Spiritual teachers talk about shadow work in flowery language that confuses more than it illuminates. There is much emphasis placed on the darkness of the shadow, making shadow work seem scary and intimidating. Let’s use some plain talk to demystify it.
The Shadow is Neutral
First, a shadow isn’t good or bad, it is merely hidden or obscured from us. We have not chosen to be ignorant of its content, it is simply aspects of ourselves we were taught not to acknowledge or believe.
Who or what taught us to ignore these aspects? Our family, our friends, our authority figures, and our society. During our development, we absorb from the people and community around us, what is acceptable and what is not.
We can’t acknowledge these aspects because it would mean losing acceptance and/or approval from our people. We don’t know how to change it or we can’t change it, so we become unconscious to it.
What Does Shadow Work Look Like?
Shadow work is the process of making the unconscious, conscious and the unacceptable, accepted. It is usually an intentional process, but there is a certain amount of healing that happens as you grow and change even without intention.
The decision to heal is the beginning of shadow work. You can begin this work on your own with books and workshops. The deeper you go the more you need someone to hold space for your exploration, be neutral to your process, reframe your assumptions, and reveal what is hidden from you.
You can work with one person, or many. That person can be a therapist, a shamanic healer, a spiritual teacher, a philosopher, etc., etc. The only requirement for this work on the part of the person guiding you is some experience with shadow work and the willingness to work with others on their process.
You can start and stop doing this work but you will never complete it. You can never see yourself in your entirety at one time. Humans are simply too complex and our minds are limited for our own protection. So begin but let go of the idea that you will be complete some day, you won’t. And that is ok and it is still worth doing. Every layer you reveal to the light brings you the ability to access more of yourself and feel better doing it.
Shadows Don't Equate to Darkness
Our shadow is not our darkness. It is simply what is hidden from us that we project or cast, like a shadow, on those around us.
It can be just as uncomfortable for someone to acknowledge something positive about themselves as it is to acknowledge something negative. Sometimes more so.
For example, people often hide from their own power because it is scary and they need to heal before they are ready to accept responsibility for their power. Culturally speaking, having power is a positive but for the long oppressed power can be scary or dangerous. Being responsible for their own happiness or dissatisfaction can feel heavy and frightening. They can also use their power to oppress others or lash out.
Seeing what is good in us can be uncomfortable when others around us feel threatened by it. This is another reason we may choose not to see our “inner gold,” as Robert Johnson calls it in his book of the same name.
Doing shadow work is spiritual work. You are deciding you want to become more fully yourself. You are deciding you want to heal some aspects of yourself that are holding you back. You are committing to honoring yourself and putting yourself first in your life.
It can be scary sometimes which is why I recommend working with someone so you have help and someone to hold space during the hard times.
What you get from doing shadow work is freedom from the outside influences that try to keep you in a box. Freedom to be yourself and to feel good about who you are in the world.
Shadow work is making the unconscious, conscious so that it doesn’t run your life from the back seat. And making the unacceptable, acceptable; learning to accept yourself for who you really are and to love that person, nurture that person, and take care of that person.
When you are ready to do your shadow work, The Vital Spirit will be here to support you.