I’ve been finding myself talking about ‘shadow work’ a lot recently. But what does it really mean?
The shadow self is a psychological term originally coined by Carl Jung. It refers to the darker aspect of our subconscious, our ‘demons’ if you like. It is the reactive, egotistical part of our personalities. The parts we often push down because we don’t feel we can express them and still be all ‘love and light’ and shit.
Our shadow selves are responsible for feelings such as self loathing, jealousy, shame, low self esteem, weakness etc. It is the nasty voice in the back of your mind telling you you’re not worthy or that you don’t deserve joy and success. Many of us keep those feelings locked away because it is not seen as acceptable in our society to express them. Take jealousy for example:
Envy is a natural human emotion, seeing what someone else has and wanting some of that for ourselves can be a positive driving force. Jealousy could be used to describe the same feeling. However, it is often used to describe the negative aspects and responses to wanting what someone else has got and how we set about it. Jealous behaviour occurs because we can’t or won’t express that in a healthy way. It can come out as manipulation, unhelpful criticism and even sabotage (low vibe, basic bitch behaviour). How many times have you heard or said “they are just jealous”. Rather than expressing our envy, we engage in low vibe, toxic behaviours in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. This is your shadow self coming out. Taking control or escaping for a moment.
By engaging in shadow work, we strive to shine a light on where and why these feelings and behaviours exist. Perhaps a learnt behaviour pattern that once served in protecting you. Personally, I used to struggle with reactivity and anger. I couldn’t express anger with my abusers or situation because it wasn’t safe to do so. So I pushed it down, told myself it was fine ( I now dispise the word ‘fine’), or my own fault because I was worthless. Even after I escaped those situations, I would be triggered by unrelated things and react with anger that was definately excessive to the situation (cringe). This was my shadow self trying to protect me. It is often tied to our fight or flight instinct. The only time we let it out or justify such toxic behaviour.
Your shadow self is part of you. It is your shadow. The more you push it away and refuse to engage with the emotions it is responsible for, the more likely it is to bust out in weird and unrelated ways. Remember vulnerability is strength not weakness. So often, we fight to hide our fears and vulnerability we become defensive. This is your shadow self trying to protect itself.
Shadow work is about giving yourself time and space to engage with and understand your shadow self. To sit with them and ask “where does this pattern come from?” “does it serve my goals and morals to react this way?” once you have an understanding of these things, you can work towards embracing it. Your shadow self exists to protect you. Feelings are messages from your soul. This includes all the feelings we see as negative and try to repress. They exist for a reason. By embracing and learning to love your shadow self it becomes lighter, closer to your true self.
Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. –Carl Jung
By allowing yourself to explore and express these ‘negative’ emotions and behaviours, you are telling your deepest darkest selves that it is OK, that you can handle these situations with honesty. I’ve written before about ‘honouring your emotions‘ and the importance of doing so. This aids us in pulling down the barriers between shadow self and true self. It sends the message to your subconscious that all parts of you are valid and loved (because they are and should be God’s damn it!).
Our shadow selves are also responsible to whole host of positive things too. We are led to believe that light is good and dark is bad but without one you cannot have the other. As a witch, I know that in order to reborn, we must die (you can read more about the life, death, rebirth cycle here) . In order to live our ‘best life’, be our most true, whole selves, we must embrace and love all aspects.
The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, “divine.”Carl Jung
Our secret ambitions are held by our shadow selves, they are our instincts personified, they only become a problem when we shun them; for whatever reason, be it societal norms, trauma patterns, giving a fuck about what others think. I’m not saying give over to them completely but shadow work allows us to listen to them with an open heart and decide how to express them with conscious thought.
Practicing Shadow Work
So we’ve identified what the shadow self is and why we should work with it but how?
Firstly, if you have some really heavy stuff lurking in there, it is worth considering the help of a professional to guide you through it. I’m a witch, not a certified therapist or psychologist. Understanding how our patterns came about isn’t always easy to identify and if you are scared (rightly so) to open that door alone then don’t do it alone.
That being said, here are some things I know others and myself find helpful:
- Journaling– writing down your thoughts and feelings is a great way to get out of your head. Find time and space where you won’t be distracted and ask yourself the important questions. Write down any times you feel you have let your shadow self to ‘take the reigns’ and reflect on that how did it pan out? How did you feel afterwards? How would you like to react in future?
- Meditating- meditation allows us to really engage with our subconscious selves. By giving our bodies and minds a chance to relax, we enable them to be more perceptive to affirmations such as ‘I am worthy of success’ ‘my feelings are mine and they are valid’. It also allows space for any important messages to come through.
- Practicing forgiveness– forgiving those who have wronged us allows us to let go of all that hurt we hold onto. Practicing forgiveness for ourselves not our abusers (they don’t even need to know they are forgiven) tells our shadow selves they can let go, that our survival patterns are no longer necessary. I like to do this by writing a letter to people I want to forgive. Explaining the ways I understand their behaviour and why I want to forgive them. Then I burn it, or release it into open water.
- Dreamwork– keeping a dream journal is an excellent way to listen to uour subconscious. Take a few moments to meditate and think about the questions you’d like to ask and what you want to tell yourself. Write them down and in the morning write down your dreams. There are meditative and dream ‘journeys’ you can take yourself on. (I’ll add some to the spellcraft section) Herbs such as Mugwort are amazing at enhancing dreamwork, you can brew a tea or nibble on a little before sleep.
- Divination– scrying, tarot cards and runes are particularly effective forms of divination when working with your shadow self. Asking questions such as “how do I release feelings of…?” “where should I be focusing my energies” or even “how do I move forward with… ” will give insightful ancestors. Take notes so you can reflect over the next few days as you begin to make the changes required
- Practicing self care – this is a big one. If you are going to engage fully with shadow work, it is imperitive that you have cleared space to do so. It’s often an uncomfortable and lengthy process. Surround yourself with those who support that process. Make time and space to heal yourself, take long baths and longer walks, practice grounding, smudge yourself often. Balance it with things that bring you comfort and joy. Don’t be surprised if others don’t understand and are critical, that’s their shadow self coming out, it is your journey not theirs. Hopefully seeing how you benefit from it later will encourage them to do the same. If not. Fuck em. You’re growing and evolving.
- Spellcraft- cast a circle of protection, perform your rituals and ask your deities (Hecate would be a good choice), spirits and ancestors to assist you in communicating with your shadow self and embrace it. There are a few ways of doing this. Some require more experience than others. I’ll add them to the spellcraft section ASAP.
However you decide to carry out your shadow work. Know that is a journey and like any journey there will be highs and lows. Rest assured that when you come out of the otherside you will have a stronger sense of self, better coping mechanisms, you will have levelled up. The aim is to recognise that your shadow self is a valid part of you. It deserves love, acceptance and to be heard. They aim is not to banish it, disconnect with it or overcome it. Just as the couldron is necessary to the life,death, rebirth cycle; so to is the shadow aspect of our personalities.
Be brave, my darlings. The universe rewards bravery.
Blessings on your journey, peace out witches ✌️