Whether you are a noob in the energy world or a seasoned player, you will encounter the term “Shadow Work.” Sure, most of the time the conversation leans into words like “light” and “love” which is great because that is the goal of energy healing – to experience ourselves as shining brightly with the glow of our higher selves and souls, existing in our most whole and true form. But the only way to actually get there, to release more light and love in your life into your life is to free it from the shadows. Lurking in the darkness, masquerading as demons is actually all the gold you could ever desire for yourself. To ignore it, is not only avoidant and escapist, but also to choose a life of less than.
Maybe you are thinking, “But I’m a good person. And I want to feel like my life is “good.” I don’t want to dwell on the negative story, or the bad memories of the past. I want to say positive affirmations and have my life be amazing.”
To which I would ask, “how’s that working out for you? Are you feeling amazing? Is your life all it can be?”
Doubt it. Especially if you are avoiding doing the work. The real truth is every single person has a shadow side, and therefore, a need for shadow work.
Before we talk about the work though, let’s put some context into what make a shadow side.
What is your shadow side?
Much like a shadow cast behind an object when it is placed in front of a light source, your shadow side is the hidden or obscured part of you that gets overshadowed by the side you present to others. Your shadow side is created and composed of the pieces of yourself you keep hidden, often even from yourself. It’s all the rejected pieces of you, your self-image, the parts you are ashamed of.
Most of the time we interact with the world and think nothing of which part of us is doing the interacting.
Like all dynamic creations YOU as a whole being are composed of smaller selves or aspects. While these smaller aspects might number into hundreds or thousands, like cells they group together and form identities. (FYI: Cells form organs or body parts in this analogy). These identities might be something like an inner child, an inner critic, a helper, higher self, a hero, what you might be calling your “demon” and so on. Throughout your day in each moment an aspect of you steps forward and handles a certain situation.
Most of the time we interact with the world and think nothing of which part of us is doing the interacting. In fact, more than likely, you think they are all YOU, the conscious you who believes it’s in charge. But this is not quite true. You are actually, unconsciously, reacting to our environment and whichever part of you thinks it knows best in the moment, shows up and “handles it”.
This is why sometimes, you feel like you did a great job and handled the situation great (maybe the helper or hero) and other times you wonder why you said what you said, did what you did, and might even feel ashamed of the way you behaved, and wonder what is wrong with you. A great example here might be yelling at your kids or loved ones, or not being able to be compassionate toward another person, even when you think you “should.”
Nothing is wrong with you, there are simply, as my mom used to say, “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Ever feel like you are separate and not whole? Experience a lot of internal conflict and confusion?
This is because the bigger YOU, the real you is all tangled up and mixed in with all the smaller you’s that have not been acknowledged, loved or seen. Because of this, you mistake the real you for these smaller aspects and the resulting conflict is from not knowing clearly who is in charge.
This creates internal havoc.
Yet, let’s be clear, the shadow side is not the villain aspect of you, although it might feel like that on occasion. It can and does cause havoc, sabotage, angry outbursts, and certainly a whole lot of drama.
And why wouldn’t it? It’s the denied parts of you rolled into a hot mess of a ball of emotions – a mini collective consciousness of all the shame, guilt, abandonment, rejection, disowned, lost pieces that you more or less locked in a small closet and never allowed to see the light of day because of the immense embarrassment the rest of YOU feels knowing these disgraceful aspects exist.
It’s like the land of lost socks or lost toys you see in movies, it’s the place forgotten, discarded, and full of unexamined, feelings, beliefs, memories and especially all that you don’t want, “can’t” deal with, as well as parts that don’t match up with the conscious version you choose to present to the world.
The more you repress and hide away, the bigger the shadow gets. When it gets big enough, you start to experience drama and sabotage in your everyday life.
You may be wondering, how did it get to be like this?
How do we create the shadow self?
Since you were a child you were infused and filled with programming about the world. Your parents, siblings, friends, teachers, the TV all trained you think about what is “good” and what is “bad,” according to each of their definitions.
Let’s say you were a boy and you liked to play with “girl” things, or vice versa. Well, if that was not acceptable in your environment then you would be trained to see it as “bad.” Wanting to survive and fit in, you would now see this desire of yours as “bad” and would hide it away so others wouldn’t see and judge you. Basically, for your survival and acceptance, you decide, this part of yourself can no longer be expressed. With each person you encounter that you care about you make the same kinds of choices based on how they want you to be.
And just like that the shadow is born in small pieces cobbled together from the vast myriad moments of disapproval, or anything that jeopardizes your need to belong. We all want to fit in, be accepted, be loved, and in order to do that, your teachers from parents to friends, to society at large teach you how you need to behave in order to receive acceptance. So, you bend and twist yourself, being this way with this group and that way with that group, carving yourself into a being that will receive love and acceptance and everything that doesn’t match up has to go somewhere, because it doesn’t just leave you simply leave you.
Left ignored and unexamined, these abandoned pieces grow.
The less embodied and accepted this aspect of you is, the more dangerous, toxic and sabotaging it can become. It takes on a consciousness of its own, so to speak. A half life, but still it lives, because it is still part of you, however ignored.
Over time, and with continued denial of their presence, two things will happen:
- The first is that it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize the bigger YOU from these smaller identities vying for attention and healing.
- The second thing, which is born from the first is that these parts of you will become more reckless and dangerous in their efforts to get from you what it needs.
The problem is, so many people believe that the strategy of ignoring is an effective one that these hidden parts will stay well hidden. But this is not true. Your shadow side has the power to manifest addictions, physical disorders, low self-esteem and chronic illnesses to name but a few things destructive means at it’s disposable to achieve its goal.
The only way to truly and wholly be free of the shadow side is to heal them, to bring them into the light, and re-set their programming. This will allow their immense power and energy to work for you instead of against you. Which brings us to why it is so important to engage in Shadow work.
Why Shadow work?
As you grow up, you eventually realize that maybe all the “certain ways” you once needed to be don’t really apply anymore. Maybe you realize the lessons were to harsh, or you don’t align with that aspect or perceived fault anymore. It's like you finally realize that someone or many someone's handed you a template of how you are meant to be, only you'd now rather make something that uniquely suits you.
It is not that you are a victim or incapable or less than an in anyway, it is that no part of has directly engaged with the shadow self and informed it of the updates you wish to make.
On the surface, or conscious level, you are able to make certain changes to your behaviour and move on with your life. our lives. Then there might be times when no matter how hard you try, you cannot break the pattern, stop yourself from making the same bad choices or “bad” things just always seem to keep happening to you and you can’t for the life of you figure out why. Maybe you even feel like a victim of your circumstances.
It is not that you are a victim or incapable or less than an in anyway, it is that no part of has directly engaged with the shadow self and informed it of the updates you wish to make. Because it’s rogue and lost, it doesn’t always know what YOU are doing. It has it’s own agenda, which is two fold: the first is to survive and the second is to heal. But the for the entirety of its existence survival was a result of being sneaky, coming at you sideways. It has no trust or faith in the YOU because of the way it has been treated. It wants to be healed, integrated and have all the lost pieces incorporated into the whole but it has no idea how to do that in a healthy way.
Here’s the thing really – just because you ignore something doesn’t mean it goes away. Like the underworld, the mafia, or really any part of reality that exists when you aren’t thinking about it – even the life of another person, in another city – they do not need your conscious awareness to go on existing. And neither does the shadow side.
What is more, this part of you is supercharged with all the low frequency, low feelings you refuse to acknowledge and like a pearl being created in a shell, it is pressurized over time and hardens into something forceful and strong. It is very real, knows how to hide and probably worst of all, doesn’t understand what’s “wrong” with it, so it sees it’s host YOU as a threat, because it’s denied the right to what it desires the most – what we all desire most – to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be loved.
So, what happens usually?
Things going well? Too well? And suddenly there is a bill, a tragedy, drama? Shadow side – you probably have a belief that you don’t deserve things to go well.
Turn into a mean drunk, or even binge too often? Or overindulge on sweets or can’t get motivated to work out and take care of yourself? Shadow side – you probably have a belief that you deserve to suffer
Angry and yelling, gossiping, and finding fault in others? Shadow side – you have parts of you being mirrored in others and you can’t take it.
Getting triggered by others, finding fault in them? Shadow side – more parts of yourself that you are refusing to deal with, but others are showing it you
Feeling resistance to be more, try more, deserve more? Shadow side – years of programming from others that amount to a message of “stay small, be small because it makes me (whoever told you the message) feel better.”
The shadow side will do whatever it needs to do to make you aware of it; it doesn’t care if it’s positive or negative. It wants to be healed.
Lies, anger, phobias, mental and emotional issues, greed, anxiety, depression, self-righteousness and racism, - these are all on the table as possible tactics of the shadow self to get your attention.
Projection is quite a nasty one too, putting your actual problems and limitations into a perception of others. It’s nasty because it gives you this false “right” to judge others and usually harshly. You attack and punish others by criticizing, rejecting, hating or even manipulating them, you say because they “deserve” it – when really you are lashing out at them to hurt yourself. It’s destructive and avoidant behaviour.
The shadow side will strike in small moments or it can sweep you up in a destructive pattern of behaviour that lasts years. And because it’s part of you, the YOU that largely goes about its everyday life unexamined – YOU have no idea what part is your true self and what part is your shadow self.
This can lead to a lot of feeling like a victim – why does this keep happening to me? It’s happening because your shadow self is powerful, hurt, and pissed. It doesn’t want to be labelled as a flaw, weak, selfishness, nasty or something to be hated. And honestly, who does? Consider this - most people refer to this part of themselves as their “demons!” ouch. Harsh.
What is more, many people go out of their way to distract, make excuses and spend a lot of energy attempting to not deal with these poor, lost, abandoned parts. They’ve let it go too long. It’s too scary. Or perhaps they’ve been taught something even worse – that’s it’s not real or that it can be managed with repression.
When you think about it, it’s a bad plan all around. Denying these parts of the self creates problems and continuing to deny them creates more problems. It’s like the saying, “shooting yourself in the foot” – it’s a flawed strategy that only hurts yourself.
The only way to get what you both need is to speak to it directly, which yes, can be scary for both of you, and therefore all of YOU. And yet, as scary as it might seem, this is the only way to find peace – to unite the various disparate aspects of your internal world into a cohesive whole.
And honestly, it’s only scary the first time, and mostly because it’s new, but there are many benefits to doing Shadow Work.
Benefits of doing Shadow Work:
- Improved relationships
- You become more grounded as you see yourself more clearly. You become more your true self, and are able to establish more healthy boundaries
- More wholeness and compassion for yourself – feeling more like your True Self
- Access to higher self
- Clearer perception – spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically
- Improved self worth, confidence and sense of empowerment as you learn more about yourself.
- More energy and better physical health - You won’t be spending so much time and energy carrying around energetic baggage of all the stuff you suppress and repress. This liberates a tremendous amount of energy
- More creativity and connection with higher self
Bringing awareness to this side of yourself and working in small doses, you will be amazed at how much better you feel.