Shadow Work: Meaning, Examples, Dangers
Is shadow work dangerous?
Here, we discuss the importance of shadow work, what it is, how to start, and how it may benefit your mental health. Shadow work isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re interested in living a more holistic and authentic life, it’s time to explore your shadow.
What Is Shadow Work?
Everyone has a dark side, self-defeating behaviors and ticks, and shadow work is the process in which we explore those aspects of ourselves and embrace them to transform that energy. Working with our shadow side means diving into the depths of our unconscious and acknowledging parts of us that we’d rather hide or repress.
“Shadow work is at best an alchemical process, working to transform your hidden shame and sorrow into healthy pride and joy,” says Lauren McBride, astrologer and intuitive card reader. By interacting with these themes and patterns, we develop a stronger understanding of their origin, and through that process, they can lose their hold and power over us.
“Shadow work is a decision—a decision to lovingly commit to yourself, to truly see yourself (flaws and all) while showing all iterations and versions of yourself compassion,” says Rhi Emily, mentor and founder of Raising a Mumma. “[It’s your opportunity] to choose expansion no matter your origin story. To heal wounds—inflicted and inherited.”
Engaging in this type of work isn’t easy and the path is full of discomfort. When you commit to exploring your shadow, you are also committing to choosing yourself, Rhi Emily adds, as well as “your future and claiming your innate worth and personal power.”
Is Shadow Work Dangerous?
Shadow work is not dangerous. Engaging in this type of self-awareness and reflection is an act of bravery. It is staking a claim in the Universe and showing up for yourself wholly and completely and, in turn, those you love most in your life.
“If you think that shining a light on your shadow side is dangerous, then it might be more dangerous for you not to do shadow work,” McBride says with a laugh. If you are concerned about unearthing some of your shadow, working with a trained therapist or trauma-informed coach, who can provide you support and guidance along the way, is a good option.
“Uncomfortable, yes, dangerous, no,” Rhi Emily adds. “If living a life of peace, sovereignty and personal alignment presents challenges, I’ll take the risk.”
The benefits of exposing your shadow sides and behaviors generally outweigh any risks. This is an opportunity to take back the steering wheel and take charge of your life. You are not bound by past versions of yourself or experiences you may have had, you get to be in control of your life and pursue your heart’s wildest desires.
A major benefit of beginning the journey of diving into your shadow work is that it can leave you feeling more full, whole, and fulfilled. Through the process, you may heal generational patterns, limiting beliefs, and the shadows that have been pulling you back into the darkness and holding you back. You begin to prioritize your needs and care and, in turn, begin living a life of alignment, expansion and possibility. Integrating your darkness and trauma is an uncomfortable process, but the results are more than worth it.
A wonderful place to start is by building a picture of your dream life. Journal about the life you want to be living. What does it feel like? How does it look? Who are you surrounded by? Get granular and detailed. What are you wearing? What does your morning routine look like?
Once you’ve created this vision, embody the feeling of what it’s like to operate from that space. Now, ask yourself, what’s holding you back? What patterns or behaviors do you have right now that you can release or shift that would get you closer to your dream? Do it. Take action. Even if it’s a small step, that’s a small step closer in the right direction.
Another wonderful way to explore your shadow is through EFT tapping, the process of tapping through acupressure points and talking through an issue. This process is scientifically proven to reduce stress in the body. Many practitioners believe it can restore energetic alignment within the body and rewire the brain’s association with a specific issue. If you’re new to the tapping world and not sure where to get started, EFT tapping queen Gala Darling offers a weekly container for group tapping sessions with her High Vibe Honey.
How to start shadow work?
A simple way to start shadow work is by listing out things that feed your soul vs. people, things, places that leave you feeling exhausted. When you have your list of stressors and energetic vampires in your life, it’s time to get started. “Think about the most irritating behavior or trait you see in others, something you absolutely despise,” McBride says. “What is your relationship to these behaviors you hate so much? Start there.”
Your willingness to commit is really the first step. “Shadow work starts with radical self-awareness,” Rhi Emily share. “[It’s] an awareness of an aspirational place or space that you want to be, and recognizing the limiting beliefs, generational patterns or inherited narratives keeping you from achieving it.” Once you’re able to identify what needs shifting, you’re ready to dive in. Naming the shadows aloud and exposing them is another great way to get started, as they will lose their power. All shadow expressions also have positive expressions, as well. Try exploring the possible upside of the shadows that live within you.
What is a shadow self?
A shadow self encompasses all parts of your personality and identity that you don’t want to identify with and admit to having. It’s the parts of ourselves that bring up feelings of guilt, shame, anger and jealousy. It can often stem from our childhood and things that we were told to stop doing or asked to quiet or repress. These facets of our identity are still living within us.
How do you control your shadow?
You may think, great—I can name all of the parts of myself that I don’t like, and all I’ve got to do now is learn to control them. Not so simple.
It’s not as much about controlling your shadow, but rather allowing it to exist. Surrender to what comes up and what you’re feeling. Acknowledge it, embody it, journal about it. Don’t blame or shame whatever comes up. Learning to recognize your triggers and becoming more familiar with these patterns and energy will help you navigate it in the future. Allowing yourself to sit in reflection and explore the path of your shadow is incredibly powerful and transformative all in itself.