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Working with the Shadow

What is the Shadow?

Carl Jung first referred to the shadow as the part of ourselves that we have rejected, disowned or denied. We may not even be aware that certain emotions or behaviors exist, or have the potential to exist within us, because they are so deeply repressed.

As a result of repressing these aspects of ourselves so deeply, we may end up projecting them onto others or the world around us. These qualities become external things we either judge, feel frightened or are irritated by. The shadow may also include the aspects which we feel jealous of, or become obsessed by in other people. This jealously often arises because we perceive others as having the qualities that actually reflect our highest and truest potential.

Why work with the Shadow?

Even when we are not fully aware of our shadow, its presence uses a huge amount of energy which can cause physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This energy is often being used to present a particular image of ourselves to the world. This is like constantly putting on a mask, yet underneath the mask lay the darker, negative, shameful parts of ourselves.

Spiritual Bypassing

Shadow work is crucial on the path of psycho-spiritual development. Many individuals seek out spiritual practices such as meditation, or attempt to reach levels beyond the egoic self, without having first acknowledged or worked with their shadow. John Welwood, a Buddhist psychotherapist, suggests that this is a form of spiritual bypassing which may lead to an imbalance within the person. Those who seek out spiritual practices may overly focus on spiritual development as a way of avoiding or denying the challenges of human existence - this includes rejecting the shadow aspects of ourselves.

3-2-1 Shadow Process

Ken Wilber uses a 3-2-1 process which guides us to works through the disowned aspects of our self and bring them into conscious awareness. The process involves choosing a difficult person, someone who you either strongly dislike or someone you admire. The person you have picked should either make you feel easily triggered, angry, sensitive or you may be obsessed or infatuated over. Follow the steps:

First, imagine you are talking to this person and write down everything that disturbs you about this person including all of their qualities. Do this in as much detail as you can.

Now, imagine speaking with this person, or interacting with the sensation and qualities which occurred to you in the first part of the process. You might ask the following questions: what do you want from me? Why are you here? What do you need to tell me?

The final step is to become the person, sensation or quality. Begin by writing or saying “I am..”. See what emerges for you as you attempt to embody the qualities and sensation of your shadow.

Creative Activities

  • I also find that engaging in a creative exercise to express the shadow aspect of myself is helpful. Some activities I have used in the past include:

  • Creating a piece of art or a drawing from the perspective of the shadow to express and fully take on this aspect of yourself.

  • Writing a poem of a creative piece of writing from the perspective of the shadow e.g. an “I am” poem

  • Write a letter from the perspective of your shadow to yourself, or from yourself to your shadow welcoming it into yourself.

Try it this week!

Over the following week, try to bring greater awareness to your shadow. Whenever you feel upset by another person’s behavior write down what it is that has annoyed you about them! This will help you in the process of owning your shadow. Also, ask yourself- what advice you usually give to other people. Sometimes the advice we are offering to others is something we might need to hear ourselves.