It was Carl Jung, the great psychoanalyst who said “The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.”
When we talk about shadows, we often associate it with dark aspects, simply because our literal shadows are dark as well. This negative connotation often leads to misunderstandings about what shadow work is, and perhaps scares some people away from working on their shadows.
A concept first brought forward by Jung, the shadow consists of the unconscious and rejected (maybe disowned) parts of your personality that are not seen or acknowledged by your ego. Every individual, Jung believed, has a light self and a dark self. Just like how light is part of us, so is dark.
The shadow is the layer of ourselves that we do not like, we do not know, and we do not wish to know. At its core, it’s the part of us that we want to hide and not show to anyone. Everybody has a shadow.
How is the shadow-self formed?
Aspects of ourselves that we cast away into the shadow often go back to our childhood, which is where the shadow first originates – as a result of certain interactions with the ones closest to us.
As children, we depend on our primary caregivers (parents/guardians) for our survival. Our bond with them becomes quintessential for us and we’d do anything to preserve that bond.
When we feel that certain actions threaten the bond – for example when our caregiver scolds us for being too sensitive or for crying – we perceive that behaviour as something that could hamper the bond.
As a result, you believe that the person whose love you need to survive will not love you if you repeat that behaviour. You then suppress this behaviour, sometimes even as an adult.
How does the shadow-self affect you?
When we are born, we come into this world with wholesomeness. We do not understand what is good or bad. It is our caregivers that define for us what is good and what is bad. Our caretakers make us believe we have good and bad aspects.
These aspects which are viewed as bad are suppressed and hidden, which then form the shadow.
When you’ve been led to believe as a child that crying is for weak people, you grow up believing you have to be strong and “act tough”. When you push that sensitive side of yours into the shadow, as an adult you would have difficulty in expressing emotions, even when they are required.
Because of how we perceive our shadows to be, we often get bothered when people around us behave in a similar fashion.
For example, if as a child you were made to believe being outspoken is a bad thing and for that reason, you start suppressing speaking your truth. If someone around you speaks the truth, it might trigger resentment and feelings of anger because you were conditioned to believe speaking up is a bad thing.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is simply working with your unconscious mind to uncover those repressed parts of yourself. It is about becoming more aware of yourself and becoming more self-compassionate.
Our shadow is not always dark or negative. There are some aspects that may have been wrongly cast away, and therefore with shadow work you bring these to the forefront and accept such qualities.
Positive aspects of ourselves are in the shadow because we are afraid of how those around us would react to these aspects or behaviours.
How does it benefit us?
By practising shadow work, you benefit in all areas of your life.
When you accept your shadow, you grow more confident, and your self-esteem also increases. There are no more hidden doubts about yourself.
You also start trusting your intuition more, which also helps with self-confidence. You can trust your gut again.
Working on your shadow also lets you establish and maintain better relationships with others around you. When you are self-aware, know what you want, and can express a full range of emotions, it becomes easier to connect with others around you.