Carl Jung first explored the notion of the shadow personality.
The shadow represents those traits in your personality that you do not like or do not accept about yourself. Typically, these ugly, disowned aspects that you do not acknowledge become repressed in your mind.
Shadow Work is the process of acknowledging and accepting those hidden parts of your personality.
"Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." - Jung
This work should be seen as casting your light, your conscious awareness, onto the dark side of yourself.
No one wants to admit having dark, nasty, or ugly traits. It is much easier to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses, but it is important to pay attention to both, and learn from them.
This isn't about judgment, guilt, or blame. It's about understanding, processing, and learning more about yourself.
Shadow work is liberating. Once you start to embrace your shadow, your self-acceptance soars, and the possibility of you being irritated and disturbed by others begins to disappear.
How to do Shadow Work.
Before you start, it's important to take some time to prepare yourself.
You need to be mentally and physically able to accept whatever will be revealed. Show yourself some compassion.
Remember this is not about being judgmental, or engendering feelings of guilt or shame, but for shadow work to succeed, you must be completely honest with yourself. You have to confront your worst fears about your own personality and character.
Some things may come up as a complete shock or surprise.
Stay on the journey. It will be uncomfortable at times, but it will also be worth it.
The Shadow Work exercises
- Notice when you are emotionally triggered
The shadow is elusive, and it hides whenever it can. The more you can pay attention to your behaviour and your emotions and notice when you are triggered, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act.
One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to be aware of your emotional reactions towards other people.
Whatever bothers you in another is likely to be a disowned part within yourself.
"Unless we do conscious work on it the shadow is almost always projected, that is: it is neatly laid on someone or something else, so we do not have to take responsibility for it." - Robert Johnson
Look at what qualities in others have triggered those emotional reactions in you.
"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." - Jung
Ask yourself how you might also have that quality within you. For example, if you witness someone being rude, ask yourself under what circumstances you might also be rude. Then see if you reaction to rudeness has such a strong emotional charge the next time you witness it.
- Journal your thoughts
By writing about your emotional responses in a journal, you can make sense of them, and integrate them into your conscious self.
Get everything out of your head. Be honest. Brain dump all your thoughts onto paper.
Record it all.
- Challenge the good part.
As a child you would have noticed when you were praised for being a good boy or a good girl. And that identification would have stuck with you. You learned the difference between good and bad behaviour and acted accordingly.
This then broadened the gap between your conscious identity (who you show yourself to be) and your shadow (your hidden self).
Make a list of all your positive qualities and then try to identify the opposite within yourself.
For example, if you define yourself as a hard-working person, you may be repressing your lazy part and the lazy part is hiding in the shadow.
This disowned part is influencing your behaviour and constantly challenging your discipline part.
Identify with the lazy part, see it, accept it, make friends with it. It's okay to be lazy too.
- Be it
Become the person that you shadow self represents.
Take on the qualities that either annoy or fascinate you. Embody the traits that this personality displays.
This may feel awkward, and it really should - the traits you're taking on are the exact traits you have been denying yourself and judging others for.
I would encourage you to try these exercises. Just consider where you are suffering right now in terms of other people's behaviour, and how that's affecting you. Wouldn’t you like to feel better about it all?
This work, although extremely uncomfortable at times, has been transformative for me. It has led me to a deeper understanding and loving acceptance of myself.
Now, when I'm triggered by somebody else's behaviour or activity, I ask myself the question –
and how are you like that, Amanda?
And I always have an answer.
Introducing the Shadow Self is a module in my online course Serenity Success School. Please click here for more details.