An Intro to Shadow Work

Spirituality and witchcraft have recently become social media trends, especially on platforms such as TikTok. Unfortunately, many people have begun treating these practices as “aesthetics,” and their values are becoming undermined by superficiality. 

For example, these communities are typically associated with crystals, astrology, and the chakras; however, at their roots, spirituality and witchcraft are devoted to emotional healing and the journey to becoming your highest self. Although crystals and astrology are amazing aids in this journey of personal understanding, they need to be accompanied by more difficult forms of self care in order for their benefits to be fully realized.

An integral aspect of this personal journey is known as shadow work. This name stems from the concept of the shadow self, originally coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. This concept is used to define the dark parts of the subconscious, including negative behavior patterns, anxieties, and self esteem issues. For me (and many others), these are the aspects of my life that I’ve tried to repress, ignore, and downplay because I thought it would bring me closer to true happiness.

After learning about shadow work, I began to understand that the key to finding happiness and self fulfillment isn’t to focus only on the positive aspects of your life and yourself. Instead, integrating both the positive and negative aspects of your personality in your self image can allow you to gain a more complete understanding of who you really are and how to be the best version of yourself.

Coming to terms with the existence of your shadow self can be emotionally draining and extremely daunting, but its rewards are priceless. Because we often work so hard to avoid thinking about the parts of ourselves we dislike, it can become difficult to even recognize the inner healing which needs to take place.

Luckily, shadow work can be done in many ways and adapted for different individuals. For example, journaling and therapy are two of the most popular forms of shadow work.

Journaling as shadow work can differ from typical journaling; rather than writing about whatever you’re feeling at a certain time, there are specific shadow work prompts that encourage you to think deeply about aspects of your life you may typically ignore. Such prompts may help you uncover repressed feelings or trauma, discover the origin of a certain toxic behavior, or even gain insight into your fears and anxieties.

Similar discoveries can be achieved through therapy, which is why therapy can also be classified as a form of shadow work. In fact, therapy, as a practice, encourages us to confront the uncomfortable aspects of our lives and emotions—which also happens to be the main goal of shadow work.

Some people may feel overwhelmed when beginning their shadow work journey, especially if they’re doing so on their own. Therefore, therapy provides an extremely beneficial alternative, which allows the experience to be just as personal, but potentially less intimidating.

By allowing us to directly connect with the experiences which have caused us to develop fears, behaviors, and coping mechanisms, shadow work truly acts as an outlet for complex self–understanding. Many people go through their lives accepting the negative aspects of their identities as unchangeable or ignorable. However, this is simply another coping mechanism that allows us to distance ourselves from our reality and remove personal responsibility for our thoughts and behaviors.

Shadow work allows us to not only understand why we think and behave the way we do, but also teaches us how to work with these parts of ourselves in order to grow. For example, discovering the origin of a fear or unhealthy behavior can push us to heal the pain that caused it to develop, and allow us to think or behave differently in the future.

By breaking this cycle of toxic thinking and actions, shadow work can help free us from our shadow selves; instead it encourages us to use the negative parts of ourselves as tools for growth.