Why working with our shadows can help us understand ourselves.

When I started (consciously) working on self improvement and development, I read a lot of self-help books that spoke about positivity and positive thinking. To be honest, while I enjoyed it and it helped a lot (this work is NB so don’t not do it), it just didn’t 100 percent sit with me. It felt too unrealistic. But I continued trying to only see the good in myself and others. Fast forward years later and that niggling feeling just wouldn’t go away. That feeling like no matter what I did, it was just not working. That notion of taking ten steps forward and then getting pushed a hundred back. That irritation of “FFS, have I not worked through all this already?! Why won’t it just go away now?”

So I did what I normally do, which in this case, worked out pretty well. I got onto Google (can I just say how much I love Google. It has made my life so easy. It’s so convenient…not sure what headphones are the best to buy, just google. Not sure how to make a smoothie, just google. Want to get lost in a whole load of puppy feel good videos, just Pinterest. Oh, sorry got a bit sidetracked here).

I googled. And I read, and I still continue to do both. I subscribed to different blogs by people who seemed to be trying to figure out the same thing. Until eventually I read about shadow work and what it means.

“Our shadow” was termed by Carl Jung, and forms a part of Jungian psychology. It’s the unconscious parts of ourselves that we’re unaware of. And shadow work is about looking at your shadow, literally. You know that part of you that follows you wherever you go and you just tend to ignore it? Yes that part. It is about understanding and accepting those parts of ourselves that we don’t like much. We all have parts of our personalities we struggle with. One of mine? My short-temper. For years, I would try control it, embarrassed by how aggressive I could come across. Trying to bury it made it more infuriating, to the point where little unnecessary things would happen and it would cause a volcano moment.

After reading and working with my shadows, it helped me to be more accepting of who I am and helped me to give in. I’ve accepted that I am, at times, angry, or even bitter over some distant memory or even better still, frustrated that my life hasn’t quite turned out the way I planned (although I’m pretty sure my plans change annually). And before, I’d try do a couple of pick-me-ups, some gratitude writing or even blatantly ignoring how I felt. But you know what? This made me feel more tired. And then guilty for not feeling better or happier, or even grateful. So I just said, “Screw it. I’m just going to accept that I’m really angry because of xyz.” And then, once I stopped denying this part of me, I found it easier to work with. I found then that I was able to do the pick-me-ups and be genuinely grateful and optimistic with my life.

What isn’t shadow work? It isn’t accepting these sides of you and then using it as an excuse when you’ve done something…i.e. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to do this or say that, but it’s because I’m inherently an a**hole.” (Yes, I was told this once).
It is about accepting and acknowledging and then working with your shadows so that you can accept and love all of who you are. And if you love and accept yourself, chances of you being an unnecessary a**hole to others is less likely.

So, how do you do Shadow work? Well, you start by researching it and then trying different techniques. Journalling daily doesn’t work for me (Yes, okay I said it). I’ve been trying since I was at university and let’s just say, for now I have given up. I now use questions that prompt memories or emotions that I work with (let me not lie here…the work is hard and draining so remember to be gentle and kind to yourself). In trying to find ways that worked for me, I watched a couple of YouTube videos and found this one, by Christina Lopes, that provided good tips and an explanation on shadow work that was clear and easy to understand. (https://christina-lopes.com/videos/heal-yourself-others/what-is-shadow-work/). Once you’ve understood what it is and ways to work with it, the next step is about figuring out a way to fit the work into your life because it’s ongoing and lifelong. I’ve started with scheduling a bi-monthly one hour to myself to work on prompt questions that I found on Pinterest and by reading an article that makes suggestions. If this doesn’t work, I’ll adapt and amend as I go along because it has helped me; and if you start doing this work, let me know how it’s helped you.

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