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Mental Health

Shadow Work: What is it and How Do You Start?

What do you think of when you hear the word “shadow?” Most probably associate shadows with scary movies or Peter Pan, but did you know that focusing on your shadowy appearance may actually promote positivity and self-growth? 

Figuratively, our “shadow” is the part of ourselves that we hide from others due to fear and shame. The concept of the shadow is that we subconsciously bury the undesirable pieces of our personality we believe society will not welcome, in turn, keeping part of ourselves in the shadows and out of our light of consciousness. These unwanted pieces of ourselves that we push into our shadow may be a number of things, such as past hardships, mental illnesses, and addictions.  

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Western civilization was first introduced to the idea of “shadow selves” by psychologist Carl Jung in the 20th century. Jung described the shadow as a side of our personality that our ego does not align with. Although the shadow operates entirely in our subconscious, don’t be fooled, because it can still have a dramatic effect on our outward persona. Despite our negative traits being hidden, the shadow still may become triggered from deep within us, allowing us to be hurt by someone else’s words or actions and consequently experience insecurity and tension. 

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Since Jung, many other psychologists have studied the shadow persona, and there is even plenty of literature surrounding the idea. Recently, much of the information that is shared about our shadow selves is in regard to shadow work. 

Shadow work is the process by which we recognize all the negative aspects of our shadow. It was Jung's belief that if you do not embrace the entirety of your being, you will not live a full life. An unaddressed shadow is susceptible to limiting beliefs, which can often lead to self-sabotage, destructive behavior, and ruined relationships. 

There are many benefits to shadow work, such as reaching a higher level of intuition, being freed from your suppressed self, and becoming more fulfilled. 

So, how do you actually start doing shadow work? 

According to spirituality writer Sarah Regen, shadow work is typically done with the “Socratic approach,” which weaves questions with self exploration. In order to use this approach, one can do many things, including speaking to a mental health professional, reevaluating past stories that are at the core of beliefs we hold about ourselves, or even by using a shadow work journal. There are an abundance of these journals that can be purchased online, but if you have an old notebook hanging around, you can actually make one of your own!

With a simple Google search you can find dozens of shadow work prompts, some examples being “What emotion do I try to avoid,” “Do I hold grudges against someone in my life” and “What is a promise to myself that I have broken or continue to break.” By asking questions like the ones listed, we can examine the parts of ourselves that we are unfamiliar with. This will, in turn, improve our relationship with ourselves and eventually others as well. 

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Shadow work is a long process of self evaluation and enlightenment. It is only human nature to shy away from past experiences that have made us uncomfortable or ashamed, so tackling our shadows is quite a feat. Don’t fret though, because like any path towards self-actualization, it is feasible and totally worth it. 

Grace Poster is a senior International Business major at Hofstra University. She aspires to one day work for one of her favorite fashion labels (yes, very Rachel Green-esque). When not writing for Her Campus, she can be found sipping a chai latte, enjoying the sun at a local beach, or online shopping, most likely all at once.
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