Shadow Work: An Introduction

While the term "shadow work" may sound sinister, it is quite the opposite. Shadow work is an extremely positive transformative process that occurs when an individual discovers their own self-worth and authenticity by bringing light to the shadowy darkness of their innermost repressed emotions and traumatic experiences.

Feather and Cage

Quote Our greatest gifts come from the places of our deepest wounding. —Scott Kloos

At first glance, the above quote may not seem to make sense. Surely the places of our deepest wounding are the places of our greatest weaknesses, not our greatest gifts. After all, the places of our deepest wounding are painful places we habitually avoid, mistrust, and disown. However, it is also true that we may discover our greatest gifts—such as strength, resilience, and compassion for others—by acknowledging our deepest wounds. This paradox leads to a deeper understanding of ourselves.

In psychology, "the shadow" is a term used to refer to the place in the unconscious mind where we hide the repressed aspects of our personalities. The shadow contains everything about a person that is wounded, abused, traumatized, abandoned, forsaken, rejected, and unforgiven. Try though we might to move on and to pretend that such aspects of ourselves do not exist, they are very real. When we deny them, they grow in strength and find ways to express themselves.

The shadow expresses itself through the process of projection. When we are "triggered" into an emotional reaction, especially one that seems out of proportion to the seriousness of an event, it's a sign that the shadow is active. We tend to project the repressed aspects of ourselves outwards onto other people. We then perceive these aspects of ourselves as things that we despise or reject about other people. If you experience an emotional trigger, it's a clue that an aspect of yourself is calling out for healing.

The shadow is not all dark, however. Anything that's repressed ends up as part of the shadow, and this includes positive as well as negative aspects of the personality. For example, if a child's creativity is discouraged, the child will grow into an adult whose shadow contains repressed creativity. Even the negative aspects of the shadow actually have a positive intent: to protect you and to offer you an opportunity to grow and evolve.

Shadow work is the name for journeying inward, exploring the darkness of the shadow, and returning with the light of wisdom. Shadow work involves self-awareness—watching one's emotional reactions. For example, if you get triggered into anger, ask yourself the question "what just got hurt?" You are looking for insight into the wounded, unhealed aspects of yourself that require healing.

Interestingly, just by accepting and acknowledging the fact that you are wounded, you gain power. At first, you may continue to be triggered by people or situations, and only afterward evaluate your reaction. With practice and insight, however, you can become self-aware to the point of "catching yourself" before you're fully triggered. This is empowering because it allows you to change the future by making a choice that you may not otherwise have had.

Shadow work also involves being radically honest with both yourself and others. This is necessary because the goal of shadow work is to discover the authentic self. Shadow work also liberates creativity and energy, and supports the process of personal and spiritual awakening. For all these reasons, shadow work aligns perfectly with shamanic practice, as it promotes self-healing, transforming darkness into light, and moving from a place of weakness into strength.

Robbie Priestley, Shamanic Practitioner - October 21, 2022

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