Other issues that arise when we reject our Shadow side can include:
- Hypocrisy (believing and supporting one thing, but doing the other)
- Lies and self-deceit (both towards oneself and others)
- Uncontrollable bursts of rage/anger
- Emotional and mental manipulation of others
- Greed and addictions
- Phobias and obsessive compulsions
- Intense anxiety
- Chronic psychosomatic illness
- Depression (which can turn into suicidal tendencies)
- sexual perversion
- Narcissistic ego-inflation
- Chaotic relationships with others
… and many others. This is by no means a comprehensive list (and there are likely many other issues out there). As we’ll learn next, one of the greatest ways we reject our Shadows is through psychological projection.
The Shadow and Projection (a Dangerous Mix)
One of the biggest forms of Shadow rejection is something called projection. Projection is a term that refers to seeing things in others that are actually within ourselves.
When we pair projection and the Shadow Self together, we have a dangerous mix.
Because as psychotherapist Robert A. Johnson writes:
We generally seek to punish that which reminds us most uncomfortable about the part of ourselves that we have not come to terms with, and we often ‘see’ these disowned qualities in the world around us.
There are many different ways we ‘punish’ those who are mirrors of our Shadow qualities. We may criticize, reject, hate, dehumanize, or even in extreme cases, physically or psychologically seek to destroy them (think of countries who go at war with the “enemies”). None of us are innocent in this area. We have ALL projected parts of our rejected self onto others. In fact, Shadow projection is a major cause of relationship dysfunction and break down.
If we are seeking to bring peace, love, and meaning to our lives, we absolutely MUST reclaim these projections. Through Shadow Work, we can explore exactly what we have disowned.
Twelve Benefits of Shadow Work
Firstly, I want to say that I have the highest respect for Shadow Work. It is the single most important path I’ve taken to uncover my core wounds, core beliefs, traumas, and projections. I have also observed how Shadow Work has helped to create profound clarity, understanding, harmony, acceptance, release, and inner peace in the lives of others. It is truly deep work that makes changes on the Soul level targeting the very roots of our issues, not just the superficial symptoms.
There is SO much to be gained from making Shadow Work a part of your life, and daily routine. Here are some of the most commonly experienced benefits:
- Deeper love and acceptance of yourself
- Better relationships with others, including your partner and children
- More confidence to be your authentic self
- More mental, emotional, and spiritual clarity
- Increased compassion and understanding for others, particularly those you dislike
- Enhanced creativity
- Discovery of hidden gifts and talents
- Deepened understanding of your passions and ultimate life purpose
- Improved physical and mental health
- More courage to face the unknown and truly live life
- Access to your Soul or Higher Self
- A feeling of Wholeness
- It’s important to remember that there are no quick fixes in Shadow Work, so these life-changing benefits don’t just happen overnight. But with persistence, they will eventually emerge and bless your life.
Seven Tips For Approaching Shadow Work
Before you begin Shadow Work, it’s important for you to assess whether you’re ready to embark on this journey. Not everyone is prepared for this deep work, and that’s fine. We’re all at different stages. So pay attention to the following questions and try to answer them honestly:
Have you practiced self-love yet? If not, Shadow Work will be too overwhelming for you. If you struggle with severely low self-esteem, I do not encourage you to try Shadow Work. In fact, I warn against it. Why? If you struggle with extremely poor self-worth, exploring your Shadows will likely make you feel ten times worse about yourself. Before you walk this path, you absolutely must establish a strong and healthy self-image. No, you don’t have to think you’re God’s gift to the world, but having average self-worth is important. Try taking this self-esteem test to explore whether you’re ready (but first, don’t forget to finish this article!).
Are you prepared to make time? Shadow Work is not a lukewarm practice. You are either all in or all out. Yes, it is important to take a break from it time to time. But Shadow Work requires dedication, self-discipline, and persistence. Are you willing to intentionally carve out time each day to dedicate to it? Even just ten minutes a day is a good start.
Are you looking to be validated or to find the truth? As you probably know by now, Shadow Work isn’t about making you feel special. It isn’t like typical spiritual paths which are focused on the feel-good. No, Shadow Work can be brutal and extremely be confronting. This is a path for truth seekers, not those who are seeking to be validated.
Seek to enter a calm and neutral space. It is important to try and relax when doing Shadow Work. Stress and judgmental or critical attitudes will inhibit the process. So please try to incorporate a calming meditation or mindfulness technique into whatever you do.
Understand that you are not your thoughts. It is essential for you to realize that you are not your thoughts on Shadow Work to be healing and liberating. Only from your calm and quiet Center (also known as your Soul) can you truly be aware of your Shadow aspects. By holding them in awareness, you will see them clearly for what they are, and realize that they ultimately don’t define you; they are simply rising and falling mental phenomena.
Practice self-compassion. It is of paramount importance to incorporate compassion and self-acceptance into your Shadow Work practice. Without showing love and understanding to yourself, it is easy for Shadow Work to backfire and make you feel terrible. So focus on generating self-love and compassion, and you will be able to release any shame and embrace your humanity.
Record everything you find. Keep a written journal or personal diary in which you write down, or draw, your discoveries. Recording your dreams, observations, and analysis will help you to learn and grow more effectively. You’ll also be able to keep track of your process and make important connections.
How to Practice Shadow Work
There are many Shadow Work techniques and practices out there. In this guide, I will provide a few to help you start off. I’ll also share a few examples from my own life:
1. Pay attention to your emotional reactions
In this practice, you’ll learn that what you give power to has power over you. Let me explain:
One Shadow Work practice I enjoy a great deal is paying attention to everything that shocks, disturbs, and secretly thrills me. Essentially, this practice is about finding out what I’ve given the power to in my life unconsciously, because:
what we place importance in – whether good or bad – says a lot about us.
The reality is that what we react to, or what makes us angry and distressed, reveals extremely important information to us about ourselves.
For example, by following where my “demons” have taken me – whether in social media, family circles, workspaces and public places – I have discovered two important things about myself. The first one is that I’m a control freak; I hate feeling vulnerable, powerless and weak . . . it quite simply scares the living hell out of me. How did I discover this? Through my intense dislike of witnessing rape scenes in movies and TV shows, my negative reaction to novel experiences (e.g. roller coaster rides, public speaking, etc.), as well as my discomfort surrounding sharing information about my life with others in conversations. Also, by following where my “demons” have guided me I’ve discovered that I’m being burdened by an exasperating guilt complex that I developed through my religious upbringing. A part of me wants to feel unworthy because that is what I’ve developed a habit of feeling since childhood (e.g. “You’re a sinner,” “It’s your fault Jesus was crucified”), and therefore, that is what I secretly feel comfortable with feeling: unworthy. So my mind nit-picks anything I might have done “wrong,” and I’m left with the feeling of being “bad” – which I’m used to, but nevertheless, this is destructive for my well-being.
Thanks to this practice, I have welcomed more compassion, mindfulness, and forgiveness into my life.
Paying attention to your emotional reactions can help you to discover exactly how your core wounds are affecting you on a daily basis.
How to Pay Attention to Your Emotional Reactions
To effectively pay attention to your emotional reactions (I call it “following the trail of your inner demons”), you first need to cultivate:
Without being conscious of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling and saying, you won’t progress very far.
If, however, you are fairly certain that you’re self-aware (or enough to start the process), you will then need to:
- Adopt an open mindset
You will need to have the courage and willingness to observe EVERYTHING uncomfortable you place importance in, and ask “why?” What do I mean by the phrase “placing importance in”? By this, I mean that, whatever riles, shocks, infuriates, disturbs and terrifies you, you must pay attention to. Closely.
Likely, you will discover patterns constantly emerging in your life. For example, you might be outraged or embarrassed every time sex appears in a TV show or movie you like (possibly revealing sexual repression or mistaken beliefs about sex that you’ve adopted throughout life). Or you might be terrified of seeing death or dead people (possibly revealing your resistance to the nature of life or a childhood trauma). Or you might be disgusted by alternative political, sexual and spiritual lifestyles (possibly revealing your hidden desire to do the same).
There are so many possibilities out there, and I encourage you to go slowly, take your time, and one by one pick through what you place importance in.
“But I DON’T place importance in gross, bad or disturbing things in life, how could I? I don’t care for them!” you might be asking.
Well, think for a moment. If you didn’t place so much importance on what makes you angry, disgusted or upset . . . why would you be reacting to it so much? The moment you emotionally react to something is the moment you have given that thing power over you. Only that which doesn’t stir up emotions in us is not important to us.
See what you respond to and listen to what your Shadow is trying to teach you.
2. Artistically Express Your Shadow Self
Art is the highest form of self-expression and is also a great way to allow your Shadow to manifest itself. Psychologists often use art therapy as a way to help patients explore their inner selves.
Start by allowing yourself to feel (or drawing on any existing) dark emotions. Choose an art medium that calls to you such as pen and pencil, watercolor, crayon, acrylic paint, scrapbooking, sculpting, etc. and draw what you feel. You don’t need to consider yourself an ‘artist’ to benefit from this activity. You don’t even need to plan what you’ll create. Just let your hands, pen, pencil, or paintbrush do the talking. The more spontaneous, the better. Artistic expression can reveal a lot about your obscure darker half. Psychologist Carl Jung (who conceptualized the Shadow Self idea) was even famous for using mandalas in his therapy sessions.
3. Start a Project
The act of creation can be intensely frustrating and can give birth to some of your darker elements such as impatience, anger, blood-thirsty competitiveness, and self-doubt. At the same time, starting a project also allows you to experience feelings of fulfillment and joy.
If you don’t already have a personal project that you’re undertaking (such as building something, writing a book, composing music, mastering a new skill), find something you would love to start doing. Using self-awareness and self-exploration during the process of creation, you will be able to reap deeper insights into your darkness. Ask yourself constantly, “What am I feeling and why?” Notice the strong emotions that arise during the act of creation, both good and bad. You will likely be surprised by what you find!
For example, as a person who considers myself non-competitive, that assumption has been challenged by the act of writing this blog. Thanks to this project, the Shadow within me of ruthless competitiveness has shown its face, allowing me to understand myself more deeply.
4. Write a Story or Keep a Shadow Journal
Goethe’s story Faust is, in my opinion, one of the best works featuring the meeting of an ego and his Shadow Self. His story details the life of a Professor who becomes so separated and overwhelmed by his Shadow that he comes to the verge of suicide, only to realize that the redemption of the ego is solely possible if the Shadow is redeemed at the same time.
Write a story where you project your Shadow elements onto the characters – this is a great way to learn more about your inner darkness. If stories aren’t your thing, keeping a journal or diary every day can shine a light on the darker elements of your nature. Reading through your dark thoughts and emotions can help you to recover the balance you need in life by accepting both light and dark emotions within you.
5. Explore Your Shadow Archetypes
We have a number of Shadow varieties, also called Shadow Archetypes. These archetypes are sometimes defined as:
- The Sorcerer
- The Dictator
- The Victim
- The Shadow Witch
- The Addict
- The Idiot
- The Trickster
- The Destroyer
- The Slave
- The Shadow Mother
- The Hag
- The Hermit
However, I have my own Shadow Archetype classification, which I will include below.
13 Shadow Archetypes
Here are my thirteen classifications which are based on my own self-observations and analysis of others:
1. The Egotistical Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: arrogance, egocentricity, pompousness, inconsiderateness, self-indulgence, narcissism, excessive pride.
2. The Neurotic Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: paranoia, obsessiveness, suspiciousness, finicky, demanding, compulsive behavior.
3. The Untrustworthy Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: secretive, impulsive, frivolous, irresponsible, deceitful, unreliable.
4. The Emotionally Unstable Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: moody, melodramatic, weepy, overemotional, impulsive, changeable.
5. The Controlling Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: suspicious, jealous, possessive, bossy, obsessive.
6. The Cynical Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: negative, overcritical, patronizing, resentful, cantankerous.
7. The Wrathful Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: ruthless, vengeful, bitchy, quick-tempered, quarrelsome.
8. The Rigid Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: uptight, intolerant, obstinate, uncompromising, inflexible, narrow-minded.
9. The Glib Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: superficial, cunning, inconsistent, sly, crafty.
10. The Cold Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: emotionally detached, distant, indifferent, uncaring, unexcited.
11. The Highly-Strung Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: touchy, nervous, reactive, tense, overemotional, hypersensitive.
12. The Cowardly Shadow
This Shadow Archetype displays the following characteristics: weak-willed, passive, timid, fearful.