In Jungian psychology, shadow refers to the unconscious aspects of self that the conscious self does not identify with. We are ruled by these unconscious shadow aspects and allow them to run our lives when they are not in our conscious awareness.These are often parts of self that makes us feel sad or bring up shame. Shadow aspects could be parts of self that were rejected in childhood. So we learn to protect ourself, repress the feelings, hide our wounds, and in doing so hide from our most authentic self.
Shadow leads to subconscious limiting beliefs. For example, when you were little you may have wanted to be an astronaut. Maybe you were a curious child and authentically in tune what made you feel good and you shared this with a parent or a school teacher who responded with “oh that’s a lovely idea, but you have to be REALLY smart to be an astronaut”. Oof that stings! Your ego feels wounded and you push back that child like authenticity and squash the intuitive voice that told you what YOU wanted. You form a limiting belief around the fact that you are not smart and certainly not smart enough. You may stop trying in school, wanting to protect that fragile ego from failing and proving it true. You hide the pieces of yourself that know you can do more or well. You stray far from your authentic self and you begin to view that trait negatively outside of yourself. Becoming triggered and looking down on those who do well in school or work hard at it. That’s your shadow, that little piece of your soul living outside of yourself.
Shadow becomes a part of our personality and it greatly impacts relationships. As these shadow selves are formed during attachment years we are also learning about how to show up relationally and what to hide. For example, maybe you had parents who didn’t have time (or know how) to play with you. You may have tried to get their attention or asked dad to play and heard, “not right now” but right now never came. So you repressed parts of yourself that sought connection. You wiggle into your shell and deny the parts of self that need play. This person may become a work-aholic and struggles with finding joy activities. Or they may find it difficult to trust others without fear of being disappointed.
Uncovering your shadow can be uncomfortable work. It takes quiet self-reflection and effort to notice these dark parts of self. In therapy you can work on identifying these shadow aspects, the core beliefs that they formed, and working to reparent and heal these aspects as you reintegrate them into your conscious personality. When we can make them conscious we begin to shift these limiting beliefs into a more balanced neutral view, allowing it to be reintegrated into our personality. In doing so, you feel more confident, have higher self-worth, live more authentically and most importantly see a decrease in trauma symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
I will leave you with this journal prompt to get familiar with your shadow. Sit in quiet reflection for 15–20 minutes and then journal what your subconscious shows you. BE HONEST with yourself. You can work to reintegrate this aspect back into your personality in a healthy way, but only if you become aware of it.
Let’s journal about: SHADOW
Is there a trait you feel shame about or judge in others? Someone/thing that makes you cringe? Can you link that to a time you behaved this way? What was the response you received?