Undertaking shadow work is an act of love. It is an act of self-love that then translates into compassion for the world. If that sounds like something that packs a real punch, well, you're right! It does!
“Shadow” is a term coined by Carl Jung, a psychotherapist who worked alongside Sigmund Freud. Jung was highly spiritual and pioneered work around psycho-spiritual healing by recognizing the power of our early years to create many of our limiting beliefs. (Ever hear of “inner child healing”? That’s Jung!) He also introduced the concept of archetypes for creating our ego, and he helped us understand our unconscious, an area of our psyche that he referred to as “shadow.” Essentially, one’s shadow is anything about ourselves that we are not consciously aware of, but still plays a large role in shaping our day to day choices. Shadow work, then, helps us to bring our shadow into the light by becoming conscious of it; when we are conscious of our shadow, we are less likely to make choices that keep us locked into fate; doing so, frees us to step into our destiny.
What kinds of things might be in our shadow? The gifts that you suppressed because they might not meet with parental approval. Your inner rescuer who seeks a partner to save and so keeps choosing people who have addictive tendencies (but you just can’t understand why you keep falling for the same type of person…). Your inner perfectionist who thinks that your value is based on how well a task is done because deep down, being perfect will be what makes you good enough in your hard- to- please parents’ eyes. Struggles to make the “right” choice could be derived from having few choices honored in one’s childhood. The point is that these “shadow” elements born within our childhood and adolescence are often responsible for making many of our choices that aren’t always in our best interest. It’s almost as if our development is flash frozen and our choices are influenced by the survival behavior or belief we adopted to fit in and survive our childhood.
Not to oversimplify shadow work, but it does have levels of work. The first step is to become aware of the behavior or the feeling that is troubling us. For example, when you hear someone say something that makes you irrationally angry, and you really don’t understand why it made you as angry as it did. That moment, when you recognize you may have gone a little (or a lot) too far, and you decide you won’t only blame the other person, but wonder what it is in you that got triggered. That’s only step one. From there, it becomes work to uncover the shadow trigger – the root of the issue. You may uncover a memory of a painful moment from your past. But that is still only the beginning. The healing takes place when we can work to forgive ourselves, or another person from that memory. It also requires an honest look at what kinds of choices we have made because of the way we chose to react to that painful event from the past. Shadow work is finding all the threads connected to that one, past, moment. Then, we must choose a new response when that behavior is triggered. No longer can we just become irrationally angry, instead, we are able to recognize what has been triggered and we can slow down and choose to respond to it differently. But by doing the shadow work, excavating what needed to be excavated, we finally get to make choices in that area which we originally got triggered that are enlightened and responsive, not reactive and potentially harmful.
How can undergoing the work of shadow be anything but an act of love? The mere process of digging in and working through our shadow helps us to heal many childhood wounds. We have an opportunity to see ourselves in a new light, with compassion and love, not judgement, not guilt, and not shame. We give ourselves an opportunity to feel emotions we have suppressed so that they can be released. We see ourselves in our fullest truth, and it is nearly impossible to see that without having some compassion and love for ourselves. The best thing about this work, however, is that when we learn how this shadow has shaped our choices and behaviors, we can also recognize it in others. It is much harder to judge others when we recognize how shadow may be manifesting in their choices and behaviors. And this, this! This is how we meet a world full of pain with a little more compassion.
Every time we shift out of shadow behaviors, the vibration we send out into the world only gets amplified. Not the vibration of more anger. Not the vibration of more hate. Not the vibration of more division. It is the vibration of love we raise. By bringing our shadow out of the dark and filling more of ourselves with light, we not only heal ourselves, we heal the world.