What is the Shadow?
The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists chiefly of primitive, self perceived suppressed negative emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, desire, disgust, and unworthiness. However, this can cut ourselves off from many of our best qualities as well. Throughout our lives, all we deny in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—become part of the shadow. Any feeling, trait or emotion we find incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude about ourselves relegates to the shadow. The personal shadow is the disowned self. This shadow self represents the parts of us we no longer claim to be our own. These disowned parts of ourselves don’t go anywhere. Although we deny them in our attempt to cast them out, we don’t get rid of them. They are repressed as part of our unconscious. We can’t eliminate the shadow. It stays with us. As we traverse our spiritual path as practitioners, the shadow can remain repressed and unattended to. In order to embrace our true selves we must embrace our shadow. The trouble arises when we fail to do this. For then, to be sure, it is standing right behind us.
What is shadow work?
Carl Jung brought shadow work into psychotherapy making it more conscious in working with shadow as an archetype. It has become a greater area of study in modern pagan and traditional craft. Shadow work is the process of working with and reclaiming these different parts to ourselves, the parts of ourselves that have been exiled.
Shadows typically develop in childhood. As a child, there are many times you’re told to stop doing something or repress parts of yourself that for whatever reason have been deemed unacceptable. In addition, shadow can develop through trauma experiences. Experiences so damaging, the psyche divests these feeling to an exiled aspect of ourselves. Our shadows thus begin to internalize beliefs about the world as we lived it that time or limiting beliefs about ourselves, our worth, what we deserve.
The objective of shadow work is to make a deeper connection to yourself and your soul; to be a more complete version of yourself and embrace your own power. In shadow work we begin to journey through the landscape of the unconscious mind, which consists of the things that we repress and hide from ourselves such as traumas.
The shadow self might show up when you’re triggered in your relationships and through varying levels of anxiety and depression. And when this seemingly dark side does rise up, it might reveal something about your personality that’s worth a closer look. In the Unnamed Path, we work with shadow by becoming more conscious of how shadow shows up in our daily lives. We explore shadow facets that we have cast off and take ownership of them. We use shamanic journey work to meet and engage with shadow, ultimately to integrate this part of us.
While anyone can do shadow work at any time, it’s not for the faint of heart. Shadow work means delving into deep emotions, raising the spectre of past wounds and traumas. Though Shadow work can be a spiritual process, the Unnamed Path always suggests apprentices to align with a licensed mental health expert, especially for helping someone who’s experienced severe trauma, such as surviving an accident or experiencing violence or abuse. Having a professional that can guide the process can help you work through trauma without experiencing re-traumatization, or causing additional emotional and biological distress.
Ignore the Shadow At Your Own Peril
The ancient Greeks understood the need to honor all of the parts of the psyche. For them, these parts were seen as autonomous spiritual aspects.The Greeks knew these spiritual aspects of oneself, if ignored, became the one who turned against you and destroyed you. Any aspect of ourselves we disown within us can turn against us. This can be most prominent when doing deep spiritual and magical pathwork. As these discarded shadow aspects of oneself begin to infuse into our practice, without being healed and transformed, they can begin to radically harm our vantage along the pathwork. The shadow can operate on its own without our full awareness.
Our conscious self goes on autopilot while the shadow assumes control. We either do things we wouldn’t voluntarily do and later regret (if we catch it). We say things we wouldn’t say. Or we begin to approach things from the vantage of our unhealed shadow and all those feelings, fears and emotions come up to blind us to the reality of a situation. Magical practitioners who do spell work coming from a reactive shadow can be a devastating combination. Plunging our lives into turmoil or sending us running in fear. Not to mention the remaining unconscious of the shadow can spill into our mundane lives, hurt our relationships, family, and friends, and even impact our professional relationships as well as our leadership abilities.
What Happens When You Repress Your Shadow
So what happens to all the parts of ourselves we sweep out of view? Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others. In psychology, this is called projection. We project onto others anything we bury within us. If, for example, you get severely triggered by the actions of another, it’s a good bet you haven’t owned your own shadow. This doesn’t mean the person isn’t doing something wrong. However, if the reaction is disproportional to the action, your unhealed shadow takes the forefront. When the shadow is healed and embraced someone else’s actions and your reaction would be in alignment and perhaps wouldn’t bother you so much, allowing you to let it go or engage the situation reasonably.
Working with Shadow
It can seem scary to face all the parts of yourself that you have repressed or tried to hide – but shadow work is there to heal us, and is ultimately a freeing and enlightening experience. When walking a powerful spiritual and magical path, our spirit guides are going to keep trying to get our attention in order to make us deal with this imbalance. Ultimately, trying to repress these parts of ourselves will take up our energy and keep us from finding our purpose and power. Learning to fully embrace, love and work with our shadow heals us emotionally and spiritually, and make us better able to connect with the spiritual world around us.
For more information on shadow work, we invite you to listen to Episode 35 – The Shadow Self of Unnamed Path podcast by Hyperion.