking into shadow work, it seemed as though everyone had a different opinion of what shadow work actually was, and how to DO this shadow work stuff. It was really confusing. From what I was reading at the time, most people felt that the shadow was the worst parts of yourself and in order to be successful the seekers would need to integrate these characteristics into their personality. This didn’t really make sense to me. Why would I want to integrate my jealousy INTO my personality? I understand figuring out a shadow aspect, accepting it, and working on it, but I wanted to be less of my negative characteristics, not more.

After many years of introspective work, I’ve found that it IS about integration. But it’s not just about accepting the ‘negative’ aspects of your personality. You have to do the work, dig down to the roots of the shadow, unravel the reasons WHY it’s one of your shadow aspect and then it will integrate back into your personality. So, let’s talk about how to start that process. Keep in mind that there are many ways to do shadow work, this is just one view / technique.

*What is a shadow aspect?*

Let me start out with this: a shadow is created when an object blocks the light. It can create limiting beliefs that keep you from achieving your goals, it can make you feel often-destructive feelings like shame or guilt, and it can also destroy your relationships. Odds are, if you’re interested in undertaking shadow work, you likely have already started to uncover at least one of your shadow aspects. If not, there are few ways to get started.

*Uncovering a shadow aspect by being curious and asking questions*

One way to do this is to get curious when you feel an emotion that seems out of place. Ask yourself “why” you are feeling that way. For example, I was on vacation at a much nicer hotel than I usually stay at, and I just felt so guilty that I couldn’t even enjoy the amazing hotel and grounds. So, I took about an hour to do some introspective work – basically just asking myself why I felt that way, moving deeper and deeper into the WHY of the emotion.

For example: Why do I feel guilty? Because I don’t deserve this. Why don’t I deserve this? I keep digging deeper and deeper until I found the root. For me it was the fact that I felt that I needed to be perfect, and never make mistakes. Once I figured that out, I was able to come to the realization that the idea of being perfect all the time is ridiculous. That perfectionism was one of my shadow aspects.

*Uncovering a shadow aspect by looking at the mirror image of your positive characteristics*

Are you aware of all of the ways that you are awesome? Time to get self-aware! Tests like the StrengthsFinder or MBTI tests can help you find out your personality strengths. Once you’ve taken a test like this, you may be able to spot some shadows in the mirror of those strengths. For example, one of my good personality traits is that of being a good leader. The mirror of a strong leadership characteristic could be being bossy. Another good personality trait is of being super-organized. The mirror of that could be the tendency of being controlling.

*Still don’t feel like you can identify a shadow aspect?*

Try doing a timeline exercise. In this exercise, you get yourself a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line. Then begin to create a timeline of the events in your life. Start out with the big events that have changed you (positive AND negative) and note them. Then you can fill in smaller important details. When you start to feel an emotion that feels out of place – or a typically “negative” emotion, take some time to contemplate your timeline and see if you can drill down and find the root of that emotion.


So, what does integration feel like? There isn’t one “thing” you can do for integration. Going back to my example of feeling guilty about staying in a nice hotel room. Once I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, it was as if a weight lifted from me, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my vacation with zero guilt feelings. The feeling of a puzzle piece falling back into place, or an AHA moment – these can be signs of integration.

Emotions are one way that your shadow aspects can manifest. When you feel an emotion that seems weird, strange, or out of place, consider where it may have originated. Do your digging, do some introspective work, find the root. Be curious, ask yourself questions, and allow yourself to feel what comes up.

Also published on elephantjournal: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/02/a-simple-starter-guide-for-shadow-work-that-actually-works

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