Carl Jung’s Shadow work provides an in-depth insight into the psyche and its components. It offers healing, coping mechanisms and helps with self-realization, which in my opinion, is the highest goal of human life.
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole.”C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul
This shadow work guide explains the concept of shadow and how to integrate with the dark side of your personality, also referred to as individuation. It furthers our endeavor to realize our creative potential and catalyze personal growth.
I have been on the spiritual path for quite a few years, and one of the most disturbing things I notice is that many spiritual teachers, or so-called gurus, are entirely out of sync in their speech and actions.
While they strongly talk about love, light, equanimity, compassion, empathy, and enlightenment, their actions indicate the opposite. They teach how to subdue the ego but themselves develop a spiritual ego that is much more terrifying.
When you meet these people in real life, you realize that they are highly selfish and predatory. There’s a part of their personality they have not figured out.
They talk about reaching the higher self, knowing the truth, cultivating loving-kindness, developing compassion and empathy, but none of their actions indicate they’re practicing what they preach.
There have been cases where some of these spiritual gurus have formed cult-like organizations to carry out their sinister agendas in the name of spiritual development.
Many of these gurus’ gullible followers readily undergo physical, sexual, and emotional abuse without realizing that they are being exploited and manipulated.
Even regular people behave that way. We think something, say something else, and do precisely the opposite of what we say we’ll do. There is a lack of coherence between our thoughts and actions.
There’s some aspect of us that eludes our conscious mind. The resulting behavior creates problems like severed relationships, trust issues, addictions, disobedience towards law, and other self-sabotaging behaviors.
The problem is that we are entirely unaware of why we behave in an unruly manner. We react hysterically to our triggers, only to regret later. It feels as if some demon overrides us at the moment, and we lose all rational thinking capacity.
No matter how much spiritual and personal development work we do, we’ll never be able to figure out who we are until we learn to acknowledge, accept, and integrate with that unknown and unpredictable side of our personality.
What is the Shadow?
We come into this world with extremely malleable minds. We discover our sense of self by interacting with the world, which includes: caregivers, teachers, friends, relatives, etc., and based on what we learn, we form core beliefs, opinions, and ideas.
We build perceptions of ourselves by internalizing the beliefs given to us by people around us. And as we grow into adults, our ego solidifies. We start defining ourselves by the views and ideologies we imbibe.
When challenged, we defend our beliefs aggressively. The whole idea is to “fit in” within the social structure and keep up the false image of ourselves we have created over the years. It is the result of years of conditioning. But is that who we are?
Not all beliefs are a part of conscious awareness. Some hide in the psyche’s deep recesses, where we don’t have direct access, but they have an overwhelming effect on our thoughts and behaviors.
This creates a great divide between what we believe ourselves to be and who we are. It acts as a filter for every piece of information that enters our conscious minds.
We allow only the information that conforms with our pre-existing beliefs. We develop liking and kindness towards certain things and create aversion and hatred for others.
However, things that we oppose form a part of our personality. To understand this concept in-depth, let’s look at the model of psyche proposed by the famous analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.
According to Jungian psychology, our psyche is divided into the following principle components.
The Conscious (or the Ego)
Our conscious awareness resides in this part of the psyche. It is where we experience thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and have memory access.
Through these experiences, we learn to make sense of things and create a link between the inner and outer worlds. However, this part of our psyche’s effect on us is insignificant compared to the other parts.
The Personal Unconscious
The personal unconscious is the part of the psyche hidden from our conscious awareness but forms the core of who we are. The elements within the personal unconscious were once a part of our conscious mind.
However, we pushed these elements away from our conscious awareness because we didn’t find them significant or too uncomfortable and traumatic to handle.
The personal unconscious is the dominant part of our psyche, and it is the reason for many of our unexplained behaviors and traits.
The Collective Unconscious
Carl Jung believed that humans are born with blueprints pre-existing in their psyche, and it’s the environment that brings out the corresponding elements. He emphasized that there exist archetypes within us that greatly influence our behavior and course in life. The shadow is one such archetype.
What I’m presenting here is a highly simplified view of the Jungian model of the psyche. There are other components like the self, anima and animus, complexes, and more. We’ll not touch upon these for now and keep our discussion limited to the shadow.
The Shadow And Its Effects On Our Behaviors
According to Carl Jung, the shadow archetype is heavily influenced by the collective unconscious. It consists of things we have repressed due to their afflicting nature or simply deem unimportant.
It contains traits that we dislike and don’t want to deal with. They are hate, anger, jealously, greed, secrets, envy, abuse, trauma, taboos, perversions, or anything that we perceive as shameful, evil, or unholy. Through repression, we push these afflicting traits into the unconscious that collectively forms the shadow.
The shadow is the dark side of ourselves that we have forgotten and disowned. Suppressing the shadow can result in severe consequences like addictions, low self-worth, anti-social behavior, sexual perversions, chronic illnesses, neurosis, and various psychological ailments.
The shadow impacts our lives in a myriad of unsuspecting ways. We see that even the most accomplished and successful people suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Despite having all the money, fame, and power, these people cannot achieve inner peace. It is evident that even the most successful businessmen, politicians, and celebrities, suffer from various psychological ailments despite having all the money and resources.
One of the effects of the shadow that I witness in some people is their unending desire to acquire money and power. There is an unquenchable thirst for achieving more than what they presently have.
They are continually chasing new opportunities that can make them more money or give them more power. Despite having every item of convenience at their disposal, they feel dissatisfied.
Another effect I see is people making poor financial decisions. They invest in shady deals, hoard unnecessary items, shop compulsively, buy more liabilities than assets, dine out at unreasonably expensive places, and much more. Overall, these people live much above their means.
There is an inner void or emptiness that these people try to cover up by acquiring material wealth in both cases. This void contains deep fears and insecurities that they are not consciously aware of.
There was a time when I desperately wanted to be successful as an entrepreneur. The need to prove myself was so great that I was ready to take any measure to achieve my goals. Never did I question – Why am I so desperate to prove myself.
Doing shadow work, I could see how this pattern of thinking emerged within me. When we are continuously shamed for failing on our goals and endeavors, it creates unworthiness.
As children, we lack skills in dealing with troubling feelings and emotions, and the natural consequence is that we blame ourselves, suppress, and repress to relieve pain.
It causes the child to internalize pain and trauma and create a false self that acts as a protective shield. These adaptive childhood strategies become serious pathologies as the child enters adulthood.
Suppressed feelings arise to our conscious awareness time and again. They create cognitive dissonance, which is emotional discomfort, irritation, and restlessness.
This emotional conflict desperately forces us to do something or be like the characters we idealize. Being unaware of the shadow makes it a challenge to understand what is creating these unpleasant sensations.
Have you ever been in a situation where you abruptly lost your temper and became rageful over something insignificant only to regret it later? You felt confused as to why you behaved in that manner?
The shadow work revealed to me that the monster is not out there but within us. It is a part of ourselves. It lurks in the darkness and rears its ugly hood at the most unpredictable times. It is so overpowering that we lose all control over our rational and logical abilities.
As a defense mechanism, our ego creates a false image of ourselves. We believe ourselves to be good, humble, obedient, law-abiding, and compassionate human beings with high ethics and values.
We become rageful whenever something or someone attempts to tarnish that self-created image. And that when we unleash the monster. That’s when our dark side emerges.
Our shadow is hidden from us but visible to other people. All the things that we despise in others are a part of our personality.
Five Ways To Spot Your Shadow Self
#1 – Engaging in Rationalizing Behaviors
When I started my spiritual journey, I was extremely impressed by some of the ideas mentioned in the western and eastern religious scriptures. Over time I started building strong identification with these thoughts.
Whenever people challenged these ideas, I immediately became defensive (or aggressive), quoting verses from different sources.
My internal biases did not allow me to see the other side of the coin. I would aggressively argue, read quotes of revered spiritual leaders, show scientific studies, and go to the extent of comparing recent findings in modern quantum physics and relate them to ancient scriptures to justify my arguments.
This was an emergence of my spiritual ego. One of the most devastating forms of ego a human can develop.
I avoided the emotional discomfort of being proved wrong because it was a blow to my ego. At some point, it became so absurd that I would make up false stories to prove my point. How could I be wrong when I have been practicing these beliefs for so many years?
People who questioned my beliefs triggered me, and in a bid to soothe my anxiety, I would often indulge in rationalizing and intellectualizing behaviors.
One of my friends has an impressive academic background. Being a scientist, he often speaks about how consciousness is a product of the physical brain. That mind is just an abstract concept that merely gives a simplified explanation of the biological processes going on within the brain.
He would show scientific studies and empirical data in a desperate attempt to prove his point to convince me.
He would argue that neuroscience is on the verge of a huge breakthrough that would reveal the origin of consciousness. I could see the reflection of my spiritual ego within him and how desperately I wanted to prove my point.
I have known him since childhood, and I’m aware of the fact that he’s had a troubled relationship with his parents. He often uses rationalization to numb out the pain created by his shadow elements.
Rationalizing behaviors are a way to deal with stress, but overindulgence can lead to self-deception and negative consequences.
#2 – The Tendency to Harshly Judge Others
“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”C.G. Jung
When we judge others, we’re projecting the shadow aspects of ourselves. For example, people with low self-esteem are quick to point out the arrogance of strangers by judging them on their appearance.
That’s a way they compensate for the feelings of inadequacy they have within themselves. It reassures them that they are better than others. It acts as a barrier to the feelings of guilt and shame that lurk within their shadow.
In the past, I would often criticize successful people. I would dismiss their success either as a stroke of luck or some immoral compromise they made to achieve it. I would rationalize my arguments by pointing out character flaws in other people and demonizing the whole concept of money.
It temporarily made me feel good about myself. And I believed that I was this righteous, virtuous, and morally sound person who could do no wrong.
This behavior was feelings of unworthiness and shame, which resulted from a succession of failures that I experienced in my 20s and early 30s. I convinced myself of unworthiness, and I self-sabotaged every time I was on the verge of making it big in my work.
I procrastinated and hoped things would get done magically (I do it even now, sometimes). I used to spend the whole time daydreaming and fantasizing instead of taking action.
The problem with this kind of behavior is that it kills our growth, creativity, and ability to experience inner joy. The more we engage in unhealthy behaviors, the more we deviate from our self-realization goal or wholeness. Instead of working on our potentials, we resort to judging and critiquing, and projecting our insecurities as flaws in others.
Another classic example is that of social media trolls. These people do not have an iota of hesitation in using harsh and demeaning words for others. These people have nothing to show for themselves, but they pretend to be experts and quickly pass judgment over matters beyond their grasp.
It sounds like I’m judging these people, but I’m not. I’m simply explaining an unhealthy behavior, an unconscious act. Being aware of this behavior in others, in a non-reactive manner, can help us stop judging ourselves when we are criticized or condemned by these people.
They act out their deep-seated fears and insecurities by degrading others in an attempt to soothe their anxiety temporarily. It gives them false reassurance that they are smart. Over time this becomes an unhealthy habit.
We can release Judgment by reclaiming the shadow. Integrating with the shadow enables us to live a life that is less fragmented and polarized. It helps us develop kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others by being less critical and judgmental.
#3 – Showing Temper to People in Subordinate Positions
Having spent more than a decade within the corporate industry, I have seen people in high positions throwing their weight around people in subordinate positions. These are bullies who use psychological projection (more on projection coming up) to relieve themselves.
These people, at some point, were subjected to shame, humiliation, ridicule, and anger. As a result, they repressed a lot of uncomfortable feelings.
These feelings became a part of their shadow, which now shows up as anger and aggression. This behavior is a compensatory mechanism that helps them cope with all the repressed anger.
Instead of helping these people resolve their internal issues, businesses reward them for their behavior because profits for a few individuals mean more to them than human values.
#4 – Playing the Savior: The Sage Complex
There are many forums on the internet where people claim to be the messiahs and empaths of the highest order. However, if you carefully observe their actions: they’re precisely the opposite of who they claim they are.
Some of these self-claimed lightworkers, breath workers, miracle workers, star-seeds, space-travelers, believers of the conspiracy theories, and so-called ‘enlightened beings’ are predatory in reality. Don’t believe me? Check out their comments in conversations.
These people believe that they are on a mission to save the planet. They proclaim themselves to be the chosen ones. They propagate the idea that hidden forces in the world dominate, subjugate, and suppress ordinary people.
They think of themselves as the saviors who can raise the frequency of the planet by helping people expand their consciousness. Create a new world that is free of misery and tranny.
But here’s the problem. I’m all for raising human consciousness. But it requires self-awareness. It begins with recognizing and accepting the monster within ourselves. The monster is there in all of us, without exception.
Many people get radicalized in God’s name, religion, and ideologies, where the victims are oblivious to reality. They are manipulated and brainwashed to an extent where they fail to see anything wrong with their spiritual leaders and beliefs and ideologies.
#5 – Self-Sabotaging Behaviors and Learned Helplessness
People unaware of their shadow-self often engage in self-destructive behaviors. They create rifts in their relationships, get addicted to substances, exhibit rude behavior, procrastinate, show a lack of commitment and consistency, and more.
Learned helplessness is when we feel trapped in dire circumstances and that nothing we do can change the outcome. So we give in to our situation and accept the circumstances. For example, a person trapped in a toxic relationship may feel that they cannot get out of it because nothing they do will help.
Learned helplessness is associated with psychological disorders such as anxiety, shyness, phobias, and depression. The unconscious feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy residing in the shadow can cause learned helplessness. So projection is the natural outcome, which further leads to self-sabotage.
Many other behaviors indicate a dominant shadow. For the sake of keeping it short – I’ve just touched upon a few.
The Problem With Ignoring the Shadow
My father was a high-profile government official with serious alcohol addiction. But we could not talk about it. Being a codependent, my mother fiercely justified his addiction, and we could not see how his addiction was ruining lives.
I saw two contrasting personalities of my father. Sometimes he would be loving and caring, and other times, he showed disgust, irritation, and anger over trivial issues.
He mostly showed his discontent by remaining aloof and giving the classic silent treatment. He was never physically violent, but there was a lot of passive aggression. When upset, he would not speak to my mother for weeks or even months sometimes.
When he was happy, he would continually boast about himself. He would make exciting plans. He would take us out to dine at fancy restaurants. He would continuously talk about his work accomplishments. Repeat the same stories over and over.
He made sure that he was always the center of attention. He showed disinterest when others spoke and steered the conversation back to himself.
Sometimes he would be extremely vibrant and ecstatic (mostly when he was drunk); other times, he would be sad, angry, or depressed. He showed abrupt mood swings.
His behavior was unpredictable, and it kept us on a constant vigil. We had to be careful of what we speak in his presence. Sometimes, he laughed and cracked jokes about certain things; other times, he would take offense when others made similar jokes involving the same things.
The alcohol acted as a switch between these two contrasting personalities. We didn’t realize that we greatly suffered the consequences of our father’s addiction at that time. Retrospectively, we recognize it now.
I threw away a promising career to satisfy his ambitions. It took me a whole decade to reestablish myself in a new job. It took years of work to change my psychological conditioning.
If you’ve had a history of dealing was an alcoholic parent, you know what I’m talking about. Till he lived, he never accepted that he had an addiction problem, let alone take responsibility for it.
He believed that he was a good person, a dedicated family man, and a highly accomplished government employee, and he saw no flaws within himself.
He was unaware of his dark side, the shadow. He never spoke about his childhood in detail, but I sensed that he had undergone physical and mental abuse as a child from some of the conversations I had with him.
He was the golden child in the family who was idealized and always put on a pedestal. He was pampered and psychologically conditioned to believe that he was extraordinary – someone destined for glory and success. My grandparents would often beat him for failing to maintain standards.
As a child, he repressed a lot of emotions that became a part of his unconscious. He would get upset over the most absurd things. And the worst part was that he would not talk to us. We had to figure it out ourselves.
As he was unwilling to deal with his hidden feelings and emotions, alcohol seemed like an easy escape. All the glory and accomplishments were just a veneer. Behind this facade of grandiosity was a wounded child that was scared and crying for help.
During my inner work, I learned that we have to deal with our fears, insecurities, feelings of shame, guilt, behaviors, and emotions. We can’t just ignore them. What we ignore and repress becomes a part of our unconscious.
The case with my father was mild, but there’re severe cases where the hidden elements of the unconscious can create psychopathy in people. People act out their traumas in an attempt to get rid of the pain.
A couple of months back, we witness widespread unrest in the United States over the killing of an African-American male named George Floyd at the hands of three white policemen.
There were instances where the police used excessive force and brutality on peaceful protestors. In other instances, some protesters were seen looting and damaging public properties. Some of these included white Americans.
It was complete chaos with broken windows, cleared isles, and people running away with merchandise. In the moment of heat, the unconscious takes over, and people lose all their logical and rational abilities.
The darkness takes over, and they act out their darkest desires. They unleash the animal within, which leads to the great horrors of humanity.
It is not that these people are unconscious of their behavior – there’s fully aware of what they’re doing. But the power of the unconscious rendered them helpless. In such cases, acting out seems like the only way to feel relieved.
A lot of this violence and vandalism is attributed to repressed anger. The more the repression, the darker the shadow. The acting out is a form of projection of repressed feelings. However, it provides temporary relief to the anxiety. In the long run, it creates bigger problems.
Whether it’s unrest, mass shootings, mob violence, riots, assault, murder, pedophilia, or bullying – it all is, in some way, a manifestation of repressed elements of the unconscious – a part of the psyche that we have ignored and disowned.
As the shadow grows in size, the compulsive need for projection increases. By bringing awareness through shadow work, we can significantly minimize the harmful effects of our shadow.
Psychological Projection of the Shadow
For years, I was ignorant of my personal shadow. I never realized that I was projecting many unhealthy behaviors on my wife, children, and other people around me. I was depressed, and people felt scared approaching me. I was unwilling to deal with the stuff of the past.
I used to lash out in rage over minor issues. Consumed with anger, I didn’t realize the damaging impact of this on my family. Later on, I found out that I had complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD).
As a child, I was often reprimanded for not following the norms. I had to conform to a particular belief system to survive. I faced shame and humiliation whenever I stood up for myself. I suppressed a lot of thoughts and emotions, fearing invalidation. It led to a lot of unhealthy repressions.
Even as a grown-up, my parents exercised significant control over me. It created problems in my marriage, friendships, and other associations, and I struggled financially for a long time.
An easy escape for me was to blame others (including my parents) for my condition, and I kept projecting shame and guilt onto others in a bid to soothe my anxiety. The problem was that I was continuously failing to take responsibility for my emotions and behaviors by blaming others.
I believed myself to be a good husband and a good father. I thought I was an honest person with high integrity. I never acknowledged the fact that I was a messed up, manipulative, and emotionally dysregulated individual.
Projection is a psychological phenomenon that is a defense mechanism of the ego to relieve pain. For example, there was much fear, insecurity, and shame stored in my unconscious that I projected onto others. I was not taking responsibility for my emotions. I was projecting them to relieve myself.
This kind of projection offers temporary relief, but over time, it is a self-defeating behavior. It ultimately results in people alienating you – even your friends, family, and relatives. My children wouldn’t come near, let alone talk to me.
The problem is that most people are unwilling to accept their destructive side. The ego creates a false self, a strong barrier that hides the shadow, and people remain ignorant of their weakness and faulty behaviors.
Social media is full of people who boast about their conquests, vacations, relationships and project a near-perfect lifestyle. They hide vulnerabilities for fear of being mocked, ridiculed, and judged. They always want to be perceived as perfect.
To maintain that perfect public image, they push a lot of the uncomfortable stuff into the shadow. The bigger the shadow – the greater is the need to project. A good majority of these people have serious mental health issues that they never speak about.
Instead of dealing with their problems, they seek validation in meaningless things such as likes and comments on social media. They have extremely low self-esteem and a fragile ego – unable to take even the slightest of criticism.
They are easily offended by loud, aggressive, and rude people. Yet, they fail to see the same traits within themselves. They continually seek admiration to feel better about themselves.
I know an elderly lady living in my neighborhood. She’s in her late 60s, and she’s hypersensitive about her looks and dressing sense. She leaves no opportunity to pass harsh comments on people living in her vicinity and how they dress and carry themselves.
She would often point out younger women and call them aunty. Just for clarification, in India, older women are generally addressed by younger people as a sign of respect. However, calling a woman younger than yourself aunty is considered disrespectful.
She deliberately ridicules people, body-shames them, passes judgment on their dressing style, and dismisses it as a joke when they show disgust. Paradoxically, she dresses shabbily despite having closets overflowing with fancy clothes.
She’s rude to others but expects respect from them. Whenever confronted, she rationalizes her behaviors by saying the following:
- “I was rude because they’re always rude to me.”
- “I should be the one to point out their mistakes than anyone else.”
- “I’m helping them to be better.”
- “It doesn’t matter what I think because these people are beyond repair.”
Conversing with her, I realized that this woman is suffering from low self-worth. She has a dysfunctional relationship with her siblings, husband, and children, and deep down, she hates everything about herself.
She grew up in a dysfunctional family where her parents and elder brothers were highly controlling and critical. They often shamed and ridiculed her. In her youth, she wanted to be a model, but her family never approved. Her own family bullied her.
Therefore, now she tries to compensate for her feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth through projection. Remember, our shadow is not visible to us, but it’s visible to others.
Doing shadow work enables us to see our unhealthy habits and behaviors. It helps us discover the source of our projections and integrate this part of our personality into our conscious awareness.
Benefits of Doing The Shadow Work
“A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”Carl Jung
Let me admit that doing Jungian shadow work is not easy. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. Our shadow stays in oblivion because it is fiercely guarded by the false front or a barrier created by the ego. The ego doesn’t like it when that protective barrier is breached.
We don’t like owning up to our flaws, taboos, perversions, and other dark aspects of our personality. But remaining oblivious to the shadow gives rise to unhealthy impulses and behaviors that create problems for oneself and society as a whole.
Some of the benefits of doing shadow work are as follows:
Enhances Self-Awareness: Gives A Reality Check
Doing shadow work makes us grounded and humble for real. Only when we are aware of our flaws can we understand the subtleties of life.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”Carl Gustav Jung
Before doing shadow work, I used to think of myself as a compassionate and spiritual person. I was nice to people. I would occasionally give sermons on spiritual teachings and teach people the concept of loving-kindness and compassion.
But I was just the opposite of what I was in public. Privately, I behaved horribly in front of my wife and little children. At times, I would go into a rage. To this day, I regret that my family had to go through so much trauma for many years.
It was because of my unconscious behaviors and lack of taking responsibility. You cannot be excused for being unaware of your toxic behavior. It is your responsibility to catch hold of your toxicity and work on yourself.
Shadow work helped me to reflect on my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It helped me understand my unconscious processes and exercise empowering control without any suppression or repression.
I saw the triggers that caused uneasiness. I adopted healthy coping mechanisms instead of operating in the default mode. My sense of self became more refined, along with my intuition.
It Helps Us To Be More Authentic
The perception we generally hold of ourselves results from past conditioning. As per society’s expectations, the idea of being virtuous and moral is regarded as more important than being authentic.
Being authentic is liberating. It allows us to express ourselves without fear. We don’t have to suppress our real thoughts and feelings anymore. In my experience, authentic people are more trustworthy than the usual conformists.
Rebellion is another aspect that holds us from being authentic. Many young folks get drawn to the idea of revolution – it’s exciting – it offers new hope.
And to some degree, that’s okay. But as it gathers momentum, it gives rise to groups and organizations that require conformity, and that defeats the very purpose of its existence.
Childhood emotional neglect, invalidation, and traumas destroy our authenticity. We grow up to be fearful adults wounded by our own self-loathing. According to Dr. Gabor Mate, The adaptation (defense) mechanisms of childhood become pathologies of adulthood.
Learning to be authentic helps us discover ourselves. It creates a feeling of stability and adequacy without giving in to external pressures. It gives us the freedom to be ourselves without worrying about what society thinks of us.
Shadow work helps in enhancing creativity. It helped me get rid of my fears and open myself to the whole world. Today, I don’t feel embarrassed about the things I have done in the past.
I don’t feel scared talking about my vulnerabilities anymore. It is evident in my writing. If you notice, my writing has improved a lot since I started this blog in 2019.
I am not a very skilled writer, but I’m improving. My earlier articles are a bunch of rubbish. But I leave them as they are. They are a reminder of where I am in my journey of self-development and self-realization.
Embracing our flaws requires courage. It opens a whole new world of possibilities. Things that we never imagine in our wildest dreams. Creativity naturally flows when we remove self-limiting beliefs.
Healing Childhood Traumas: Improves Relationships, Physical, and Psychological Health
Children need comfort, security, emotional validation, and authenticity from their caretakers to build self-regulation skills during childhood. However, most parents lacking parenting skills are entirely self-absorbed.
Such parents pass on a lot of their childhood traumas to their children in the following manner:
- Not providing adequate emotional support.
- Through parentification – The parent looks up to the child for emotional support.
- Repeated physical and sexual abuse.
- Putting the child on a pedestal and over glorifying his/her achievements.
- Subjecting the child to constant criticism, ridiculing, contempt, and scapegoating.
- Undermining the child’s accomplishments.
- Putting their needs before the child.
- By engaging in addictions.
Childhood abuse has a deep impact on the child’s psyche. To deal with the afflicting trauma, the child develops maladaptive coping strategies like screaming, throwing tantrums, rebellion, bullying, and much more.
These unhealthy coping mechanisms propagate into adulthood, creating severe physical and psychological problems like anger, aggression, anxiety, depression, etc.
Additionally, they desperately crave emotional validation, which further leads to being trapped in a vicious cycle of abusive relationships, failed marriages, workplace conflicts, suicidal tendencies, trouble with intimacy, and mental illnesses.
Shadow work helps people deal with their childhood traumas by exploring the root cause of their afflictions. It enables them to be aware of their unconscious behaviors and the impact it has on others.
By recognizing the inner wounds, they effectively work on healing the inner child. It results in better interpersonal relationships and overall wellness.
Dealing with my childhood traumas helped me develop a better relationship with my family, get rid of anxiety, depression, and chronic lower back pain that I suffered for many years.
Builds A Foundation for Spiritual Development
I have come to the profound realization that spiritual progress is impossible with doing shadow work. Spiritual development requires self-knowledge by removing ignorance. Not acknowledging the darkness within is living in ignorance.
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
The Process of Individuation – The “Whole Self”
“No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.”Pythagoras.
Earlier, we spoke about the Jungian model of the psyche, which constitutes the conscious and unconscious parts. The individuation process entails integrating these sharded parts and creating a ‘whole’ self that is in sync with various components of the psyche.
An individuated person sees the “self” as an integrated whole. They are aware of their shadow and the behavioral issues arising out of it. This awareness enables us to take corrective measures, which form the core of the personal development process.
Let me remind you, as a caution, that this work is not easy. Before embarking on the journey of self-development through the process of individuation, one should sufficiently practice self-love and self-compassion.
The process of individuation requires self-observation, reflection, and deep inner-work. Meditation is one of the most effective practices in such endeavors. But it is to be accompanied by a lot of self-compassion work.
The problem lies in the fact that we carry two opposing beliefs or forces within our psyche, creating psychological stress. For example, we may think of ourselves as compassionate, giving, generous, and moral, but we might be carrying the exact opposites within the shadow.
Individuation helps us to accept the monster within. It allows us to integrate all parts of our personality (even those we are unaware of) and develop genuine compassion and empathy.
How to do Shadow Work? Shadow Work Exercises
Doing shadow work can be a challenging undertaking. If you feel that you don’t have the mental capacity to deal with uncomfortable stuff, I highly recommend that you take the help of mental health professional.
Doing some of the exercises mentioned below, you are likely to uncover some uncomfortable truths about yourself. Therefore, you should practice a lot of self-love and self-compassion before you begin shadow work. Don’t judge yourself.
There’s nothing right or wrong when it comes to shadow work. There’re only unconscious behaviors that you need to be aware of. Let’s do a couple of exercises for self-awareness.
Exercise #1: Self-Observation
Identify things that disgust you about others. For example, how do you feel when people speak rudely or don’t honor their commitments. Does it make you: A little bit annoyed? Angry? Or rageful to the extent that you’re willing to be physically aggressive.
If you feel emotionally charged up by other people’s behaviors, you likely behave the same unconsciously. Try to note instances when you speak rudely to others or when you don’t honor your commitments. Most likely, you won’t be able to do this by yourself, so take the help of your partner or a close friend.
Journaling your thoughts is another way to practice self-observation. Observing what you think about others will give you a deep insight into your inner self. The objective is to find out the root cause of afflicting thoughts and emotions.
When you make it a habit to journal your thoughts every day, you’ll find a link between your thoughts and behaviors and their origin. We behave unconsciously only when our awareness is low.
But how do we know that we’re honest with ourselves? Our ego can deceive us into thinking that we’re right and others are wrong. How do we know that our mind is actually aware and is not rationalizing? That’s where the exercises to follow next will help.
Exercise #2: Meditation
For the past couple of years, meditation has gained a lot of popularity in the western world. But unfortunately, people fail to understand its essence. There’s always a material goal attached. Not that there’s anything wrong with that thought, but that’s not why we do meditation.
Scientific studies show that meditation calms the brain and relaxes the nervous system. Relaxation is something we experience when we’re in our natural state of mind experiencing emptiness or awareness.
People get attached to the idea of relaxation because they spend much of their time in high-stress environments. We have reached a point where society has normalized anxiety and depression. So a moment of silence naturally feels good. But that’s not what meditation is about.
Meditation is about inner exploration, where we go deep within and witness our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When the conscious mind slows down, the afflicting stuff from the unconscious begins manifesting as thoughts and emotions within the conscious mind.
Meditation simply facilitates by creating a space of awareness where we observe our hidden traits and tendencies, not directly, but in the form of restlessness, irritation, and troubling thoughts. As we pour shining awareness into these afflictions, their power to impact us begins to diminish. It is where the real integration into the whole self happens.
Exercise #3: Mindfulness
Mindfulness is about living your life with the highest awareness possible. It is not a practice but a complete lifestyle in itself. It is about being aware of the contents of your mind non-reactively and non-judgmentally.
You witness your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations without creating judgment towards them. You don’t judge your thoughts. You don’t judge yourself.
When you develop that capability, you create a separation between the ego and the self. The ego I refer to here is not the Freudian ego but the sense of ‘I’ that forms identifications with the objects of its experience. That awareness allows you consciously choose your actions rather than blindly giving way to unconscious behaviors.
Right action and right mindfulness are the two paths of the eightfold approach that the Buddha suggested. Note how the two are interrelated; with right action comes right mindfulness, and vice-versa. Therefore, by consciously choosing the right actions, we become more aware of our inner world.
Exercise #4: Energy Work
Energy work is one of the most powerful ways to heal the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual or ethereal body. To realize the full human potential, one has to heal all the above aspects of existence.
Many people do not believe in the spiritual self, and limiting their recovery to the physical and mental, they can never heal themselves fully. Therefore, energy work is a mechanism that facilitates the complete integration of the mind to create the whole self.
Even modern science now believes that what we perceive as solid material is energy, including our body. This energy has to be in a constant state of motion. Wherever the energy is blocked, it stagnates at the location and creates psychosomatic ailments.
Carl Jung called this mysterious force psychic energy. In eastern cultures, it is known as the kundalini or chi. This energy is not a part of the physical body but another layer of existence known as the subtle or spiritual body.
Our physical and psychological wellness depends on the unobstructed flow of psychic energy. It passed through energy channels known as nadis, and along the way, hits and stimulates various energy points, known as the chakras.
Yoga and meditation form an essential component of energy work as they help stimulate the flow of this energy in the body. A full understanding of energy work is beyond the scope of this article. If you want an introduction to the energy work, read my article, Why Do The Chakras Get Blocked.
Doing inner work helped me to discover my shadow. I’m not entirely individuated, but I know I’m on the right track. The realization of the shadow helped me understand the unexplained pain I was experiencing.
It has created a solid foundation for my spiritual work. Coming to terms with your personal shadow makes you more empathetic and compassionate towards others. You know what you find annoying in others is a disliked and disowned part of yourself.
“Those who conquer the mind, it is their friend, and those who fail to do so – it becomes the enemy.”The Bhagavat Gita (chapter 6 verse 6)
Who are your biggest enemies? According to the Vedic scriptures, lust, anger, envy, greed, and illusion are the enemies that reside in the mind. However, we can’t fight these enemies by resistance or force.
Fighting is the preferred tool of the ego. It only serves the ego, not you. These enemies are to be seen and “let go of.” Merely seeing these vices as a non-partial and non-judgmental witness reduces their effect.
That’s why Carl Jung placed a considerable emphasis on the process of individuation. When you integrate with your dark side, you get to realize your true self. That is when the superconsciousness or the higher-self awakens. It marks the beginning of your spiritual awakening.
I’m not a religious person by any means (I’m also not an atheist or an agnostic – please don’t try to limit me), but one of my favorite quotes is from the gospel of John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The darkness is not the absence of light but a part of the divine light. Accepting the darkness within us, we realize our true essence and the oneness with the universe. Only then can we develop real empathy and compassion.