Shadow work explained: Removing the mystique around shadow work so you can see with clarity how facilitated shadow work could assist you in moving through your current challenges or difficulties, and bring transformational shifts.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is any endeavour (intention, action or process) which approaches the subconscious and unconscious parts of our psyche (our shadow). The goal of shadow work is to identify, explore and integrate these shadow aspects bringing peace, balance and wholeness to the individual.
Healing The Shadow facilitation is a psychotherapeutic process framework for working with the shadow. It is a client led, relational psychotherapeutic model, rooted in Jungian depth psychology and archetypal theory. It draws on the concept of the Psychology of Selves as a way to identify, represent and explore aspects of the psyche in order to build relationships with these inner parts and work with internal dynamics.
This is a process of self-discovery moving you out from the trap of conditioning, freeing you of the limiting beliefs and stuck emotions that hold you back, and bringing awareness and conscious choice to your life and your lived experience.
What is the shadow or the shadow self?
The shadow is those parts of our personality that sit in the unconscious: those parts of us that we ignore, repress or deny. The shadow self comprises all those aspect of our wholeness that sit outside of our ego consciousness (ego consciousness equates to those parts we choose to show), and that persona that developed in order to keep us safe, to make sense of, and orient us, safely in the world.
"To own one's own shadow is to make oneself whole. The shadow consists of those aspects of your character that belong to you but that have not been given any conscious place in your life. ...assimilating your shadow is the art of catching up on these facets of life that have not been lived out adequately."
How does the shadow form?
The parts of us in shadow are those aspects of ourselves that at some point (and for good reason) we decided it was best to ignore, repress or deny.
Our environment, culture, and the people around us influence our development. In infancy and as we develop, we pick up explicit or implicit messages about what is and what is not acceptable. We are hard-wired for connection, love and affection and from an early age we are vigilant as to how we must be, or not be, in order to receive these essential nutrients. In this way aspects of personality are selected as being acceptable or not acceptable and we learn to ignore, repress or deny those parts of us that we come to believe are not okay to be shown or are unacceptable.
Some of us have directly experienced specific events when we realised we needed to put a side of ourselves away. Perhaps we experienced others being punished or shamed for expressing certain sides of themselves and we learned to repress and hide these aspects in our own personality. We may have experienced a slow drip-drip of ‘hints’ that parts of us weren’t acceptable. Implicit and unspoken rules, a sense of taboo, looks or actions, or a reliable withdrawal of attention and love that made us realise it wasn’t safe to express certain aspects of ourselves.
And so we move through our lives stuffing those exiled bits of our original energy and make up into our shadow bag. The shadow bag is a term coined by the American poet, Robert Bly, who says our first twenty years are spent stuffing 90% of our wholeness into ‘the long black bag that we drag behind us…’, and the rest of our lives trying to retrieve those items. The bag gets bigger and heavier. It is not just that we have lost parts of ourselves, it is also the behaviours and the beliefs that we employ to keep them hidden that begin to cause problems for us.
We all have a shadow side and it is the parts of us in shadow, the limiting beliefs and stuck emotions which are often the unconscious driver behind our barriers to growth and joyful living.
How does shadow work benefit you?
You will become aware of the triggers for your old patterns and since you will be in greater connection with your inner experience, you will experience new ways of responding to the events and interactions in your life. You will start to understand and build deepening relationships with all the parts that comprise your psyche, and through this process of exploration, accessing the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and ways of being in the world, you will find you separate from these previously unconscious aspects and begin to be in relationship with them in a new, more conscious way, bringing about greater choice in how you respond in your day-to-day life.
As we identify the parts of you at play, the opportunity arises to work with these parts individually. Underneath reactive or destructive patterns and behaviours is often a vulnerability that is being protected. Often these destructive patterns or behaviours have a protective intention and were adopted early in life for very good reason. Without conscious work in later life, these patterns continue to play out even when the threat to the individual no longer exists. It is these old reactive patterns that become problems for us, making life challenging, complicated and difficult.
As we identify, explore, transform and re-integrate parts of our psyche through facilitated shadow work, unburdening ourselves from the self limiting beliefs, behaviours and associated stuck emotions that create the barriers in our lives, what emerges is an integrity and an authentic expression of our true self; a wholeness from which flows a greater engagement and enjoyment of life. For what is joy? it is an emergent experience of being in right mind and in authentic connection with ones self, where connection and gratitude can overflow into a receptive and open heart.
What are the methods of shadow work?
The Healing The Shadow framework offers a range of tools and processes to work one-to-one with a client. The problem with the unconscious is that it is unconscious, so we cannot approach it directly. We can however, track it through the patterns we recognise within ourselves, the thinking patterns, the way we react to the things in our lives, the things we do compulsively, and the behaviours and habits and ways of being that we adopt in the different environments of our lives. Emotions, sensations, and the pathology within the body can be a way into the unconscious. The dream world is also a wonderful realm where the unconscious can bubble up into awareness without the presence of the ego that constantly evaluates, discerning below our level of awareness whether we should pay attention or not, and in doing so inflating importance or disregarding. So dreams remembered are a valuable way into what sits within the unconscious.
My job in these sessions together is to listen out for what is happening for you below your level of awareness, in the patterns you experience, the behaviours you employ, the beliefs underpinning your choices, and the dynamics that repeat in your life. All of these are trailheads, pathways into the parts of the psyche that are seeking attention.
We all have an inner community of parts or selves. As we move through our life and its busyness we are constantly blending and unblending with our inner parts. We do this unconsciously, below our level of awareness as we move through different environments, experiences, and between different people. In a shadow work session we bring intentionality into the space, separating out and representing the parts with an intention to bring a new awareness to the client, to bring some clarity to the confusion. Shadow work facilitation invites the client to step into and experience these parts of self so that we can bring to awareness useful information about that part and the dynamics at play within the clients inner world.
My intention in our work together is to facilitate, support and encourage you into greater emotional and relational intelligence by:
1) Developing an awareness of, directly experiencing, and building relationships with the parts in your inner world
2) Identifying, exploring and working with your shadow aspects
3) Growing and developing your inner leader and the central space of awareness that exists deep within you.
For an in depth overview of the shadow work methods and what a session looks like, please see The power of Shadow Work in bringing the unconscious aspects of our psyche to conscious awareness.
The longer length of the sessions I offer makes a huge difference to the therapeutic experience, allowing a level of safety to emerge for you within which hidden parts and repressed emotions can be met with shame free acceptance. It is within the safety that develops over the initial five hour process that we are able to work at depth and facilitate the initial inner shifts that you are looking for.
Who should try shadow work?
When we struggle to identify clearly why things are so challenging in our lives, it is likely that we are being influenced by the parts of us that are held in our shadow and the patterns, behaviours and beliefs we have adopted to keep them there. All this operates below our level of awareness but directly influences our thoughts, feelings and actions as we move through our relationships and our lives.
You may have an awareness that something is in your way, you're stuck in old patterns and stories, or you're at a crossroads in your life and you're looking for support. Maybe you sense inner conflict, or you are experiencing strong negative emotions or overwhelming feelings. Maybe you are behaving in an uncontrolled way and you are not sure how to stop this. Perhaps there is no identifiable key issue, but a general sense of dis-ease and you are experiencing dissatisfaction, imbalance, disconnection, emotional distress or a lack of fulfilment in your life.
If you are experiencing any of the above it is not because you are broken. Through shadow work and with enough commitment and curiosity, you can address these things and move beyond them - even if you feel completely lost, hopeless, indecisive and have no idea where to begin.
The work invites you to turn towards and explore those parts of your personality that you might struggle to be with, or find it hard to understand or accept – those aspects of yourself which may bring shame or confusion, or those aspects you fear may emotionally overwhelm or harm you or those around you. We all have parts like this and they can be the source of much pain and suffering. Furthermore, the more we try to ignore or hide these sides of ourselves the greater their capacity to disrupt our lives in uncontrolled ways.
Why work with your shadow aspects?
Shadow work offers a powerful range of tools to deepen our understanding of the things that operate below the threshold of consciousness and that impact our lived experiences.
We may experience painful or traumatic life events and experiences that disconnect us, close our hearts and make it feel risky to open to love or trust. We may lose our connection to our full range of emotions, our sadness, joy, grief, and healthy anger. We may struggle to create powerful boundaries and make our dreams manifest. We may have a harsh inner critic that disables us and causes us pain. We may shame ourselves viciously.
Shadow work offers the opportunity to see and experience what is holding us back, and can often illuminate the greatness that we have suppressed. It offers a place to explore our inner life in a respectful way that truly welcomes all that we bring. Being held in a way that allows everything to have a place can have a deep effect on integrating our inner life and finding more peace. Trauma can be released, stuck emotions processed, and those limiting beliefs and experiences processed and reframed.
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Work with your shadow to:
To identify and resolve the unconscious drivers behind those unhelpful thought patterns, beliefs and behaviours
To work with and bring healing to your addictions, compulsions or obsessive behaviours, thoughts or feelings
To increase your power and agency in the world
To reduce fear and anxiety
To identify, clarify and work with your personal needs and boundaries
To gain a greater ease in connection and relationship, both outer and inner
To become less triggered by other peoples behaviour and external events, moving towards a place of response rather than reaction in your interpersonal relationships
To move into a space of self-regulation, ease, safety and inner peace.
To grow a greater inner trust and source of inner support. A clearer perception of who you are and a movement towards authenticity and integrity
To increase compassion for oneself and others.
To make peace with traumatic patterns and assist in your journey to recovery from childhood trauma
To unblock limitations to progress and growth in your life, and your emotional, spiritual and physical development
To meet and integrate your healthy anger, embodying this energy to create transformation in your inner and outer relationships.
To explore your grief to bring expression and flow to your body and your emotional life.
To become more clear and present
To access increased fun, play and spontaneity
To gain clarity in thought and action, moving from dullness to clarity.
To re-integrate of all that latent potential: all those positive qualities, repressed for whatever reason, that can truly serve your adult Self and empower you to go where you want to go
To access greater joy in your experience of life.