by Yale Bowman, Staff Writer
What is shadow work? Who is the shadow self? Each of us has a functioning, conscious self image which we tend to incorporate. This is our identity. We use this persona within our own thoughts, and during our interactions with others. This is the side of us which we acknowledge, accept, and which we are aware of. This is our conscious self for the purpose of this article.
But the shadow self is us as well. Our shadow side is, for some, the completely unconscious side of our psychological and human nature. For those more consciously aware of it (and for those who aren’t) it is also the side which we fear, reject, and those behaviors and attributes we would rather not admit to, or acknowledge, on a conscious level as part of our identity.
The repression and denial of the shadow self happens subconsciously and semi-consciously. Typically we will continue to do this on both levels to some extent as it is hard to be fully conscious of every shadow aspect. It usually takes a few (or several) deep realizations to discover the extent of each aspect as they orbit back to the surface, each time gaining a deeper understanding and working toward more complete healing in regard to these aspects. Shadow work is deep, developmental self-work within the psyche, and because of this we must take breaks at times and return to it after periods of re-integration.
The shadow self encompasses the fearful, aggressive, self serving, and other darker aspects of our personalities. In addition, for some, the shadow self can actually encompass the fears which surround some of the more positive attributes, like confidence and personal power, that we do not wish to acknowledge or make use of through a lowered self esteem. The fear of these positive attributes actually relates to a fear of authenticity, judgment, criticism, self expression, and positive attention, as well as other internal fears related to self-empowerment. Most of us are afraid of our personal power on some level; this fear is often substantial, and holds us back from our full potential. Personal power is very liberating, but utilizing and grasping it typically means inducing radical changes in mindset and behavior, and this will often trigger a fearful or anxious response within the subconscious toward these necessary changes.
These examples illustrate an introduction to the darker, and also the more “benign” nature of the shadow, but each aspect is debilitating in some way to our conscious self,. Each shadow aspect holds within it a key to further self development. For each individual, the shadow self will encompass something uniquely different. For some, a lucky and likely non-existent few, the shadow could be a collection of mostly annoying, controlling, and frustrating tendencies. For most, if not all of us, however, the shadow self encompasses these tendencies, as well as varying levels of debilitating and limiting thought processes. It contains also, for lack of a better term, our “dark sides”.
Those who deeply repress their traumas, emotions and shadow aspects may find they seem to contain a dark beast within them waiting to be tamed. It may come out to play when the ego, or the self, is threatened with an apparent need for physical or emotional survival, and threatened to maintain the current version of one’s self-image. This can be very destructive to the self and to others. We all have this to some extent, but this beast is not truly a beast. It is our traumatized and conditioned inner-self, and it is not seeking ownership of us, it seeks only acknowledgment, self awareness, and healing.
All shadow aspects have been self-created through, and as a result of experienced traumas. The term “traumas”, for the purpose of this article, relates to any experiences perceived as significantly negative, and in turn relates to negative mind altering and reality altering experiences throughout our lives. All of us have a few skeletons in our closet, bad habits, hidden darker and fearful aspects of our personalities. Our shadow is us “at our worst”, most egotistical, most dysfunctional, and also a collective product of our most traumatized and conditioned states. It holds within it the aspects of ourselves that we, and society, may have trouble accepting. These aspects once acted, and contin
Most of us have some shadow aspects in all of these mentioned areas, respectively. For someone with low self esteem especially, as mentioned before, the shadow influence will also encompass the “benign” attributes such as martyrdom, indirect communication and passive-aggressiveness, disempowerment, voicelessness, and other forms of self-suppression. These more benign attributes appear to be less harmful because they seem to only effect the individual, not others around them, but they are some of the most debilitating aspects to our conscious and successful selves. They DO equally effect others around us when compared to the angry, violent, manipulative, controlling, or any of the other traditionally “darker” tendencies, this effect just happens more subtly within our radars. All shadow aspects are limiting, and destructive to the self, and often others around us, in different ways. All of us hold within the shadow self these traditionally dark, and also benign shadow aspects in different ratios.
Shadow work can be grueling, but equally liberating. Shadow work is not magick, it is not mysticism entirely, it is mainly a process involving psychological analysis and awareness of the self in a more raw, unobstructed form. It can still be performed without a spiritual mindset, influence, or inclination, and will still be remarkably impactful in regard to psychological healing and awareness. In shadow work, we reexamine our tendencies to identify the ones which hold us back, those which the act of releasing will make us better, kinder, more laid back, receptive, understanding, compassionate, appropriately open, and successful people. This is not a linear process, and it happens in stages and segments throughout ones lifetime, not entirely at once.
To quote an unknown source, “I am not looking to hide from my darkness, I am looking to love myself there”. This is the juxtapose of shadow work, and the shadow self. The shadow itself is still us, and because of that it is not truly looking to be separated, cast out, or condemned in any form through shame, ridicule, or guilt. The shadow self is looking for two major things which will release its tendencies and “grip”; it desires mainly acknowledgment and self-love to produce healing. This creates within us a more expansive, integrated consciousness, and a deeper awareness of the self, and others.
It seems counter-intuitive and illogical, loving and accepting the darker aspects of oneself, but condemnation through shame, guilt, etc. only creates more darkness, more shadows. We are not looking to condense or feed our shadow side, we are looking to illuminate and liberate it. We are looking to heal and integrate it, removing the need for a psychological schism and any broken, destructive patterns. The act of shadow work involves a commitment of awareness to the conscious and subconscious self, in an effort to re-align them toward healing and wholeness, instead of alignment in opposition to each other. We become aware, and we make an effort to change without self-condemnation.
I have outlines commitments which tend to work for myself and others in regard to shadow work:
-“I will be entirely aware of myself and my tendencies, of my actions.”
-“I will not deny any of my shadow aspects to satiate an ego which seeks perfection and a flawless image.”
-“I will not suppress what I find in my shadow, this only aids in the disempowerment and dismemberment of my wholeness.”
-“I project no shame or guilt toward my self as I heal, this is counterproductive, and I will only take conscious action to improve and make amends when necessary. I can be apologetic and remorseful, conscious and aware of my future actions, without falling into the treadmilled trap of shame or guilt.”
The last two commitments encompass the “battle” many fight during their shadow work. The difficult part of shadow work is resisting the need to re-suppress any unsavory attributes or findings in an effort to satiate the ego, and also the refusal to participate in shame or guilt directed towards the self as a result of these findings. As we forgive ourselves, we often find the need to forgive others as well for their unconscious actions which contributed to our traumatic experiences. This is not to absolve them of blame and wrongness at the time we incurred our traumas, but instead an act of self restoration, release, and renewal. With full disclosure, this is much easier said than done, but very possible with consistent mindfulness. Meditation is also extremely helpful in this process. The reason for the necessity of this full and unbiased acknowledgment is that shame and guilt, repression, resentment, and being cut off from love and understanding (all externally AND
External love, support, and understanding will be of great aid, but there needs to be an INTERNAL source for these things, a deep well of gratitude, self love and acceptance to draw from. This is the secret to successful shadow work, and play. It is also important to be prepared for a release of emotions as we acknowledge and heal the shadow, and we must be sure not to incur guilt or shame for having to go through this release process as we fully feel, release, and possibly at times even reenact the emotions or tendencies encompassed in the shadow in an attempt to better understand them.
There is no reason to avoid making amends for our actions or behavior, but at times this will serve us and others, and other times it will not. You must feel for yourself when consciously moving forward requires an apology and making amends, and when it simply requires release and acknowledgment. Not every situation can, or should, be externally healed and “righted” effectively.
I contemplated stopping here, but I feel I am leaving out one very important aspect, which I call the “higher self”. We have the conscious self, the conscious identity and image; we also have the subconscious self, and its darker, as well as its “benign” debilitating aspects, the shadow self. The higher self, however, is the super-conscious self. It is the aspect of you, your soul and higher consciousness, that exists without duality and separation. Here, in the higher self, there is no split between the conscious and subconscious, it already understands your healing process in completion and has these inspirational insights to deliver, willingly.
The higher self holds the intelligence of the universe within it, and it stems directly from our divine and cosmic source/higher power. Some, myself included, will say it is for the most part synonymous with this cosmic source, a direct embodiment of such. The higher self can be reached to help illuminate and mediate the struggles between the conscious and unconscious (or shadow) selves. Often times, whether we may realize or not, our deepest revelations of self will stem from this higher consciousness which directs us toward wholeness, self love, and deep understanding. We may at times choose or unknowingly enable ourselves to venture even deeper through the higher self, and illuminate more of our cosmic nature, and how it relates to our healing through a sense of oneness within ourselves and the world, the universe. All are connected here.
Our higher self is the reassuring voice, the spirit guide, the inner faith as well. It is the reason we are drawn to practice our own shadow work, as it seeks for itself full circle healing and completion on a conscious level, as well as seeking re-integration of the higher consciousness, subconscious, and in turn the clearing of the repressed traits revealed within our shadow work. The higher self encourages us to achieve a better, more loving, and fuller existence. It seeks enlightenment, self-love, self-awareness, compassionate and conscious living. awakening, and liberation. Shadow work is necessary for most, if not all of us in this process.
If we remember one thing, let it be this: Your shadow is your friend. Your shadow is a dear friend, who has processed and compartmentalized all of your deepest traumas, and stored them until you were able to deal with and heal with them effectively. Your shadow side bred survival of the conscious self, and optimal psychological functioning, especially during times when we were powerless to make change and the traumas we incurred would have been entirely destructive to our functioning. Much of what you see in the shadow self will be long standing childhood traumas, societal and social conditioning, and deeply rooted emotional traumas which threatened daily functioning, sanity, and the ability to continue on. The shadow aspects we live with were actually once functioning, helpful defense mechanisms and coping behaviors or tendencies which have outlived their usefulness. Knowing this, we can thank our shadows; they love us so very deeply.
The art of shadow work is not truly a battle, it is in all actuality an inner dance, a shadow dance. If we find we are battling, it is necessary to locate our self love and gratitude for where we are presently. By tuning into this we operate from a deeper well of positive energy, call in the higher self, and as a result we will find more success on our healing journeys.
We die every moment. Every moment holds within it an opportunity for death, and for rebirth. We must utilize these moments for a beautiful reentry into our present lives by being brave enough to consciously change. Our metaphorical and energetic hands need to be immersed in, and comfortable with change to fully grow. Usually, the scarier the change, the more necessity it holds within it. If we look at the most fearful acts of change, the attached feelings of dread are deeply rooted in the fear of physical, energetic, and psychological death; and the subsequent rebirth. What does not serve us is ready to die away, and be replaced by new, fresh, lively energies which can empower our lives and circumstances. This is the dance of the shadow: a dance of life and death, dark and light, renewal and rebirth.
To see more about the shadow self, see my July article on our Face-A-Face site, “July Energy: Khonsu and the Princess of Bekhten“. This article describes and analyzes an ancient Egyptian myth which illustrates and personifies the process of shadow work.
“My name is Yale Bowman, and I was born and raised in Indianapolis. I work full time as a psychic medium, a spiritual counselor, and as a Shaman and Energetic Healer. I work with clients in-person and by phone or internet, locally and internationally. For more about my work, additional writings and articles, or to inquire about or book for my services, you can make use of the information provided below. I regularly post articles and daily readings, and to view these posts you can follow the links to my social media accounts and website.”