I have always been told that I am an overthinker. That not everything has to be thought about or anticipated. That is partially true. I had to learn how to go with the flow and trust the universe.
But the main reason I started to think a lot was because I needed to understand my emotions, my feelings, why I was experiencing things that way whereas other people didn’t seem affected.
I’ve always been a hypersensitive person, and empathetic. As far as I can remember I’ve always felt everything. Too much. And I had to learn to discern what was mine, and what was not. But I also started to think about why I was feeling that much. Why I was feeling what other persons would not. And that’s when I started to think about my thinking, and because of my studies in philosophy and psychoanalysis that I discover what is now called shadow work.
But what is shadow work?
While shadow has been repeatedly identified as a negative thing, it does not refer to a forbidden part of yourself. The concept of shadow embodies an everlasting aspect of a « non-going area ». Your shadows are things that you’ve lived, experienced, thought, felt, and decided to ignore, or restrain. But truth is, light cannot exist without shadow. And you need to work on your shadows, understand all your shades to give your light all its power. Some people can be « light and love only ». If it works for them then good for them. But thinking on a long term evolution, it can be more powerful to embrace all parts of yourself.
We all know for a fact that we are polar entities, in a polar universe. We’ve all had the feeling that we’re paradoxical, we can think something and entertain the opposite. Everything is balanced, and balance must be found in everything. So being « love and light only » can be interesting if that means that you’re acknowledging your shadow side, integrating it but only living in love and light and sharing love and light.
But if that means you always avoid any negative experience, feeling, or to even work on what’s happening inside of you, then you’ll never progress fully. And you can even regress, as, sooner or later, life will smash you with events that will lead you to acknowledge your shadows and this until you’re ready to face your internal life.
That’s what shadow work is about. Getting into yourself properly, entirely, consciously. Understanding why you feel the way you feel. Why does this person make you feel that way? Why this interaction created this feeling? Why are you expecting something in particular out of a person or a situation?
It is about deconstructing your schemes to understand them and finding what’s part of social conditioning and what’s in resonance with you. It is about understanding what life tries to teaches you in all situations or encounters.
Starting shadow work
Many reasons can lead you to start shadow work. Maybe you’re already doing it without knowing. Maybe you’ve been through a life-changing experience that has led you to put everything into perspective again. It’s important to know that shadow work can take many forms. It can be entertaining a simple thought to the point of facing and deconstructing a part of you. It can be watching a movie, reading a book, and seeing something that confronts you to a situation you’ve lived or resonates with you. It can be sitting in front of a journal and starting to write down what you feel.
It’s important to take the time to do it, but you should not always do it. You’ll feel when it’s necessary. Organize yourself to be able to have some time to do your shadow work without it invading your life. Because it can be tiring, exhausting, and time-consuming. Diving into your shadow is about unraveling complex behavioral patterns. Or going into your life traumas. You never really know what you’re going for when you start digging. So make sure to be gentle with yourself and to have some time to prepare before and to rest after.
This time after is fundamental. You have to know that you can find yourself very emotional, sensitive, or feel that you need to close for a little bit. That’s perfectly normal. You’re dealing with your internal soup, with parts of yourself that you’ve been avoiding for several years and that has been a part of your construction. It’s part of your scheme, of the story you tell yourself that’s changing. So just be tolerant, understanding, and give yourself some time and some love.
Facing your shadows, welcoming them, in order to put some light on them and find balance that’s what it is all about.
The common subjectivity of shadow work
We should all be doing shadow work, especially in these times where deconstruction is that socially important. Of course, deconstruction and shadow work are two different concepts and englobe different goals. But one can lead to another, it’s just a question of scale.
It’s all related to the idea that we all have demons inside us. We’re all facing our personal demons. And we tend to bury them deep inside of us. Because we’re ashamed or feel guilt, or we think that it could be worst and we have nothing to complain about. And also because society taught us to think positively, to put a smile on our face, and forget about everything else, that it’ll get better with time.
In fact, it’s not entirely true. For everything to get better over time you have to understand what’s happening to you. You have to see the scheme, the pattern, you have to identify how it’s hurting yourself. Psyche can heal itself the same way the body does, but it needs a little help from your conscious self. A little bit as if your back was hurting, and you needed to take a look in the mirror to see that there’s a knife in it. And you need to take it back for your body to heal. It could heal, but it would take longer, and you’d still have a pain that you would ignore over time, by getting used to it. Well, it’s the same for your mind. If you don’t face what you’ve buried, it will just expand negatively in your unconscious and subconscious self and create neurosis, PTSD, or else, sometimes even manifest physically with back injuries, eczemas, weak articulations, and so on… So it is not about complaining, it is just about sitting in front of yourself, and understanding your shadow, to understand what they can teach you and let them go.
It surely is hard to sit in front of our dark side. Because we have to face our defaults, our biases, our mistakes, and our deeds. But what’s more interesting is that we are able to see what part of ourselves we can improve. It is an incredible way of self-improvement for we discover ourselves entirely. We also learn to understand ourselves, leading us to be able of tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and love towards ourselves.
Why is shadow work so important?
This concept of shadow comes from Carl Jung Analytical psychology. He defines the shadow as the sum of everything someone is avoiding or refusing to admit, as repressed inner tendencies. Our shadow self is composed of all the things we could have been but still aren’t or haven’t lived yet, the things we fight to accept or tend to avoid. It is our world of unfulfilled possibilities and potentialities.
To that extent, shadow work is essentially important. It has a huge part in the process of individuation. By integrating all of ourselves, we understand who we are, who we want to be, and what we could be and thus find a way through all of that to be our best selves. It is one of the main doors to be who we want to be, freely, and entirely, to take our place in the world without shame, without fear, without hesitation.
Jung called Shadow this part of us because it is the part that we refuse to admit, to see, a part that we simply reject. But that’s exactly why it is a huge part of personal development. Because we get to understand that what we see in other people that generates hate, jealousy, arrogance… is just a manifestation of our shadows. By that, we can gain some new perspective about us by diving in.
Don’t be afraid of your shadows. Start by admitting that you’re a multi-dimensional being in permanent creation, and that light and shadow do not have to be associated with bad or good.
Only by digging into your shadows, you’ll understand yourself entirely, not by judging yourself or labeling yourself. Good or bad are social moral constructions and you should not go by them when shadow working. Try to understand why you did what you did, or felt what you felt, and what it has created in you, and in what ways it is blocking you, and accept it. Accept yourself entirely, as a complex human being.
Don’t forget to be indulgent, tolerant, and to love yourself during this process, that’s all this is about. Getting to love your entire self so that you can fully shine.