Shadow Work

First, congratulations for having the guts to click on the "shadow work" tab. This page is definitely the 'deep end of the pool' where stress work is concerned. So what is a shadow and how do we 'work' it?

Noted psychiatrist Carl Jung defined the shadow or "shadow aspect," as a part of the unconscious mind---consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. Any areas of our personality that we do not accept we push down or repress instead of integrating the trait into our complete persona.

Plainly said, if we don't like a trait, like anger or tardiness in another person, it is because we don't accept it in ourselves. Once we see that we all have "good" and "bad" traits or responses to life and our circumstances, we can more easily accept the ones considered "bad" in others too.

Today, people who speak of 'shadow work' mean those traits we dislike in others, which are actually aspects we have rejected in ourselves. Conversely, when we admire or hold another person in awe (like a celebrity), we are repressing those positive aspects in ourselves as well (called shadow hugging). Then when these "perfect" types make mistakes or poor decisions, we hate them with equal fury for not living up to our unrealistic standards (think Tiger Woods and his fall from grace in the media).

"What we cannot admit in ourselves we often find in others. If a person---who speaks of another person whom he hates with a vengeance that seems nearly irrational--can be brought to describe the characteristics which he most dislikes, you will frequently have a picture of his own repressed aspects which are unrecognized by him though obvious to others."

~June Singer, author, "Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology"

In my workshops and coaching practice, people often say, "Well, I am doing affirmations," or "I try to think positively at all times" and I then ask how that is working for them. And most of the time, people say it doesn't.

That makes perfect sense to me. Because just like a dentist wouldn't overlay a white filling on top of a decaying tooth, we can't just repeat positive phrases to ourselves without digging out the decay first.

And that's where Shadow Work comes in.

Shadow work reveals those parts of you that you disliked enough to suppress (or that you don't feel you are worthy of having too---like confidence, fame, etc.). But these parts of you really didn't go anywhere just because you ignored them. Therefore, when you are stressed or fatigued or overwhelmed UP pops a shadow...usually at the worst possible moment.

How Do I Do Shadow Work?

There are many resources for doing this work, most of them free and available online. My favorite shadow teacher is Scott Kiloby. Here's an excerpt and a link to his work:

A shadow is an aspect of the separate self story that, for whatever reason, gets repressed and then projected outward as an “other.” The “other” is really a reflection of the separate self. We box and hug shadows. To box a shadow is to repress a negative trait and then experience a strong aversion towards others who possess that trait. To hug a shadow is to repress a positive trait and then experience a strong attraction towards others who possess that trait.

Go to Scott's page Reflections of the One Life. (provides detailed instructions on how to facilitate your own shadow work).

Other resources for Shadow Work:

Debbie Ford
David Richo
(provides a free PDF book with several chapters on shadow work)
Margaret Paul

A (funny and short) video by Marianne Williamson on The Shadow.

Go to my article on shadow work, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"