Yin and Yang.
Black and White.
Dark and Light.
There are two sides to every coin and to every personality.
Have you ever wondered about your other side? The dark, unexplored side of your being? The one lurking behind the veil of acceptable social conduct?
Perhaps it’s high time you met your shadow.
Although your first instinct may be to suppress the darkest side of yourself, the truth is that shadow work allows you to embrace yourself fully and completely.
Allow us to guide you through the fundamentals of shadow work to unlock the essence of your shadow self.
What is the Shadow Self?
Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and founder of analytical psychology defines the shadow self as “the entirety of the unconscious.”
In simpler terms, the shadow self is the unknown side of ourselves.
The shadow self is mostly (though not completely) comprised of negative traits and aspects of our personality. The reason for this is quite simple — we hide the parts of ourselves that we don’t want the world to see.
According to Jung, honing our shadow self may allow us to “obtain a state of internal completion.”
After all, says Jung, “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.”
What is Shadow Work?
Have you ever heard of the phrase “facing your demons”?
That’s what shadow work is — a process to uncover every last inch of your hidden being. It’s a slow, agonizing, often unpleasant practice which can lead to greatness.
You may be wondering why should we engage in such a harrowing affair at all.
The answer is simple — because otherwise, all the demons we’ve tried to bury will eventually resurface and inflict massive damage to our mental and physical health.
This is how mental illness, neurosis, and chronic conditions are formed: by injecting and ignoring the poison we’ve been feeding ourselves.
How to Engage In Shadow Work
Shadow work is a work in progress. Jungians suggest that finding and assimilating with our shadow self must be done over the course of a lifetime.
The process never ceases, but once you learn the right approach, you’ll be able to finally move to further stages of shadow integration.
Practicing these six strategies may help you encounter, merge, and assimilate with your shadow self.
1. Keep It Intimate
“I am no longer alone with myself, and I can only artificially recall the scary and beautiful feeling of solitude. This is the shadow side of the fortune of love.” – Carl Jung
More often than not, people seek company and surround themselves with people as a way to escape the torments of their souls.
When engaging in shadow work, we’re invited to do exactly the opposite.
The first step towards knowing your shadow self is inviting it in rather than shunning it out.
This can only be done by creating an intimate environment with solitude being the intermediary between your two opposing selves.
Indulging in alone time can be challenging, especially at first and even more so if you’re used to hiding from yourself by surrounding yourself with other people.
Start by designating an hour each day to engage in shadow work all by yourself.
After you start feeling more comfortable being alone, you may try practicing prolonged periods of solitude.
2. Scratch the Surface
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu
Before you’re able to delve deep into your inner self, first you need to scratch the surface of your shadow.
This can be done by recognizing your emotional state and being honest about how you feel. Spend time reflecting on your emotions.
How do you feel?
Why are you feeling that way?
Recognize that the answers might not be obvious at first. Patience is key when engaging in shadow work.
But, don’t get discouraged.
Keep going until you feel comfortable speaking openly about your emotions no matter how bad it gets.
Don’t feel overwhelmed or embarrassed if you discover you're cultivating negative emotions. We all have them — jealousy, envy, rage, spite, greed, cowardice.
It’s what makes us human after all.
Instead of trying to suppress these underlying emotions, seek to understand where they’re coming from.
Ask yourself what triggers those feelings. And whatever you do, don’t run away from the answers.
Stand your ground with your feet firmly rooted in the truth and embrace reality with open arms.
3. Identify and Confront Your Demons
“No one saves us from the evil of becoming unless we choose to go through Hell.” – Carl Jung
After you’ve taken the first steps in this self-fulfilling journey, it’s time to dig a bit deeper.
You need to move forward and identify and finally confront your demons.
Although every person is an individual and battles with a different kind of shadow, there are certain consistent patterns for everyone.
Often, shadows manifest themselves as feelings of self-doubt, unworthiness, or even self-loathing.
Ask yourself and then write down the recurring thoughts and emotions you’re dealing with.
Some of these feelings might be:
- I’m not good enough.
- I’m jealous of my peers.
- I’m selfish.
- I’m weak.
- I don’t deserve happiness.
Do any of these feel familiar?
Try to think of other negative thoughts you’ve been harboring and try not to hold anything back.
4. Be Honest
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
Shadow work is difficult, and it is only by being absolutely honest with yourself that you can achieve the desired results.
Owning your dark side is just a starting point, but it’s also one of the most challenging steps.
Related: How To Get Your Life Together
Identifying your demons may seem difficult, but having the courage and integrity to own them is a battle of its own.
When you’re ready to finally confront your shadow self, you may find yourself conflicted and stuck. Two opposing sides of yourself are fighting to prevail.
Jung compares this process to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novella by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, in which the protagonist struggles with dual personalities — the good, respectable self and the evil, depraved self.
According to Jung, the battle between the two sides is daunting, and there’s no way of knowing which one will triumph.
Great perseverance and strength are needed in order to finally reach what Jung calls enantiodromia or a state of equilibrium.
5. Be Compassionate
“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” – Carl Jung
One of the most common mistakes people make when engaging in shadow work is self-judgment
Many people who start the process of identifying their shadow selves fall victim to shame, guilt, or remorse.
Keep in mind that these feelings are perfectly normal and that recognizing the negative aspects of yourself is a positive step.
However, it’s also crucial to compassionately and objectively investigate your emotions without attaching to them.
That is the basis of enantiodromia — having the ability to retain the awareness of your shadow, but not to identify with it.
This is how the healing process begins.
6. Write Down Your Dreams
“In each of us is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves.” – Carl Jung
Jung believed that shadows may appear in dreams and visions in different forms.
He was a firm believer that our unconscious self is hidden in plain sight and can be unlocked by honing into our subconscious via the dream state.
He also noted that a singular dream or vision may not be sufficient to present a complete picture.
However, by recording our subconscious thoughts through dreams, we may be able to establish a certain pattern and draw significant conclusions about our shadows.
A dream journal is an excellent tool for engaging in this subconscious work.
By writing down what you experience in a dream state, you’ll have an easier time noticing what you have forgotten or repressed during your life.
Practicing journaling regularly, and you’ll be able to uncover layer after layer of unconscious behaviors, thoughts, desires, and emotions until you finally reach the innermost tier.
Talk to your inner self. Interact with your other personality while dreaming.
Allow him or her to guide you through your subconscious being, and you just may discover terrifying, yet wonderful things.
Never stop seeking your other self and discovering your dark side.
As Jung puts it, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
About the writer: Ivana Horvat is a freelance writer and part-time philosopher. She writes about mental health, travel, and all of life's questions. She loves chocolate, magic, and cats.