The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power. All we deny in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—become part of the shadow. Anything incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude about ourselves relegates to this dark side.
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.
Every young child knows kindness, love, and generosity, but he also expresses anger, selfishness, and greed. These emotions are part of our shared humanity. But as we grow up, something happens.
Traits associated with “being good” are accepted, while others associated with “being bad” are rejected.
We all have basic human needs. These needs include physiological needs, safety and security needs, and needs for belonging. These needs are biological and instinctual. As children, when we expressed certain parts of ourselves, we received negative cues from our environment. Maybe we got angry and threw a tantrum. Our parents reprimanded the outburst and sent us to our room. Or perhaps we acted boldly, playfully, spontaneously, or silly in our first-grade classroom. Our teacher shamed us for our lack of decorum in front of the class and told us to sit down. Whenever it happened—and it might have happened often—it threatened one of our basic needs.
We adjusted our behavior to gratify our needs and learned to adapt to the external world. All the unaccepted or discouraged parts of us in the first 20 years of our lives are bundled together, swept out of view (outside our conscious awareness). This repression of unwanted parts creates what psychologist Carl Jung called the personal shadow.
Each and every one of us has a shadow. Facing one’s Shadow involves the conscious process of acknowledging, accepting, letting go and healing one’s very own hidden aspects as they arise. In Shadow-Work we approach these often hidden aspect(s) from a heart level with the understanding and compassion that our shadows or shunned pieces are still a part of us. This is often done through a series of introspective exercises and journaling. As soon as we accomplish this, we can have compassion and eventually understanding for the behaviors, negativity, and typically pain that goes with the shadow. Our self-healing can begin!
The shadow isn’t a popular topic. Who enjoys owning their flaws, weaknesses, selfishness, nastiness, hate, and so on? Focusing on our strengths is more enjoyable and life-affirming. Exploring our shadow side, however, gives us tremendous opportunities for growth and development.
Let’s look at six benefits that result from shadow work:
Many negative issues that affect your life can result by keeping your shadow hidden and locked away. These can include:
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Shadow Work is not easy, but until you own your shadow, your shadow will own you. Wouldn’t NOW be the time to begin your journey to self-awareness and freedom to live the life you were born to live?