Shadow work is about bringing to light what has until now been hiding in the shadows. But why is it important? How does living with unconscious sides affect our lives?
The famous psychologist Carl Jung explained that our shadows consist of the unconscious sides of us: what we do not want to acknowledge in ourselves, what we have pushed away or never allowed to come to the surface.
Why is it so important to become aware of these sides? The fact that we do not see them does not mean that they do not continue to affect us, our relationships and our lives in general.
Deeply suppressed need for love can be expressed as needy-ness and unhealthy clinging, which leads to over and over again push away a potential partner. The artistic and expressive side of us that was pushed away, to fulfill the role that the athlete the family wanted, can create a sense of something missing in our adult life. Like something feels incomplete and everyday life feels sad. The strong feeling of loneliness that has been stuffed down and away throughout life can contribute to ongoing alcohol dependence. And at the same time we scratch our heads and wonder why we can not just "pull ourselves together and change"?
The reason why we have chosen, unconsciously, to suppress these aspects is about self-preservation. Also called survival mechanism. Somehow we felt that these sides of us would not be accepted, that it would deprive us of security in the form of love and recognition. We may have experienced that other qualities were more valued, such as athleticism rather than artistry, or "good girl" rather than an exstatic voice and wild play.
An example is a home where expressions of anger and frustration are not allowed and are discouraged. In such a home, a child will often "turn off" the feeling and undermine this expression, and rather take on the role of kind and quiet (other children can choose the opposite, this is person- and context-dependent). The mind is repressed, but still latent and bubbling. There is a high probability that anger will find its way out in other ways. Later in life, this can appear as passive aggression, addictions, or are often internalized (turned inwards towards the person himself) in the form of eg self-hatred and self-harm. Or maybe as sudden and uncontrolled explosive tantrums. There are an infinite number of examples.
What makes something a shadow is that so far we have not seen and taken ownership of these repressed sides. Another way to say this is blind spots. What I don't know that I don't know about myself. Shadow sides are often described as so-called negative qualities, but there can actually also be suppressed positive sides! Perhaps expressions of commitment, joy, excitement and playfulness were not welcome, and one buried these sides and calmed down. This is about fitting into the "herd" (first caregivers and family, and eventually also the extended local community such as group of friends, school and then in society in general).
Shadow work is a wide term for a large category of different ways of working with oneself. This can be done with a therapist, alone, or with other people you trust. The common denominator is to become aware of what has until now been unconscious. There are many techniques and processes. It can be anything from writing in a journal where one comes in contact with deeper and more underlying aspects of oneself, exercises where one explores feelings and sensations, being mirrored by another on how others experience you, gestalt therapy and psychoanalysis, parts work (see f .ex Teal Swan), inner child work, and much, much more.
The goal is to learn to use what we discover about ourselves in the shadow work, to become even more fully and completely ourselves, rather than continue to live out a kind of caricature of what we have learned that others want from us. To repair and integrate when needed, learn to be authentic, rewrite old patterns that no longer serve us, and begin to create our lives from our innermost core, essence, and truth.
And most of all: bring to light what has until now been in the shadows.