What is shadow work and why the hell should I care?
This, along with reparenting, is pretty new to my lexicon.
It’s all part of healing. Getting to the roots of our baggage. Moving forward in life despite it all. And this pays off in improvements to our self-esteem, relationships, finances, LIFE.
You know that feeling that you’re just playing at being an adult? It’s because really most of us are just children running around in adult bodies. We’re reacting and behaving instinctively and not in a particularly conscious way. These deep beliefs and instincts sprung up in childhood and are often based on something that might seem really trivial, once you trace it back to its origin. Often, they actually wind up sabotaging us.
Until we wake up to this, we go around operating from/focusing on our conscious awareness, and that’s only part of the picture.
Shadow work: a definition
We all have flaws. There are parts of ourselves we don’t like. Some we don’t even acknowledge.
Psychologist Carl Jung conceptualized our disowned parts, our ‘dark side’ and repressed desires as ‘the shadow’.
Unfortunately, many of us do not know what is in our shadow — and these disowned parts may still be driving the show in creating our reality.
Shadow work is about bringing those out into the open. Facing them. Accepting them. Uniting with them. Becoming your full, whole, true self.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a strong sense of self. It’s a product of various things, but the main two in my upbringing were:
- my parents and how they held their own perceptions/projections of who I was
- moving countries and feeling totally adrift, then trying to desperately fit in
Facing your demons isn’t for the faint of heart. You may not be ready yet. I know I wasn’t, 10 years ago. Not even 5, or 3.
Anyway, that’s all really fluffy sounding shit. What, exactly, does this process involve?
Broadly, it starts with awareness. Then this allows you to start observing yourself in the moment. And eventually you’re able to choose a different path, a different thought, a different action. You’re taking control and acting consciously.
In bringing in our shadow, we shine light on it and diminish its power over us. We learn to coexist with it and to gain control over it.
Once you’ve got the awareness, then you can start to take action in the real world with tangible results.
How I’ve been doing shadow work
You guessed it. Writing. Journalling about things like:
- Some of the things I believe
- Why I have those beliefs
- What results that’s gotten me
- What other beliefs I could adopt
- What emotions I was discouraged from expressing
- What common excuses I use
- How I sabotage myself
- How I judge others
(Go read and work through the exercises, especially Deepest Fear Inventory, in Existential Kink by Dr Carolyn Elliott. It’s the single best accessible, relatable, plain English resource/explainer on shadow work I’ve come across yet.)
That’s where the awareness begins. Then it’s about applying awareness in real life situations.
In a challenging or confronting moment, pause and breathe. What emotions are coming up? I try to walk toward the feelings. Acknowledge them. Name the sensations.
For example: Spud is screaming in the middle of the night. I’m feeling ragey. I need sleep! Guilt. Was it the ice cream he begged for this afternoon – was that too much dairy for his system? Oh my god, why haven’t I learned? Worry. Can the neighbours hear and what will they think?! Empathy. Poor thing. He must be having a horrible time right now.
I’m feeling hot, throbby, and having flashbacks to previous nights when he was younger and screamed his way through countless night wakings.
Another example: Someone’s come to me with an inquiry about a project and I’m not sure how to charge. I’m feeling uncertain. Anxious. How can I scope this out?! It’s gonna take so much time – I’m already so busy! How can I make sure I make it worth my time? Will I scare them away? What’s the right answer here?
I’m feeling panicky, with all those imposter syndrome vibes rushing up, my old beliefs that I need to work hard for money, that I’m not worthy of charging high rates (anchored in my old career and in early experiences knowing my parents’ hourly rates) and general scarcity mindset.
Then I decide what to do, from a deliberate and unrushed place.
There’s not much to be done with a screaming Spud. Hold him if he wants. Lie down with him, if he will. Offer milk, and add a few gas drops to it if he wants some. Refrain from self-blame.
I think about what I feel is a fair project fee. I might Google to get an idea of what others charge for this kind of work, and what tiers there are. I take the time to thoroughly review the material, if applicable, and might spend a few minutes working up a sample for myself to get a feel for how long it would realistically take.
I contemplate the true worth of the project. It may not be hugely profitable for the client – but that’s not the goal. The aim of this piece of work is to help them convert more clients as a result, to establish their expertise through valuable content. I think about all the other clients I’ve already helped and how they raved about the end product. I encourage myself to raise that number a bit from my original estimate.
I’m a calmer, steadier parent, no longer sending off vibes of panic, guilt, and stress. Better for me, better for Spud.
I’m quoting from a place of confidence and wholeness, trusting myself as an expert. Showing up with a different energy. I’m okay with hearing no; I’m not desperate for this. I remind myself that I don’t want to wind up resentful for quoting too low. My rate needs to be one that I’m happy to work for. I’m even making more than I ever have before. I’m enjoying it more, and honestly, I think I’m doing better work because of that! What a result.
For me, the core of it boils down to: respond, don’t react.
Acknowledge memories it’s brought up. Question the story I’m telling myself. Is this true? Be kinder to myself; start with empathy not shame, and extend the same to others. It’s a new and gentler, more conscious approach to everything in life. I’m liking the results, and the more I do it, the better it gets.
Huh. I’ve learned something new today, I never knew what shadow work was.
I agree with the tendency of parents projecting their ideas of an ideal self onto their children. It does more harm than good because most parents really don’t know what they’re even looking for!
I’m glad you’re taking steps to journaling. Letting all your thoughts and emotions out there should tremendously help.
This is so good for us! I have to really lean hard on the reminders to myself to respond instead of reacting in those tougher moments. And there are definitely times I’m still unable to do that, especially under stress, but external reminders help.