We all have those bits of ourselves. The bits that we hide from others. And the bits that we hide even from ourselves. It is the parts of ourselves that we deny, that we avoid and turn away from when they come up. Often, it is the parts that we feel are not acceptable to ourselves or others. It is often by suppressing these aspects of ourselves that we fall out of balance with ourselves, when we feel anxious and depressed and as if something is just ‘a little bit or a lot off’.
According to psychologist Carl Jung we tend to project our shadow onto other people. Ever heard the saying that whatever bothers you the most of other people are your own unrecognised flaws? Our subconscious tries to bring these shadows to our attention through showing them in someone else. This can be friends or family or even fictional characters. It can even be in the form of people in your dreams. The shadow can also just be something that you repress, something that you hide from others and yourself.
It is natural for us to want to just see the good in ourselves, and it is difficult to admit to experiencing things like guilt and shame, anger, insecurity and lust, depression and anxiety. All of these things are seen by society as bad and we tend to distance ourselves from feeling and experiencing these things.
The more we try to silence our shadow side, the more it presses to be heard. It will consistently show up in other people and in your dreams. It wants to be acknowledged and integrated so that it can heal, and you can live a more authentic life.
“To become conscious of [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real”- Carl Jung.
Once you start to do some introspection, or self-analysis as Jung calls it, your shadow will become more apparent. Honest investigation will show you parts of yourself that might be difficult to see, never mind accept. It is the parts that you have always been taught to reject, that aren’t good enough, that are not acceptable and worthy. From this stem self-rejection, and in extreme cases even self-hate.
To know yourself and fully accept yourself you need to dig deep into who you are, all the wonderful parts of you, but also all the nasty bits. Facing your shadow side, even just accepting that you have these qualities is difficult. You need to acknowledge parts of yourself that you have always tried to hide. The work is hard and long, one does not merely integrate one’s shadow in a day. It is a continuous cycle of growth, of facing bits, acknowledging and accepting them, healing and moving forward. Only to start the cycle again, digging more, digging deeper, healing more fully.
The goal of all of this is to be able to see yourself as a whole, but more than that, to be able to love and accept yourself as a whole, with all your good and bad parts.
You can, of course live your life without exploring your shadow side. This, however, will keep you in a state of unconsciousness as that is where the shadow resides. While ignoring your shadow you will also be ignoring your unconscious mind end everything in it that needs to heal.
We tend to avoid it because it is difficult and because it is painful. Few things are as soul shaking as taking a deep, hard look at yourself and realising that you are and have done things that are not ok. That sometimes, you are the toxic person in someone’s life. It takes strength and courage to stand, unwavering and face those truths about yourself.
Many people choose not to do it. They prefer to live in an unconscious space. For some people that path works, it is familiar, and it is comfortable. Facing your shadow is not. It is quite the opposite in fact. At least at first. It is sore and uncomfortable and daunting. But in the process, you will grow, and you will heal and the promise at the end is a self that is whole and complete. A person who know who they are and have seen the best and the worst in themselves and fully love and accepts the entirety of who they are.
How does one start to integrate your shadow? First you need to start by paying attention. Practice mindfulness and start to pay attention to the little things that might usually go unnoticed. You want to start making the unconscious conscious.
Through paying attention, you will start to learn what triggers you, what situations or which people elicits a certain, undesired, response from you. You will start to notice aspects of other people that you dislike. In these situations (or during a quite time afterwards) you can sit and explore the feelings that arose in you. Ask what triggered you and why you feel so strongly about it. Think back to other times in your life when you felt the same, is there a common thread that you can explore?
Our unconscious mind often speaks to us through messages in our dreams. My keeping a dream journal you will start to recognise whether there are patters that need to be explored.
The aim of shadow work is not to sit in a miserable heap, lamenting on what an awful person you are, although there might be moments of doing that. It is about self-discovery and self-acceptance.
It is thus important that shadow work should be done in a gentle and caring setting with focus and intention. A good practice is to keep affirming to yourself “I love myself when… (insert shadow aspect here)”. By becoming aware of your shadow side, it no longer holds any power over you. Rather, you become more empowered as a human being capable of experiencing the full spectrum of being alive, the good and the bad. And that is the way you lead an authentic life.