If you are trying to walk on the path towards self-improvement and discovering your full potential, that means truly examining your “shadow.”
Much like the dark image that you cast onto the sidewalk, your psychological “shadow” is a part of you that you carry with you all the time but perhaps never really notice. It contains the darker parts of yourself that you would rather ignore or push away.
Yet, if you are attempting to become a whole as a person, it means exploring these darker areas. After all, they are a part of who you are.
To truly understand yourself, you must be willing to work with your “shadow.”
What Is the “Shadow?”
The concept of the shadow can be traced back to Carl Jung, the renowned psychotherapist and student of Sigmund Freud. Jung believed that it was possible for everyone to reach a state of wholeness—an innate drive to understand oneself. Part of the journey towards wholeness is understanding your shadow.
Parts of the shadow include:
- Your self-concept
- Capabilities (or lack thereof)
- Negative self-talk
- Emotions that you are told are “bad”
All these and more are included in the shadow. Also, it should be noted that you can be carrying multiple shadows.
You might have your personal burdens. Yet, there can be shadows applied to you that come from other people, or even society at large. Either way, these shadows can be a tremendous weight.
How Does the Shadow Develop?
The shadow starts to form when you are still a child. As you begin to develop your personality and individuality, you are also often told to hide certain aspects of yourself.
For example, let’s say that you were a fun and outgoing child. Yet, you might have been told that you needed to be more serious and not be so frivolous. You learned that these qualities about yourself are to be kept hidden away. In turn, you developed a negative association with these thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or traits about yourself. This, even though these are still a part of who you are.
As you can imagine, having to hide part of yourself is very distressing and creates an inner turmoil that can be carried into adulthood.
Is the Shadow Always Obvious?
Unfortunately, no the shadow is not always obvious at first glance. It can be buried deep down in your subconscious. This may be due to years or even decades of bearing the shadow.
Even if you have an idea that part of your shadow exists, you might not know exactly why. For instance, let’s say that part of your shadow is the anger that you hold inside. You have been taught that anger is bad or wrong. Yet, do you understand why you feel angry in the first place? It may be that you don’t.
Being unclear about what your shadow is and why it exists can be a major roadblock if you are trying to better understand yourself and heal.
What Is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is the process for bringing all of these issues into the light. At first, it could be easy to think, ‘Why even to go to this dark place anyway?’ After all, this can be a source of a lot of emotional pain.
However, there is a cost to holding on to your shadow. It takes effort and mental energy to keep all this negativity under the surface. Even if you feel that you are “keeping things together” now, eventually the issues will come back to the forefront anyway. And if you don’t address them properly, your well-being suffers greatly.
But by participating in shadow work, you can truly understand your shadow and integrate it into your whole being. Thus, you can reach a state of wholeness that you had not experienced before.
Jung was right in that everyone carries their own burdens. He also was correct in that healthiest thing to do is to understand your shadow, not repress it. The best way to do this is by working with a qualified therapist who can help guide you. It would be my pleasure to be that guide for you.