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"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." ~ Carl Jung
Shadow work gets a bad rap, poor thing. People talk as if it's the most dreaded act on the planet. Don't get us wrong, it's not always fun, but it is one of the most beautiful and loving things you can do for yourself. See, most people don't realize they've allowed their egos to entrap them and spend years in a cycle of repeated patterns of behavior that stem from the long-held beliefs acquired from experiences buried in the past. These experiences, usually from childhood, cause us to identify with beliefs that hinder us from living our highest and best life. Shadow work is a way to bring those beliefs into the light beautifully and lovingly.
So what is shadow work? Simply put, shadow work is merely the integration of the limiting beliefs and repressed aspects we hide in our unconscious into conscious awareness, allowing us to live a wholly authentic life. It's one of those buzzword terms tossed around a lot in the spiritual community because it sounds dark and mysterious, something that needs to be done by the sick and demented. (It's giving Halloween vibes.) We're kidding, obviously. Everyone has undesirable characteristics they hide from themselves. Shadow work is nothing more than bringing those hidden aspects into the light and living from a place of wholeness and authenticity.
Shadow work is like a therapy session with yourself, your ego, and your inner child. It is an opportunity to review your life experiences, how they've affected you, and how you can overcome and integrate all aspects of yourself into your highest, most authentic version. You can choose to do so alone, which we believe to be most effective, or you can be guided by a professional. Plenty of information is available on how to do shadow work, and finding a way that resonates is essential. If you choose the solo route, here are some tips for effective shadow work that we believe will reap the most benefit.
The ego doesn't die. The ego is the false identity you create that allows you to survive in the world. Hate it or love it. You can't kill your ego as much as you might want to. You can love it, accept it, and reprogram it, but there's no such thing as a death of the ego. It will NEVER die. You shouldn't even want it to. The ego is much more of a friend than an enemy. It is what gives us identity in this world. The best thing you can do is learn how to work with it, love on it and find healthy ways to give your ego meaning and purpose. So go on now and make your ego your bestie.
It's okay to name your ego. Naming your ego may sound silly, but by doing so, you give yourself an entity with which to work. Your ego is how you identify with the physical world and who you present to the world based on beliefs and past experiences. By naming your ego, you can create a relationship with it and even make the work of reprogramming it fun. Think alter ego. You can recreate it into who you want to be. As just stated, our ego will never die. It will be with us until we leave this meat suit, so we may as well give it a name and learn to have fun with it.
Write it down. Shadow work can be intense as you recall negative or scarring experiences from your past. Writing is an excellent distraction that occupies you physically and allows you to track everything that comes to the surface. It will also inspire you to think and ask those tough "out of the box" questions. Healing and shadow work also tends to be cyclical, with many instances coming up for repeated review, so it's good to have a record of what you've previously addressed. In the future, these notes can also serve as a beautiful reminder of what you've already overcome. So make it a habit to have pen and paper available when you do your shadow work and write it all down.
Spend time in the past. Ahh, yes, spending time in the past. Everyone's favorite! We're obviously being facetious here. The most dreaded, challenging, and essential part of doing shadow work is recalling the past and sitting with uncomfortable emotions. Sitting in painful memories is the main reason people don't do shadow work or don't do it effectively. However, you must identify all of the ways life has impacted you to begin the healing process and detach from how you identify as a result of those experiences. For some people, it's easier to put painful experiences in containers and label them as singular events, but one event can impact us in myriad ways. Spending time in the past allows you to bring to light and label the many ways specific experiences have affected you and begin to minimize their impact on your life.
Evaluate your emotions as they pertain to specific people, memories, and incidents. The feelings, emotions, and beliefs picked up from unresolved trauma can vary significantly by experience. So it is imperative to evaluate past circumstances and their impact as they pertain to specific people, memories, and incidents. For example, abandonment by your mother can feel way different than abandonment by your father. Anger due to abuse from a parent looks and feels completely different than anger over abuse at the hands of a spouse. Memories from our experiences will always have an energetic imprint of the people and circumstances involved. So it's crucial to be specific and identify and evaluate the varied ways those experiences have impacted you.
Ask questions multiple times. Your inner child is like a wounded little brother or sister who no longer trusts you. When you first begin doing shadow work, your inner child may not feel comfortable opening up to you. You might get short answers or even get stonewalled. Circumstances can impact us in many ways, so you may have to address memories and ask questions multiple times before you gain trust and cooperation. Remember, your inner child and ego exist due to aspects you want to hide from yourself, so both will need to feel a sense of comfort and acceptance to play ball. You also want to be thorough and uncover the impact from the past in total, so when necessary, be sure to ask questions multiple times.
Identify all relevant emotions. It will be tempting to quickly bypass difficult and painful memories that are overwhelming to dissect. However, in order to effectively do shadow work, it's crucial to label and identify all relevant emotions evoked by those specific memories. As you spend time in the past, be thorough in recalling the many ways an incident impacted you. Yes, you were angered but did you also feel lonely, betrayed, broken, or afraid? Every emotion has distinct energetic imprints that affect us in different ways. Be as specific as possible. The more you identify, the more you release.
Take accountability and apologize to yourself. Taking responsibility and making amends to yourself, your ego, and your inner child is a beautiful act of self-love. It might sound counter-intuitive, especially when it comes to things we've endured at the hands of others, but doing so releases you from any resentment you have toward yourself due to the past and whatever part, or lack thereof, you played in it. Apologizing to yourself allows you to recognize your own humanity, increases empathy for yourself, and makes space for creating a sense of worthiness. Accountability leads to forgiveness. So take accountability, apologize to yourself for all you've endured, and give yourself a little softness and grace.
Detach from your false identity and negative beliefs. You have created an entire identity around the negative thoughts and beliefs you picked from past experiences. Reprogramming that old identity will require you to detach from those negative thoughts and beliefs. You will not be able to overcome limiting behaviors until you recognize and release anything with which you no longer wish to identify. You can't think "I am bad," and want to replace it with "I am good." The two will always contradict each other. You must consciously detach from the outdated belief first, then reprogram it with the desired one.
Give the ego something with which to identify. As you progress through your shadow work, you will go through many stages of detaching from your previous identity. You begin to release false beliefs about yourself and disengage from all of the attributes with which you no longer identify. However, the ego will always search for meaning within existence and some way to identify itself. So as you do the work to reprogram your ego, it's essential to start to identify and vocalize to your ego exactly how you want it to give itself meaning. The last thing you want to do is detach from a previous identity and not define who you want to be. You can tell your ego that you want to identify with success, love, abundance, purpose, or whatever is important to you. So have fun with your ego while recreating your ideal self. Just make sure you give your ego something new with which to identify.
Although shadow work may sound like the villain in a scary movie, it doesn't have to be approached that way. Our inner child and ego are parts of ourselves that deserve to be handled lovingly and tenderly. Think of shadow work as a part of self-care, as there is no better way to integrate all aspects of yourself into a being you absolutely love. You will be with yourself everywhere you go, so you may as well create someone with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.
We trust you will find these shadow work tips effective, and if you have any additional suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!
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