Embracing Your Shadow




Our Shadow

The Mask

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Our Shadow 

"Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something helpless that wants help from us." -

- Rainer Maria Rilke 

I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. - Plutarch.

To own one’s shadow is whole making

The shadow consists of those aspects of your character that belong to you but that have not been given any conscious place in your life. ... Assimilating one’s shadow is the art of catching up on those facets of life that have not been lived out adequately." 

The shadow consists of those aspects of your character that belong to you but that have not been given any conscious place in your life. ... Assimilating one’s shadow is the art of catching up on those facets of life that have not been lived out adequately."


The shadow contains all the parts of ourselves that we try to hide, deny or suppress.

The shadow refers to all aspects of yourself – including traits, needs, drives, abilities, feelings and potentials, capacities, both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ – that you have rejected, denied, disowned and pushed out of awareness and into your unconscious.

The term "shadow" was first used by Carl G. Jung to describe the repressed or denied part of the Self. The Jungian shadow is composed of the dark and unknown aspects of personality. The shadow is created by the opposites of life and the need for choice.


To choose to be one way is to choose not to be another. The shadow is made up of the "unchosen" choices. If, as a child you choose to be tough, then you are not tender and vice versa. In a choice to be an athlete you may give up the options to be a musician or an artist. You learn to either keep your feelings in or to let them out.

Choices are made and direction is given to personality development. The shadow can be viewed as the unlived life resulting from a certain pattern of life choices. Thomas Moore in The Care of the Soul states that, "The person we choose to be, ... automatically creates a dark double - the person we choose not to be."


Our shadow isn’t a mere reflection of our physical being. This shadow is composed of all of our emotional baggage. 

All of that negative energetic ammunition that we’ve stored away, that we’ve hidden so no one will ever find us out. It is a belief that we have that we never share. We dare not speak it. These are shadow beliefs.

A shadow belief is an unconscious belief we have about ourselves that directs our life choices and limits us in what we create in the world. There is something wrong with me. I cannot trust anyone. I’m not lovable. I don’t deserve to have what I want. Love does not last. I am worthless. How many of us cringe when we hear these things spoken out loud? How many of us hear these very words, or some variation, in our heads day in and day out? And how are we programmed to deal with these thoughts? We’re taught to suppress them.


The shadow refers to everything that has been repressed and embodies all of life that has not been allowed expression. The  shadow, is "...our psychic twin that follows us like a mirror image."

Sometimes life choices are not freely made. We are taught as children to be one way and not another and have little choice. Boys may be taught not to cry and girls not to be assertive. Some elements of the shadow can indeed be potentially harmful and do not need to be acted out. Uncontrolled anger, impulsive sexuality, lying, and stealing are shadow potentials that are best kept in the shadow and the socialization process sees that they are. The shadow contains not only the positive of potential life choices "not made" but the negative potential of unbridled acting out.

Most often the shadow comes to be seen as entirely negative and its recognition is resisted. If a person strongly denies the shadow then he may be overly focused on the persona. He may only know himself as persona and this is all that is shown to society.


The "Golden Shadow"

The shadow, however, does hold significant positive features for the personality. Eventually these positive features need integration if the individuation process is to proceed. Robert Johnson says that there is "gold" in the shadow. This gold needs to be mined and brought to the surface.

According to Robert Bly, it was as if we threw these unacceptable qualities over our shoulder into a bag, which we've been dragging around behind us ever since. It can be useful to keep some of our shadows in this bag. However, when the weight of the bag slows us down and prevents us from being who we really want to be, it is time to open it up. It is time to find a safe place to look into the bag, examine its contents, and see what needs to come back out.

However, you may find that when a shadow has been in the bag for some time, it becomes crusty and a little smelly. Simply ignoring these thoughts as best we can doesn’t do a single thing to weaken them. In fact, the less we focus on them, the less we let them cross into our conscious mind, the more they are there, vibrating with absolutely no restriction, turning our darkest beliefs about ourselves into our reality.


We’re taught to suppress them, to deny them. We dare not dwell on them for fear of giving them even more power. We put on our happy face and hope and pray with all our might that no one will ever find out how we really feel. Most of us expect huge amounts of energy trying to get rid or control these unwanted aspects of ourselves. We hope that by hiding or fixing our "bad qualities" we will have peace, success and happiness we desire. Most of us are convinced that we are flawed and inadequate so we become masters of disguise. We go with great lengths to hide our bad qualities from those around us and even from ourselves. To give you a better understanding I will give you an example:  

Imagine that you are in a pool with an inflated bouncy beach ball. It doesn't matter how hard and deep you push the ball under water, it always will pop up again and wants to float above the water. That's what your shadow will do - you try to push the aspects of your shadow down - but it always will find a way to come to the surface. 


Looking at our shadow enables us to embrace both the darkness of our smallest self and the brilliant light of our highest self.

Working with the shadow is immensely rewarding and liberating. By no longer having to hold down and repress your shadow aspects, which consumes a lot of energy, you free up your life force and vitality, become much more present - moment centered and are better able to live life consciously, authentically and purposefully

Making peace with our dark side is a sacred journey. It demands rigorous honesty, courage and a great deal of compassion. Embracing our shadow delivers us emotional wholeness and the absolute freedom to be who we are.


Working with Your  Shadow can help you:

  • To understand why you behave in a certain way;
  • To work with feelings like fear, grief, anger or shame;
  • To break through old patterns of behavior.

Embracing our dark side is an opportunity for our healing. The result of turning our backs on our dark side is a life that slips by only half lived.



The shadow is not the problem, however. The problem is the failure to acknowledge, accept and reintegrate it.

For a long time we have been told to develop our gentle, side. We are afraid of what we might unleash. If we are at war with our shadow, we are in conflict with ourselves... and then it dominates us. We project it onto individuals and groups, and act out our inferior side. If we are unable to accept our shadow, we become hungry ghosts, forever seeking outside recognitions to compensate for the doubts that gnaw at us. When we recognize and accept our imperfections they strengthen us, and we become more nourishing and attractive to others. 

Until we make peace with our shadow we will continue to be in conflict with ourselves. Our outer world will mirror our inner struggle. What we resist persists - and we will attract from others which we most dislike in ourselves. Until we accept and feel compassion for each aspect of ourselves, we will continue to draw forth people and events that will mirror the negative feelings we have about ourselves. Until we take back our power and forgive ourselves for being human we will attract people who push our buttons and reactivate our wounds.



One way of spotting whether we are denying a part within us is through our judgements. When we point a finger at another and label them as "bad" "power-hungry","controlling", "arrogant" "mean", egotistical’, then in truth we are denying a part of ourselves. For within each of us is the ability to be all these qualities. If we heal those parts within us that are in pain i.e. the insecurities, then we become compassionate and understand that the other person require healing themselves. However, if we are in denial about our insecurities and have not healed or understood them, then we will naturally find it uncomfortable in another.

With other words, you can identify your shadows by looking at what you project onto others. When you deny a trait in yourself, you tend to be very aware of that trait in other people. This means that you are most aware of those traits in others which reflect your own shadows. You may react irrationally to one of these traits in someone else, becoming unduly annoyed and blowing things all out of proportion.

For example, negatively judging others offers you a mirror to see those aspects of yourself that you are denying. The same applies if you overvalue traits or characteristics of another person.


Write down a list of at five people that you dislike (negative shadow) and five people that you strongly admire (positive shadow). You can include well-known people or even fictional characters. Next to each one, describe at least one trait that you dislike/reject or admire. Here is an example from a workshop participant (words in italics represents a disowned part or quality awaiting acceptance and integration):

How to re-integrate your shadow parts       

Having identified those parts of yourself that you have disowned, their are many different ways to re-integrate your shadow parts.

Here are some additional suggestions


Integrating the ‘Positive’ Shadow

When working with the positive shadow I recommend the following

  • Identify the quality that you admire, for example ‘kindness.’

  • Acknowledge that you have the same quality. Recall three occasions in the past when you were experiencing or displaying that quality. Now welcome and feel what you are feeling.

  • Affirm to yourself that have this quality. For example say out loud ‘Kindness arises through me.’ Say these words very slowly and repeat this four times. As you say it slowly notice what you are feeling and experiencing in your body.

  • Now act with kindness when an opportunity arises. Whilst it might feel false or uncomfortable at first, the more you do it and the more sincere you whilst doing it, the more sincere and authentic your act of kindness will be.

What I have found fascinating with this process is how quickly the positive shadow quality starts to emerge naturally and spontaneously once it is being consciously worked with. I invite you to put it to the test over the next few days.


Integrating the ‘Negative’ Shadow

Next time you get emotionally triggered by someone try the following:

  • Identify what quality you don’t like about them, for example ‘arrogance’

  • Remind yourself that you have also this quality because you are a human being and human beings are microcosms of the macrocosm i.e. everything you witness outside of you exists within you.

  • Now identify three separate occasions when you have demonstrated that quality – in this case arrogance. Having done this welcome and feel what you are feeling. Take at least one minute to do this. If you genuinely haven’t experienced that quality, then ask yourself the question ‘is it possible that I am repressing or disowning that part of myself?’ if you are honest the answer is almost certainly going to be yes.

  • Now ask yourself the following question ‘what is the healthy expression of this quality?’ For example the healthy expression of arrogance is self-confidence.

  • Having identified the healthy quality (in this case self-confidence) commit to allowing into your life and daily actions. So that might involve acting confidently, taking advise from a book or going on a course/workshop to learn confidence skills.

  • Repeat this process for each part of your ‘negative’ shadow

Embracing and releasing negative emotions are crucial processes both spiritually and psychologically.

The process of acknowledging and healing an insecurity changes our entire life experience. Our subconscious mind affects every thought, feeling and action as it draws on our beliefs of the world to help us interact with it. Therefore, the fewer insecurities we harbour, the more confident, free and happy we are. As we have discovered, it is imperative that we do not ignore or suppress any part of our-Self. Now the question arises as to how we actually deal with our shadow, for the main problem we face is that we do not desire to 'be negative' or hurt another’s feelings in our release!

We have always had the ability to be our own therapist. In this respect, as we encounter a negative emotion or thought, we can undertake a two-part thought process:

• First, we ask ourselves why the emotion has emerged? 

• Secondly, we ask if someone else is involved in our emotional turbulence?’

By controlling ourselves to not express anything ‘bad’ will only energise that emotion or thought further! A negative (dark) emotion or thought is only ‘bad’ because we deem it to be so. This is more polarity consciousness! Using Compassion, we see the positive in everything. We express and release the dark emotion or thought, allowing it to ‘come to Light’. Here, we use our awareness and love to heal it, rewarding ourselves with a new learned strength.


Each human emotion is like a doorway that can open up an expanse of internal energy.

The purpose of course is to release the emotion or thought before it becomes anger! Anger is an energy that establishes blame, either with the perpetrator or the recipient. In essence, it is a belief that one is being victimised.

The subconscious mind can only read this as – “People victimise me, meaning others have power over me; therefore I am weak!” – this will negatively affect every thought, feeling and action in our lives. The more we practice to embrace and express what we feel, the more skilled we become at highlighting and rapidly healing the dark within us. Subsequently, we become more confident, secure and happy. 

  • Anger opens up to our ability to set our boundaries. It helps us learn when to say, "Yes" and when to say, "No." It keeps     us from getting trapped in unhealthy situations, and it helps us know who we really are.

  • Sadness is a doorway to our connection with other people.      It opens us up to love, revealing our vulnerability and desire for loving relationship. Sadness helps us connect with the spiritual realities we hold sacred. It helps us stay in tune         with our bodies, and with nature.

  • Fear can help us detach from a situation, and look at it objectively. Fear can be a wonderful advisor, which creates new options for our future and counsels us about the present.

  • Joy can inspire us to live our dreams. Joy can give us              courage and direction when we are lost, and bless us with       the knowledge that our lives have real meaning.

Exposing parts of your shadow can feel risky. To effectively work with your shadows, you need a place where you feel safe -  a place where you can trust others

You might not want to dive into your shadows alone either. Trained facilitators can help you keep it safe and help you break the job down into manageable parts, so you don't lose your perspective. Shadows can be very seductive. A transpersonal coach (»»transpersonal counseling ) can help you remember the overall goals you have chosen for yourself.


Shadow work is not about perfection; it's about integration.     

It is the path of reclaiming each and every aspect of ourselves and discovering how that aspect can serve us. It requires us to look at our lives from the perspective that we have been given everything we need to fulfill our life's desire. If we look for the gift of our weakness, we may find that it has actually given us strength or that has allowed us to be supported by others. The gift of our fear might be our determination or our ability to set good boundaries. 

The shadow is our teacher.    

The shadow is not a problem to be solved or an enemy to be conquered, but a fertile field to be cultivated. Dig your hands into its rich soil and you will discover the potent seeds of the person you most desire to be. Our most hated, feared or shamed qualities are the ones that hold the key to living the life of our dreams. What the shadow process provides is a way to love what we have feared, to decode the message we receive from within and to unleash the power that is hidden within us.

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