Shadow Work 101

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” – Carl Jung

Why do you keep getting into the same types of relationships, it seems like every person you date nags you the same way that your mother used to? How come every time you receive praise you feel like you do not deserve it? Does it seem like you keep getting stuck in the same patterns? Does it seem like things keep happening to you more so than everyone else, like getting rejected? These are some of the kinds of questions and issues we aim to explore with shadow work.

Shadow work, also called belief work and subconscious mind work, is the process of working with your personal shadows. It is examining your subconscious mind and sitting with it instead of running away from it or ignoring it. By sitting with it, you can get to know your ego and parts of yourself that are ready to be healed. Some people believe that focusing on the good and constantly saying positive affirmations will make all of the “bad” things in life all go away. Though it can be good to focus positively and work with affirmations, the best ways to heal shadows is to bring them into the light- the conscious mind.

Shadow work is not a fun process. After all, it often involves death – death of who you thought you were, death of what you thought was true, or death of how you thought your life was supposed to be. These various deaths can feel very uncomfortable at the time but it is similar to a snake shedding it’s skin. Imagine if a snake said “No, I would like to hold onto all of this old skin, even though it is no longer good for me.” That would be one unhealthy snake!

Shadow work is not a process that you need to force yourself to do. It is also not a tool that you are supposed to use to be harsh with yourself or other people. It is most certainly not about blaming yourselves or others about what has happened to them.

Shadows = subsconscious mind gunk. But how does all of this gunk get stuck in the back of your head so that you don’t even remember? Shadows are made of parts of yourself that you have considered inappropriate, dangerous, or shameful. These parts of yourself never completely go away but they stay deep inside of you waiting to be healed and brought to the surface. They are often parts of your inner child that have been left behind in traumatic moments or simply because they were seen as bad. Processes involving healing the inner child and bringing these lost parts of the self to the conscious mind are often called soul retrieval or inner child work.

How do you get a shadow in the first place?

Lets say that you grew up in a community where hard work was very important. Your community was set in a harsh environment where everyone had to work hard or there would not be enough resources for everyone to survive. Naturally children like to play but as a child you were scolded and shamed for trying to take small breaks or make work a little more fun. People said things like “Wow, look at them, they are so lazy!”, “They are daydreaming again?! I wish I had that much free time but I am a responsible person who cares for my family.” and “I can’t believe you are taking another break! It does not matter if you are tired, ignore your body and keep working.”

Though these things may have been said in an attempt to motivate you to become a strong and hard working person, they caused some damage. As a result of being told that it is bad to rest, be creative, and listen to your body, you became a person who is very harsh and unempathetic. You also lost touch with your intuition and creativity, and developed illnesses from not resting and listening to the messages your body had been sending you. The negative beliefs that you developed here caused you to create a role-self and leave a piece of your true selfbehind – the part of you who knew how to rest, play, and be creative.

Often it is a big event that causes someone to examine their shadows such as a serious illness or a big life change. It can also be smaller things that jerk you awake and cause you to question what is really going on under the surface of physical reality.  In this example, maybe you ended up having a child who was extremely creative, and no matter what you did you could not get them to stop doodling and get to work. Your child’s creativity would frustrate you and possibly cause you to eventually question why it bothers you so much that your child doodles. This would lead you to your shadow self and the reasons why you lost that creative part of yourself.

What are negative beliefs? How do you get them?

       Most beliefs, negative or otherwise, are formed while you are young. Some of these beliefs form due to programming done to you, perhaps not intentionally,  so that you can fit into society. For some people, these beliefs may work. For others, they inspire the creation of shadow aspects and role-selves so that they can fit in better. Then true aspects of the self that are beautiful and perfect as they are end up getting pushed into the shadow of the subconscious mind. No one is born believing that their drawings are stupid or that they do not deserve to be happy, so the root of these beliefs is often found to be something that came from someone else. Some examples of beliefs you can get from other people are:

  • Stranger danger
  • Better safe than sorry
  • Don’t dream big because then you will just be disappointed
  • Logic is more important than creativity
  • You can’t really trust anyone
  • You can never do that because of your disability
  • Don’t spend too much money, save most of it, be responsible
  • Nobody likes their job
  • Don’t take risks
  • It is better to give than receive
  • You are not the sharpest knife in the drawer
  • You are a special child so you can’t do things that normal people do

I am not saying do not teach your children that people cannot be dangerous. I am however saying that we do need to be careful with how we teach things to others, especially to children. Most likely you cannot remember exactly how you thought and felt when you were very young. You cannot remember how your mind reasoned things and how it viewed reality. Children can view things very differently than adults which is why when we find these deeply ingrained and painful beliefs that we picked up from when we were children, they can seem nonsensical or illogical.

You can think of it like this: everyone is walking around with a book of stickers. These stickers are beliefs that they have collected. Someone who believes that external beauty is the most important aspect of a person may stick that belief on you. You may then spend decades struggling with your image of yourself only to find out that it is not as important as you thought it was. It was someone else’s belief and it was not healthy for you.
The important thing to remember about belief work is that though these beliefs may sound silly and unproductive now, they did at one time help you. Just like the “stranger danger” belief, it is great for keeping you away from unsafe people when you are young, but if you hold onto this belief for years and years into adulthood and take it to an extreme level, you may find it hard to connect with people or even do small talk because there is a little child in the back of your mind screaming “Stranger danger!”

Belief work is like clearing way weeds from a garden so that your plants can grow. The weeds are the negative beliefs you have about yourself that prevent the truth (the plants) from coming through. Until you work with these beliefs and shadow aspects, they will continue to reach out to you in various ways.

So what is shadow work basically?

  • It is a constant process
  • It should not be forced – it comes naturally
  • It is lifestyle of constantly questioning your motives and beliefs
  • It is an uncomfortable but rewarding process
  • Shadow work can help you remove blockages in your life
  • It can help you stop repeating negative patterns in your life
  • It can help you find the root cause of your negative habits, beliefs, and unpleasant emotions

Crystals to help with shadow work:

  • Proustite
  • Optical calcite
  • Black obsidian
  • Most grounding crystals

Since this is a 101 post I will not be going into depth about how to do shadow work yet. However here are a few resources that can teach you how to do shadow work until the next post in this shadow work series comes out:

My hope is that this information helped you to gain a basic understanding of shadow work. Good luck on your journey of bringing your shadows into the light!

None of these statements or products have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This products and/or statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This is for educational purposes only and it is not meant to replace the care or advice of a medical professional in any way.