In this article, I am going to dive into everything you need to know about the shadow. How to face it, own it, integrate it, and use it as your rocket fuel.
Ignore this advice, and your shadow will own you. It will wreak havoc in your relationships. Left unfaced, your shadow becomes the anchor being pulled behind the boat of your life, dragging along the ocean floor and slowing your progress in all that you attempt to accomplish.
After releasing my recent article 7 Of My Favourite Quotes That Will Turn You Into A Better Person, one of my readers asked me what I thought Carl Jung meant when he said, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”
To me, shadow work is the epicentre of this painful self-discovery process. It takes courage and grit to be willing to look into the darkest, most repressed parts of our psyche.
Enter: shadow work.
What Is The Shadow?
The shadow is a concept that Carl Jung (a genius dude, way ahead of his time) coined.
Simply put, our shadow is the so-called dark side of our personality.
We all feel fine presenting the bright, shiny, nice parts of ourselves to the world (kindness, benevolence, generosity, thoughtfulness, etc.)… but the parts of ourselves that we fear society would deem unsavoury often get relegated to the shadow.
How Does Your Shadow Come Into Existence?
No matter how healthy and positive some people’s childhoods are, everyone experiences invalidation at some point in time.
Say you displayed a specific character trait (like rage, envy, or greed) when you were a toddler and one of your parents shamed you for it. You would then infer, “When I show these parts of myself to the world, I am less lovable. I am less safe. Therefore, it is not safe to show these parts of myself to the world. These parts are less lovable than the rest of me.”
When this occurs, we cast these seemingly less lovable things into the discard pile of our own personal shadow.
Compound this trend over time, and we learn to make certain parts of ourselves so ‘wrong’ or unlovable that we never give them any time to come out and play. And the longer we suffocate these parts of ourselves, the more power those traits gain over us (while lurking in the shadows of our subconscious mind).
In short, the things that we are in rejection of are the things that come to form the building blocks of our shadow self.
What Happens If You Aren’t In Right Relationship With Your Shadow?
If you haven’t done conscious shadow work to face into and integrate your shadow, some of the most common side effects are:
Difficulty in relationships (friendships, intimate partners, familial, business/colleagues, etc.)
Persistent feelings of distance, separation, and isolation from others
The same frustrating lessons appearing in our lives over and over again (for example, thinking that you’ve finally met a romantic partner who is completely unlike your last five and then finding out they’re the exact same – in the most frustrating ways – as the previous ones)
Misalignment in your career and relationships
Lashing out at people with anger, jealousy, or being manipulative, in ways that are seemingly completely out of left field and incongruent with who you think yourself to be
A lack of passion and energy throughout your life in general
Someone who hasn’t integrated their shadow is also a risk factor (to themselves and to the world).
People who perpetually suppress aspects of themselves and have an increasingly large shadow side are at a greater risk of turning into rapists, murderers, suicide statistics, and mass shooters. This might sound dramatic, but it isn’t. When parts of the psyche are hidden away for too long, those suppressed emotions convert themselves into demons – and those demons need to find a way out, one way or another.
IF YOU BRING FORTH WHAT IS WITHIN YOU, WHAT YOU BRING FORTH WILL SAVE YOU. IF YOU DO NOT BRING FORTH WHAT IS WITHIN YOU, WHAT YOU DO NOT BRING FORTH WILL DESTROY YOU. – GOSPEL OF THOMAS
Why Is It So Difficult To Face Into Your Shadow?
The things that you suppress into the shadow were once put there for a reason. In many cases, these reasons may have literally felt like they were a matter of life or death.
It’s not uncommon for children in multi-sibling family systems to fear that if they don’t suppress the seemingly less lovable parts of themselves, that they will lose love and/or be cast out of the family.
“Do mom and dad love my brother/sister more than me? Are my parents glad they had me? How do I earn my place in this family? Do I ask for too much?”
Even if these thoughts have no basis in reality (i.e. the parents were never on the precipice of throwing their worst behaved child out on the streets) fears like these can still propagate in the ego-centric minds of children.
When one begins to truly look into their shadow, there is much psychological resistance.
Especially around our most painful thoughts, memories, and layers of self-rejection, there are often psychological buffers that keep us from knowing the exact parts of us that we would be the most set free by alleviating.
The shadow is sneaky like this. It’s as if we’re walking through the snow… and our shadow compels us to walk in a direction our conscious mind wouldn’t want us to go. But when we look behind ourselves, we see no foot steps as to how we arrived there (because the unintegrated shadow hides our tracks, as we step, without our awareness).
It’s difficult to look into our shadow because it’s exactly these shadow aspects that we have been rejecting for years, if not decades. It has been their full time job to not be known by us.
Our shadow doesn’t want to be seen because the things that we cast aside long ago were too painful to truly be with.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to face these aspects of ourselves and reclaim them (not at all). It simply means that these aspects of ourselves won’t be known by us without a fight.
THE SHADOW IS A MORAL PROBLEM THAT CHALLENGES THE WHOLE EGO-PERSONALITY, FOR NO ONE CAN BECOME CONSCIOUS OF THE SHADOW WITHOUT CONSIDERABLE MORAL EFFORT. TO BECOME CONSCIOUS OF IT INVOLVES RECOGNIZING THE DARK ASPECTS OF THE PERSONALITY AS PRESENT AND REAL. THIS ACT IS THE ESSENTIAL CONDITION FOR ANY KIND OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE. – CARL JUNG
Examples Of Shadow Thoughts
There are an infinite number of thoughts that could fall under the category of shadow thoughts.
Before we get into the exercises that will help you excavate your shadow material, in order to demystify the shadow further, I thought it would be beneficial to list examples of what shadow thoughts can sound like. These are real life examples that I have either heard in group shadow work classes, from the mouths of my clients (anonymously, as always), and a few from my own journey mixed in for good measure.
“I think I’m better than most people.”
“I think I’m worse than most people.”
“I hate men for ruining the world.”
“I think that women truly are the inferior sex. They say they don’t need men, but I feel like they would flounder on their own and they’re actually afraid of how much they need us.”
“My pain is more significant than the pain of others.”
“I wish that there were wolves in the streets who would feast on the weakest people in my community. It would strengthen the gene pool and get rid of all of the talentless losers.”
“I should have more money than 99.9% of the world because I will do better things with it than most people would.”
“I think that people (over the age of 25) who accept minimum wage jobs have low self-esteem and deserve the societal position they have opted themselves into.”
“I love the feeling of being completely in control of someone sexually. It makes me feel powerful.”
“I love manipulating men into giving me what I want.”
“I wish that my mom had died instead of my dad.”
“I wish that the bottom stupidest third of the world would just disappear. Or at least that it would be made illegal for people under a certain IQ to procreate.”
“I have fantasized about being raped.”
“Sometimes I hate women for how much power their sexual energy has over me.”
“I love the idea that I could coast through my entire life on my looks and my charm alone.”
“I have fantasized about marrying and divorcing several rich men and never working a day in my life. I believe that putting my effort into my looks pays more significant dividends than investing in my mind and education.”
“I feel like my gender/race have held me back in life and I wish I could change who I am.”
“I hate money.”
“I wish I could travel back in time and slit the throat of my high school bully.”
Not exactly the kinds of things you would proudly say into a microphone at your kids parent/teacher meeting. And yet, those thoughts can live inside of us and we can still function in society like normal people. Go figure!
And remember you don’t have to 100% believe in a thought in order for it to qualify as a legitimate shadow thought. You can believe in it 1% and it would still count. The fact that it’s part of your shadow has more to do with your resistance to the thought (the degree to which you make the thought wrong) than the thought itself.