Shadow Work, Making Friends With Your Monsters
Everyone carries a “Shadow”. Jung proposed that each person’s shadow was really a personification of all the things that they refuse to believe or acknowledge about themselves. The shadow is the embodiment of our deepest, darkest and most secret parts of ourselves that we dare not reveal to anyone because the shadow is our very own monster we’ve been hiding from.
So what if we would rather not look into the skeletons in our closet or the monsters under the bed? The bad news is, there are consequences for ignoring our shadow. If were not able to identify with or get an opportunity to embody our shadow parts consciously on a somewhat regular basis, then our shadow will only intensify in darkness and depth. It’s going to start calling out for our attention.
The good news is, making friends with our shadow is not as frightening as it sounds. Shadow work is a heart opening, exhilarating and humbling experience when you are supported in the journey.
Are you curious to know what your shadow is like?
Try this short and simple experiment with me now.
Picture someone you know, that you dislike. Picture what they look like, their mannerisms, how they speak and how they behave. Start to make a list of all the qualities, traits and behaviours you really don’t like about that person. Don’t hold back, allow yourself to get really specific on all these things as you make your list.
Perhaps it is that they are often late, selfish, rude, or unkind. Maybe you dislike that they hold grudges or that they are loud, perhaps you do not like that they are always so energetic.
Now make sure you have everything on your list...
What you have just identified is your own shadow.
Eeek! Yes, these are the qualities or behaviours that also belong to YOU, these are YOUR shadow....
Wait a minute, how is that possible you ask? Surely you don't think I’m anything like those people!
The truth is, we are mostly unaware of our shadow as it resides in our unconscious. So it’s normal to feel discomfort or an inability to accept or acknowledge that you too may be capable of the qualities, behaviours or traits you dislike in others.
Sit with your list a moment longer....
Check in and ask yourself is it possible that I have the ability to act or behave in these ways?
Is it really true that I have NEVER experienced these qualities in myself?
As you reflect on your answers, you may begin to find that you are in fact capable of or have yourself acted or behaved in ways similar to those of the person you dislike.
This is no small realization!
So Why does our shadow feel so unfamiliar and uncomfortable?
1. It has resided in our unconscious for so long and we are unaware of it. (The shadow often makes its first appearances in our dreams, leaving many people distressed at the intense, emotional and often vivid images that come forward.)
2. We deem the shadow unacceptable. We have cut it out, hidden, repressed or denied any trace of it in ourselves, the shadow is deeply connected to our shame around these disowned parts of our personality.
3. Deep down, were scared of the shadow showing up because we feel that if anyone was to really see us and our shadow parts they would turn away, we would face total rejected and be left alone.
Many people who begin to find their shadow showing up unexpectedly or start to notice themselves embodying or acting out their shadow parts in dreams or in certain situations often instinctively feel that something is very wrong. Getting rid of the feelings and emotions that come up and annihilating any trace of the shadow at all costs, is a priority! We want to see some changes ASAP! You can likely relate to this by thinking of something you want to change about yourself, most people can think of a list of things they do not like or would like to change about themselves. The urge to change, fix or remove the shadow is just as strong!Many of my clients experience hate, fear, laughter, ambivalence, disgust and sadness when they start to unravel their behaviours.
What you also need to know about Shadow work is that it is a place of creativity and healing. It’s an opportunity to bring more love and compassion to ourselves, yes, even the parts we find icky, dark, messy or unlovable.Our shadow work is all about coming to understand our polarities can be useful. It's a realization that they are complementary, interconnected and interdependent of us.
Kahlil Gibrans Words in the Prophet, speak to this principle beautifully when he writes about joy and sorrow.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Just as we can only know light from also being able to see darkness, so too do we only know ourselves completely by holding and appreciating our shadow.
Acknowledging and working with the shadow is a lifelong process of re-owning ALL the parts of ourselves. If there was a g goal in shadow work it would be, that rather than turning away from or rejecting the parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable, we become more willing to connect deeply, with more love and compassion to all of who we are.
It is through this process that we can know what it means to live fully, to feel deeply satisfied with what and who we are. To bring love to the shadows or as we once called them monsters that hid beneath the surface.
If you are ready to start doing the deeper inner work to understand who you are and connect more fully to yourself, I’d love to support you on your journey. You can get in touch HERE.
Natajsa Wagner is a Masters qualified Psychotherapist based in Brisbane, Australia. Natajsa blends relational Gestlat methods, contemporary Psychotherapy and neuroscience practices in her work. Natajsa guides and mentors professionals in understanding themselves and their behaviour patterns so they can make more aligned choices in their life. Natajsa is thought leader and advocate for authentic human conversations and connection. She works experientially with individuals and groups to teach, that in a moment, we can create and experience more deeply satisfying connections with each other.
Her work offers an antidote to the modern day disease of disconnection.She invites others to create a ripple of connection in the world, so that we might all feel more intimacy, belonging and aliveness. Natajsa has been featured as an expert both locally and internationally and has contributed to a number of print and online media outlets including: Womens Health and Fitness Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine & ABC Online.