Bright Blessings, Witches! I’d first like to preface this post by saying that this is in no way, shape, or form a complete narrative on shadow work. I felt called to write about this subject in particular as I myself am in the depths of discovering, processing, and doing my own work with my shadow. Having said that, let’s talk a little about what shadow work entails and the potential benefits it can have on your practice.
WHAT IS SHADOW WORK?
Shadow work is a term coined by the psychologist Carl Jung. It holds root in the idea that everyone has a ‘shadow self’ and it is there where we keep the parts of ourselves that has been rejected by our egos. These are typically experiences – most during our developmental years – that caused us to feel shame. As a result we tuck away those aspects in our shadow as we believe them to make us unlovable, intolerable, or threatening.
One thing I believe to be sure is that doing shadow work plays a vital role in any healing odyssey.
When we go through experiences that make us feel shame – particularly at a young age – we are typically jolted by rejection or humiliation. These messages of shame, rejection, humiliation, etc. are relayed to us by our caretakers, peers, schools, and the media. It is because acceptance is so closely connected to primal survival impulses that we hide anything about ourselves that could cause expulsion from society. We hide these aspects in our shadow.
CONSCIOUS OR SUBCONSCIOUS
One point I should make is that the parts of ourselves that we disown can be done consciously OR unconsciously. You can be acutely aware of your rejected aspects, only some of them, or none at all. Regardless of your shadow self status, choosing to do the work is highly beneficial for learning about who you truly are.
IS IT EASY TO DO?
As I sit here writing this – in the sense of the execution of shadow work – I wish I could tell you yes. I wish I could say it’s an enjoyable experience, 10 out of 10 recommend. 100% a great time for all! But, I can’t. Shadow work is HARD. It is a painful, difficult task to undertake. It’s standing under unflattering fluorescent lights in front of a three-way mirror while shopping for a bathing suit.
All of the parts of yourself that make you feel nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – but bad gets dragged out of the closet you shoved it in and paraded around to be felt once more. This is the only way that these aspects of yourself can be dealt with and hopefully healed.
IS THE REWARD WORTH THE RISK?
First of all, what risk? When we continue to ignore and sweep shame under the proverbial rug we continue the cycle of self-loathing, pain, and frustration. This cycle is one we cannot sustainably distract from or buy ourselves out of. It lives in a primal space, one only we can confront for ourselves and by ourselves.
What is the reward then? If we muster up the courage to commit to doing the work and follow through – no matter how gritty, ugly, or painful it may be – we end up on the other side with a grander understanding of who we are. This journey through the deep abyss leads to self-realization, self-love, and self-respect.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE YOUR REFLECTION
The first time I attempted (and admittedly quit) doing shadow work was because I could not stand myself. It is literally an examination of the parts of you that make you cringe. A terrible, embarrassing feeling to say the least. But, it is in those moments of self-examination that it does well to remember that these aspects ended up in the shadow for a reason.
Sometimes when we experience great shame, it’s too much to process in the moment. Other times it’s easier to ignore it than to deal with it. Regardless of the reason, our shadows are full of these occurrences and happenings, compiled over years’ worth of time.
SHADOW CONTENT EXAMPLES
Here are some common examples of the things we all tend to hide away in our shadows:
- Any part of you that once shone brightly and in response you were told to “tone it down” lives in the shadows
- The reasons why you act like you do, i.e. knee-jerk reactions that you cannot seem to explain and/or you are embarrassed of
- The motivation behind the internal voice of discouragement or what I like to call my “personal bully”
- The source of coping mechanisms that initially aided you in response to abusive/traumatic experiences. These coping mechanisms can eventually become problematic or continue the cycle of abuse
- All of your fear, doubt, insecurity, and shame
- Any kind of learned behavior, such as sexism, ableism, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, etc.
- Any kind of learned social cues, such as manners, cultural expectations, etc.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE
It is important to note that the goal of shadow work is not to obliterate your shadow. Quite the contrary! The shadow is imperative to the human psyche. It lets us deal with issues in digestible pieces, rather than flooding us all at once.
The reason we do shadow work, again, is NOT to try to remove it, but to deal with the things that have festered for long periods of time. When we let things rot inside of us it eventually starts to rot the entirety of our life.
Having said that, shadow work is a lifelong pursuit. Adding to the shadow is a part of the human experience. In my very first attempt, I was not aware of this. As time went on and I learned differently, I stopped beating myself up for what I identified as failure. Regardless of how diligent I am with creating boundaries, cleansing, warding, shielding, etc. some things will slip through and become internalized.
There is no real timeline when it comes to doing shadow work either. While we are taught to think of things linearly in this realm, that’s not how things come up from the shadow. And the things that trigger us can bring up the past in unexpected ways, too. Bottom line – be open and committed.
THE EFFECT OF SHADOW WORK ON A MAGICKAL PRACTICE
Shadow work has the potential to positively affect our magickal practice as well. For example, when we think about how important an intention is to a spell, how can we know if that is our truest desire when we haven’t confronted all that is in our shadow? Self-realization affords us the opportunity to KNOW ourselves and eventually, trust ourselves.
Outside of learning what your heart truly yearns for, shadow work also teaches you how to accept ALL of you. The good, the bad, the ugly. With time you will come to see the bad and the ugly as simply another part of being human. And with self-acceptance comes living authentically. This shift can positively affect every single facet of your life, especially your magickal practice.
When we act from a place of love, the results we get are quite different than when we act from fear or hatred. Getting done dirty and wanting to retaliate is a natural reaction to that sort of situation. However, through the alchemical transformation of doing this kind of work, we gain a better kind of empathy. With self-love our magick is expounded on tenfold.
Even if you are a solitary witch, walking the magickal path on your own, this does not mean you are not a social creature. After all, as humans we all are. When we start to like and love ourselves, we open our world up to build better relationships with others. In turn, this can open other doors, too. Perhaps you meet another practitioner who can teach you all about divination and you can offer your herbalism expertise. Through community, you open yourself up to connections that have the potential to enrich your life and your craft.
Through the process of shadow work and examining the not-so-pretty parts of you, you get to discover other facets that got buried alongside these shameful feelings. By sorting through the messy parts, there could be some gold sieved out. Your self-discovery can offer up new inspiration, inspire creativity, or reinstate interests that you believed to be long gone. Applied to your craft, this can open you up to a new path entirely. Pretty exciting, huh?
Shadow work is imperative to a healthy state of mind. As someone who has attempted it several times, I can confidently say that while it’s hard, I believe it is worth it. And who knows – maybe I’ll get to all of my demons this time. And if I don’t, I will continue to try.
Have you done shadow work? Have you attempted it and felt it was too hard? Let me know in the comments! And as always, Bright Blessings and Happy Crafting!