This denial typically arises from childhood conditioning where parents communicated what beliefs and behaviors are deemed ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’. Thereafter, beliefs, traits etc that fall into the unacceptable category go unacknowledged by us, as to do so would evoke feelings of shame and guilt. However, these buried beliefs drive our behavior in unconscious ways, and we are not always as in control of our actions as we might think.
‘Shadow work’ is about becoming aware of these buried drivers so that we can embrace all of who we are, without judgement, and honestly acknowledge to ourselves our motives for acting the way we do. This awareness positions us to challenge some of our deep seated views, but also to discover hidden talents which we put in the ‘unacceptable’ category.
Possible shadow side examples :
– doing good deeds or charitable work out of a wish for recognition
– craving for material success or fame
– meanness or small mindedness
– acts driven by jealousy of others success, talents etc
– taking pleasure from the pain of others
– selfish or self centered behavior
– sly and devious behavior to get what we want
– disregard for the consequences of your actions on others
– aggressive behavior towards those more vulnerably than ourselves
– acts of dishonesty
– racist acts
– malicious gossip
Acknowledging behavior such as the above can be difficult and painful, but we all know that there is very little we do that doesn’t involve mixed motives. Knowing our human frailties gives us a sense of humility and keeps us grounded.
Embracing and befriending all of who we are is ultimately liberating – the truth really does set us free, even if the process can be painful! … and creative possibilities may also be discovered e.g. hidden talents.
Shadow work is, in a sense, about the study of opposites and the inner conflict between them e.g. honesty and dishonesty. This is also true of our personality types. For example, you might regard yourself as an extravert (you may not be deep down !) but you will have an introverted side which is also part of who you are and needs to be acknowledged and developed. Likewise, you might see yourself as a ‘feelings’ type rather than a ‘thinking’ type or the other way around – which ever you are the other side needs to be developed for you to be a complete rounded person.
So reflect on your shadow side – maybe start by making a list of the traits that you would prefer not to acknowledge, add to it thereafter and see where it takes you in terms of enhanced awareness. If you notice or react to negative traits in another that can be indicative of the same trait being present in yourself. Likewise positive traits you notice in others are traits that you have – we recognize in others what we have ourselves. Another way to access your shadow side is through recall of your dreams (sometimes easier said than done), as we tend to play out our shadow side in our dream world.
All the great spiritual and religious leaders have had to confront their demons on the road to enlightenment, so you are in good company! By embracing all of who you are you will end up happier in ‘your own skin’.
Note : The shadow can be regarded as another word for the unconscious mind. As such it may also contain buried traumatic experiences, which are too painful to surface safely without professional support – outside the scope of this note.