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What is shadow work? And why does it matter?

It always amazes me that we can be so willing and courageous when it comes to facing major fears in our lives and careers - taking big risks, making strident moves, and aiming for glass ceilings.

And yet, we can be so keenly resistant when it comes to simply acknowledging and accepting the shadow parts of ourselves.

I say this without judgement, of course. I experienced plenty of this resistance within myself, and still do at times.

What is the 'shadow self'?

All of us, without exception, have parts of ourselves that we aren't proud of and struggle to accept. We all have aspects within ourselves that we prefer to ignore or hide, and at times go to great lengths to try to disconnect from. And parts of ourselves that are more easily triggered.

But as much as we try to bury or get rid of them, these parts do not go away. They remain right there, tugging away with self-sabotage, fear and other unsupportive patterns. And the longer we spend trying to shut them off, the louder and more persistent they can become.

The concept of the 'shadow' was first identified by the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung (one of the key influencers of my work). He recognised the importance of acknowledging and integrating this layer of the unconscious, to better understand ourselves and the patterns underlying the challenges we experience.

Accepting our shadow parts

While this may seem counterintuitive, it is this very side of you that needs your recognition and acceptance most of all. As Jung taught, a person cannot truly feel accepted unless the very worst in themselves is accepted.

Until the shadow self receives this recognition and support from within, it will continue to drive you to seek acceptance and recognition from outside of yourself. And it will continue to tug at you, inviting you to shine a light on what wants to be seen and heard within you.

The shadow is often spoken of as a "dark" side, but I always like to remind people that a shadow is only ever formed when something is blocking light. So, far from being something to fear or shun, our shadow is simply blocked and misunderstood parts of us seeking to reveal what needs to be brought back to light.

"We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses." ~ Carl Jung

From my own experience, I completely understand that the fear of embracing this shadow is very real. We’re socially conditioned to shun the "worst" of ourselves and to focus on embellishing the parts we’re proud of. And it’s vital to acknowledge that many of us carry deep trauma that can be painful to even consider facing.

How shadow work helps

Yes, it can be very uncomfortable to start digging into these parts of ourselves. But the discomfort of shadow work is well worth it.

Integrating, accepting and working with all parts of who we are - the good, as well as what we’d consider to be “bad” and “ugly” - is what brings us to true wholeness and self-actualisation.

After all, how can we foster self-love and self-esteem if we do not have, at their basis, a true acceptance for all that we are?

Embracing our shadow opens us up to a deeper understanding and compassion for our behaviour, habits, feelings, ways of thinking, and the parts of ourselves we've sought to disconnect from.

And it’s in working with the shadow that we experience the greatest growth and up-levelling. It's in reaching into these parts of our authenticity that we can experience our most impactful breakthroughs and unfold into more of our true potential.

P.s. If this resonates with you, shadow work is a key tool I use to help you better understand and work with your emotions. Find out more here.

Disclaimer: The information in this post, and all of my other blog posts, is provided for general information purposes only.


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