What is your shadow self? If you don’t know, find out. To face and embrace it is to take a voyage of self-discovery, which can lead to inner healing and integration. Are you ready to begin this journey?
To understand the term shadow self, we need to define these words. A physical shadow is a silhouette, creating an outline of an object blocking a light source. A shadow has volume and has three dimensions of height, length, and width. The shadow is a reverse projection which is distorted by the angle of the light source. So, it is not a copy. It is a temporary moving refraction which made by the object.
The self is that aspect of consciousness which frames itself as a separate entity. It contains elements of our the ego, the personality and instincts and identifies itself with a physical body.
What is Your Shadow Self
The Shadow Self is the projection of the mind that connects us to what some call the Soul or Spirit. Like a physical shadow, it has substance and affects our thinking and values indirectly. It overshadows the psychic structures of the mind.
If we want to become well-balanced individuals, we need to address this aspect of our psyche. The space inside the silhouette is the mark our Ego makes. The question is, what type of shadow are you casting? Is it a positive or negative one?
Negative emotions are one of the main ways we feel this shadowy substance. However, Western medicine gives us drugs to numb out negative feelings. Numbing our feelings doesn’t address the reasons for them; it masks our awareness from these aspects. The underlying issues remain and then manifest in other ways.
Learning and Embracing Your Shadow Self
Part of this shadow contains the aspects of the psyche housing our personality and instincts. Our personality type runs on a continuum from healthy to harmful. Carl Jung’s model of the psyche is another way to understand this aspect of the subconscious. (1)
The health of our thoughts can go up and down depending on several factors such as traumatic events, stress, illness, losses of any kind. One of the main sources that affects our thinking comes from the programming we acquire from the cultural narrative. The dominant cultural narrative can overshadow our natural instincts of community and self-preservation.
Some people believe that highly emotional events are also associated with the sighting of shadow people, but that is a topic for a different time.
It takes diligent inner work and courage to venture into our psyches. We’ll discuss the tools we recommend for this type of spiritual adventure, but first want to discuss the roadblocks you’ll likely need to overcome.
Facing Your Shadow Self
There are different approaches to this inner journey. You can do it solo, with a coach, or within a group. Each method has its benefits.
1) The Solo Journey. If you go it alone, you can go at your own pace through the tough stuff. The downside is that it is easy to get bogged down because you can’t find a way to deal with the darkness of your thoughts.
2) Using Spiritual Coach. Using a dedicated spiritual coach can help keep you on track and overcome the roadblocks. But finding a qualified coach can be difficult.
3) Group Mentoring. A group approach is probably one of the best options. It allows you to get input from several sources to help you overcome your roadblocks. It also provides time for you to go at your own pace.
Once we get below the superficial answers, our Ego used to keep control, and we will see the unhealthy mechanisms of thought. So, this adventure isn’t initially about unicorns and rainbows, but we’ll get there once we face and tame our inner adversaries. We’ll discuss some tools to help with this illumination process.
Fear and denial are the universal roadblocks when working on your shadow self. These tactics of our Ego keep us from looking into the darkness where our fears and unhealthy coping mechanisms live. One of the major roadblocks on your spiritual path will confront the issues of Ego and the effects of the cultural narrative.
Our dominant cultural narrative can contain a great deal of mythology and superstition. These fabrications make their way into the value systems of a society.
Embracing your shadow self will reveal the beliefs that are boundaries to your mental health and spiritual growth.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ― Carl Jung
If you want to improve yourself and your relationships, you must delve into the darkness of your own beliefs.
“Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.” — Marianne Williamson
Culture teaches us to mask or ignore our dark side. So we are not aware we are slipping into unhealthy thinking until it is too late. Ask yourself, what is your shadow self? What legacy are you leaving behind?
Learning about the harmful thought scripts of our Ego will help us control these tendencies. The answer is not to ignore or hide them, but to give them our attention. Identifying and repairing these thought scripts is what we call spiritual shadow work.
“Consciousness is like a tunnel. You see only darkness when you look in from the outside. But, when you look out from the inside, you finally see the light. Meditation shifts your vantage point from the outside to the inside.” ― Guru Tua
The Shadow Self in Western Thought
Carl Gustav Jung is the first to use “shadow” regarding the human psyche in modern Western thought. (2) He was one of the first to ask, what is your shadow self.
“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, (1951)
The shadow self describes those aspects of the personality we don’t like, so we try to repress. Self-Awareness is the key to spiritual shadow work. The more aware we become, the more light we shine on these darker aspects.
Working on your shadow self can bring up some deep-seated fears. Our mortality is the root of all fears. So be gentle with yourself.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it was necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Self-acceptance is another key. We must learn to accept all aspects of our default settings to see them. If we continue to deny them, they continue to rule our thinking. But once we bring them into the light of our awareness, we can learn to move beyond them. We don’t remove these aspects; we see how to integrate them into healthy behaviors.
The key to change is to use our habitual nature for positive change. The formula starts with illuminating these darker forces. Then we must accept they are a part of us. Once we see them, we direct their power into positive thoughts and actions. Here’s an example. If you are angry about a social situation, channel your passion into positive action.
The goal of inner work is to identify roadblocks to our development and make us more integrated and aware. When we become more aware of our dark side, we control our thoughts and emotions. That doesn’t mean we experience less; it means we learn to understand our life experiences better.
If you are self-aware, you can tell when you are slipping into your personality’s unhealthy aspects. The Enneagram of Personality is a tool to identify the thought scripts that show when falling into unhealthy patterns. Embracing your shadow self will uncover these patterns.
The Shadow in Eastern Thought
The shadow self is a common concept in many indigenous cultures. It’s one way to describe spirit entities that work at the periphery of our lives. It’s a part of us that connects to our ancestors.
In this sense, the shadow is not just part of our personality but also of our “spirit world.” We know these entities as spirit guides. They manifest on the Shamanic Journey. This ancient form of creative visualization is another technique.
Both Freud and Jung used this process used in the early development of modern psychology. His technique of regression is just another name for the Shamanic Journey.
The Shadow Self — Inner Work Tools
This kind of psychological work can be intense. The Ego will fight the exposure of its programming. But facing your shadow self is the key to breakthroughs in awareness.
There are several tools we can use to delve into the psyche. Almost every spiritual technology can reveal some aspect of your shadow. Here are a few you should investigate. (3)
A journal is the first tool we recommend for the inner journey. It’s the most underrated tool for inner work. The more accustomed you are to using it, the more valuable it becomes. You will create several of these as you walk your path. A journal is nonjudgmental and truthful when embracing your shadow self.
These journals reflect the truth of your inner thoughts. So, they are your best personal coach and counselor. They can show you trends in your thinking and the roadblocks in the way of your spiritual growth.
You should create one to record your dreams when you awake. Keep one with you to jot down creative ideas. Use them for notes during automatic handwriting sessions. Your handwriting reflects your mood and state of mind. We see it as an essential tool for any explorer.
The Enneagram has a rich history which blends scientific rigor with the wisdom of spiritual traditions. The Enneagram is the second tool we recommend. It is valuable whether you are doing this adventure solo, with a coach, or in a group.
It is one of the deepest inner work tools for delving into the mechanics of personality and instinct. Its system is easy to understand, yet is detailed enough for clinical work. These characteristics make it a basic tool of self-discovery. The analytical approach makes embracing your shadow self less stressful.
“Darkness is the absence of light. Ego is the absence of awareness.” ― Osho
Meditation is learning to fold your attention inward. Your inward journey will help you find silence and peace. There is a simple two-step process for beginning meditation. You need to take a few minutes and do it.
“The mantra is the first mobile communication device. Everything is vibration. Vibration is sound. The mantra is the sound that resonates with the same sound and vibration as the Soul of the Universe.” ― Guru Tua
Dreams are one way the shadow self reveals itself. Sigmund Freud used dreams to form the backbone of Freudian psychology. So learning how to lucid dream is one tool we recommend. It is the easiest way to expand awareness. Lucid dreaming is a technique that allows you to be aware you are dreaming and also exerts some level of control over your dreams.
The Shamanic Journey is one of the earliest forms of inner work. It is one way we can approach the subconscious directly. This kind of internally guided meditation brings many symbols and typologies of our beliefs to the surface.
Many generations have used this process. This method of embracing your shadow self gives you complete control over the depth and duration.
A repeating question is a tool you can use, along with other spiritual technologies. It’s a favorite for those who study the Enneagram. You can use it yourself, but it works best with two people. It’s a simple process. Your partner asks you the same question over and over. You find a different answer for the same question, which allows us to drill down below the superficial to intrinsic values. So it makes the repeating question a versatile inner work tool.
You can start with the most obvious question: what is your shadow self? Jot down your answers quickly and keeping asking the question. It will make you dig below the superficial to the genuine answers.
The Emotional Check Process
Fear and anger are primitive responses that trigger our fight, flight, or freeze mode. It pumps adrenaline into the system so we can react to danger. But adrenaline is toxic for the brain’s higher thinking centers, taking these centers offline. You can’t use common sense or critical thinking skills when this happens. So the emotional check helps us shut down these responses to think clearly.
Embracing your shadow self is a major aspect of the spiritual journey. If you don’t face it head on, it will surface in your thoughts are fears and anxieties. Being apprehensive about beginning this inner work is common. Your Ego doesn’t want you to take back control.
(1) The Shadow in Jungian Psychology: https://www.thesap.org.uk/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/the-shadow/
(2) Can You See Your Shadow?: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201702/can-you-see-your-shadow
(3) What is shadow work, the self-care therapy trending on social media?: https://www.thenationalnews.com/lifestyle/2021/11/29/what-is-shadow-work-the-self-care-therapy-trending-on-social-media/