Spirituality and witchcraft have recently become social media trends, especially on platforms such as Tik Tok. Unfortunately, many people have begun treating these practices as “aesthetics,” and undermine their value with superficiality. For example, these communities are typically associated with crystals, astrology, and the chakras. However, at their roots, spirituality and witchcraft are devoted to emotional healing and the journey to becoming your highest self. Although crystals and astrology are amazing aids in this journey of personal understanding, they need to be accompanied by more difficult forms of self-care for their benefits to be fully realized.

An integral aspect of this personal journey is known as shadow work. Shadow work stems from the concept of the shadow self, originally coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung to define the dark parts of the subconscious, including negative behavior patterns, anxieties, and self esteem issues. For myself and many others, these are the aspects of my life that for so long I have tried to repress, ignore, and downplay because I thought ignoring these parts of myself would bring me closer to true happiness.

After learning about shadow work, I began to understand that the key to finding happiness and self-fulfillment isn’t to focus only on the positive aspects of life and of yourself. Instead, integrating both the positive and negative aspects of your mind into your self-view can allow you to gain a more complete understanding of who you are deep down, and how to be the best version of yourself.

I thought ignoring these parts of myself would bring me closer to true happiness.

Coming to terms with the existence of your shadow self can be emotionally draining, and extremely daunting, but its rewards are priceless. Because we often work so hard to avoid thinking about the parts of ourselves we dislike, it can become difficult to even recognize the inner healing which needs to take place. Luckily, shadow work can be done in many ways and adapted as an individualized practice to reveal the parts of ourselves that need attention. For example, journaling and therapy are two of the most popular forms of shadow work.

Journaling as shadow work can differ from typical journaling because rather than writing about whatever you are feeling at a certain time, many shadow work prompts exist which encourage you to think deeply about aspects of your life you may typically ignore. Such prompts may cause you to uncover repressed feelings or trauma, discover the origin of a certain toxic behavior, or even gain insight into why you have the fears and anxieties you do.

Similar discoveries are achieved through therapy, which is why it can also be classified as a form of shadow work. In fact, as a practice, therapy encourages us to confront the uncomfortable aspects of our lives and emotions, which incidentally is the main goal of shadow work. Some people may feel overwhelmed when beginning their shadow work journey, especially if they are doing so on their own. Therefore, therapy provides an extremely beneficial alternative, which allows the experience to be just as personal, but potentially less intimidating.

By allowing us to directly connect with the experiences which have caused us to develop fears, behaviors, and coping mechanisms, shadow work truly acts as an outlet for complex self- understanding. Many people go through their lives accepting the negative aspects of their identities as fixed, and unable to be changed, or as things they wish to not think about. However, these mindsets are simply another coping mechanism that allows us to distance ourselves from our reality, and remove personal responsibility for our thoughts and behaviors.

Shadow work allows us to not only understand why we think and behave the way we do, but also teaches us how to work with these parts of ourselves to grow.

Although the popularization of spirituality online has led to many people ignoring the value of such practices, it has also exposed new forms of self-care which are integral to living a fulfilling life. Shadow work allows us to not only understand why we think and behave the way we do, but also teaches us how to work with these parts of ourselves to grow. For example, discovering the origin of a fear or unhealthy behavior can push us to heal the pain that caused it to develop, and allow us to think or behave differently in the future. By breaking this cycle of toxic thinking and actions, shadow work can truly free us from a life of being trapped by our shadow selves, and rather encourage us to use the negative parts of ourselves as tools for growth.

Illustration: Unsplash

Posted by:Emily Campbell

One thought on “An Introduction to Shadow Work

  1. …shadow work…as Paul Dunbar said, “we wear the mask that grins and smiles, it covers our cheeks and hides our eyes”…relevant during this pandemic. Thanks for sharing the info about “Shadow Work”. I enjoyed it immensely. Please place me on your mailing list. Also, I came here to read Dr. Henderson’s recent publication, which was excellent. Again, thank you and please.


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