I’ve been exploring spirituality for quite some time now. I’ve gotten into crystals, meditation, Tarot cards and even into some rituals. But, spirituality isn’t a walk in the park like some people think. There’s this misconception that spirituality is for lazy people who don’t want to commit to any other religion because there are rules and dedication attached to most. But spirituality, at its heart, is about the relationship we have with ourselves and how that connects to everything and everyone else. It requires a lot of discipline, contrary to popular beliefs.
At the beginning of my journey, of course it was fun. It felt like a weight was lifted off of me and I felt more in tune with my mind and body. But I knew there was still a lot of work ahead and a lot of it would be difficult. One difficult but necessary part of spiritualism is shadow work. According to Scott Jeffrey, author of Shadow Work: A Complete Guide to Getting to Know Your Dark Half, “The personal shadow is the disowned self. This shadow self represents the parts of us we no longer claim to be our own, including inherent positive qualities. These unexamined or disowned parts of our personality don’t go anywhere. Although we deny them in our attempt to cast them out, we don’t get rid of them.We repress them; they are part of our unconscious. Think of the unconscious as everything we are not conscious of. We can’t eliminate the shadow. It stays with us as our dark brother or sister. Trouble arises when we fail to see it. For then, to be sure, it is standing right behind us.”
Before you get spooked, no, you don’t have to go all Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stake anything in a dark alley. In a nutshell, shadow work is working on the parts of us we ignore, hide or might not even be aware of. For example, when we were young we expressed ourselves simply: cried when we were hungry, smiled when we were happy, etc. As we grow, we pick up on social cues and learn what is “right” and what is “wrong” and what is acceptable and what isn’t. We start to adjust our behaviors. We also adjust our behaviors based on how our parents respond to our emotions and how we are raised in general. The point is, our personalities are based on so many events that took place, most of which we don’t even remember.
Your shadow can be negative aspects of your personality like jealousy, anger or trouble expressing yourself. But it can also be positive traits that you learned to hide like being spontaneous or playful because it was frowned upon when you were in school for example. Either way, your shadow self is all of the parts of yourself that you were taught to hide or you were told were unacceptable. Over the years, we don’t even remember sweeping these things under the rug and it becomes part of our unconscious. Doing shadow work is exploring that forgotten side of yourself.
But why would you want to? It sounds like digging up a lot of baggage from your past, right? You might be tempted to just leave it neatly packed somewhere hidden in your memory. But shadow work can improve your life overall. Ignoring your shadow self prevents you from living a more balanced and happy life. For example, if you don’t do shadow work, you’re likely to get triggered or feel defensive often, it’s called projection. According to an article on Healthline, “…projection refers to unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else.” For example, a cheating spouse may accuse their partner of cheating. As humans, we’re more comfortable seeing bad traits in others than seeing our own. So we are more likely to call someone out for being lazy instead of admitting our own laziness.
That unconscious part of ourselves aka our shadow selves affect our relationships, careers and so much more. Ignoring your shadow, is ignoring the parts of you that need work or the parts of you that need to be freed. Doing the work can help you grow and thus improve your relationships, your mental and physical health and your career just to name a few. It’s not easy. I mean, who wants to admit that they have negative traits or that they hide parts of themselves? It’s a difficult process. But it’s so necessary and life changing.
So, how do you do shadow work? There are so many processes and techniques and I encourage you to do research and find what works best for you. But ultimately, it requires you to be honest with yourself. To pay attention to your inner dialogue and how and why you respond to certain things the way you do. It’s learning about who you really are.