The idea of shadow work comes from the 20th-century psychologist, Carl Jung. The term he used, “the shadow self”, describes the unconscious parts of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Another way to put it is, the shadow is the unknown side of ourselves. Jung said, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is”. Imagine your shadow is like a heavy piece of luggage you constantly have to take with you.
The shadow represents the parts of ourselves that we do not like to admit we have. These are the parts of ourselves we often try to repress or ignore. For example, feelings like rage, cruelty, jealousy, guilt, and shame might live in one’s shadow. These can be really hard feelings to have which is why people often try and shove them down deep. The shadow doesn’t have to be all dark and scary. Jung also believed; the shadow can include positive aspects about oneself. For example, if someone has low self-esteem, their confidence and courage will be part of their shadow.
So, why is shadow work important? When we can become aware and accept all the parts of ourselves, we can become more whole and balanced, living a more integrated life. For example, if you accept your anger as a valid emotion, then you can begin to express it in more healthy and appropriate ways. Accepting your shadow side can improve your relationships, too. The more disowned parts of ourselves we can accept and embrace, the better we can accept and understand these parts in others. Your shadow self might be the key to a more balanced, connected, and fulfilled life.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” -Carl Jung
Christine Holmberg, LMFT