What is the Shadow?
The term Shadow was brought to the Western culture by such psychiatrists as Carl Jung, who was in part influenced by the work of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. However, Jung’s definition of the Shadow was broader, including all aspects of the unconscious, or disowned, part of the personality – whether positive or negative. This means that is not only the parts of ourselves that we judge as negative that can be in the shadow, but also certain gifts and talents can be found there. According to Jung and many other psychologists, the shadow is usually born in childhood, when some aspects of our nature are not accepted by others, leading to the repression of those aspects. Jung wrote that “everyone carries a shadow… and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is”.
Although the term ‘Shadow work’ was coined by the Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich in 1981, the concept is not new. The so-called shadow aspects of our personality have been worked on for thousands of years by shamanic cultures all over the world, with shamans helping to facilitate healing and personal transformation. The process helps to integrate the unconscious aspects of our psyche by bringing them into conscious experience.
From the perspective of modern Tantra, the shadow is any part of ourselves that we do not see, acknowledge or accept. It is not only in the mind, but is also found in the body; therefore, it cannot be healed just from the mind alone. Tantric shadow work is about becoming more conscious and aware of all aspects of ourselves, so that we are able to witness our shadow aspects. Anything that is not seen or acknowledged cannot be integrated, and healing comes from witnessing and integrating the suppressed parts of ourselves. It can arise when we feel not completely accepted by those around us, and often by feeling that we were judged by parents and other caregivers for exhibiting certain behaviours and emotions.
How does it impact on us?
The shadow can profoundly affect our behaviour and life experiences. It operates outside of conscious awareness, in the form of unconscious beliefs. It can cause us to become emotionally agitated, or in some cases triggered, meaning that we can experience overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger or anxiety. When we are not conscious of the shadow aspects of ourselves, we may find ourselves repeating the same behaviours that we do not want to exhibit, or ending up in situations that are similar and we do not want. For example, someone who goes from one abusive relationship to another, wondering why this is happening, is likely playing a part in creating these painful experiences in their life by not being aware of the ways their shadow aspects are playing out. The shadow can feel like an inner fragment, a different personality operating inside of us.
How to spot the shadow?
The shadow can be difficult to spot because of its nature. There are a few ways we can start to become more aware of it:
- Develop more awareness with practices such as mindfulness meditation
- Notice what we don’t like in others or in the world – it is likely that we are projecting a reflection of our own shadow
- Notice emotional triggers. Slow down and feel the trigger, rather than acting out on it. Feeling into it can be a window for healing. Every time we act out, we are “feeding the shadow”, and it can grow and get bigger
- Notice any repeating patterns in your life
- Self-enquire into any aspects of yourself that you don’t like, judge or fear
How to do shadow work
Becoming aware of the shadow is the first part of the work. The second part is to integrate this, by bringing light and love to the exiled parts of ourselves. Pushing away aspects of ourselves that we consider unacceptable was how the shadow was born, and so continuing to do this makes it worse! As the saying goes, “what you resist, persists, what you look at, disappears”. Witnessing the parts of ourselves that feel pain without judgment, can help to bring them closer and for the shadow to start to shrink.
The smaller the shadow gets, the less it impacts on our life. Because the shadow was born from non-acceptance, the healing work is about acting with love, compassion, self-acceptance and gratitude towards self and others. What helps is to learn to love and accept all of the self, recognising that the shadow is not separate, and is part of us. In fact, when we embrace our shadow and connect with the inner Light and Love we have in our beings, it starts to disappear! This can lead to feeling more peace and joy in our lives.
For those interested in philosophy, classical non-dualistic Tantra sees this physical world as a manifestation of the Divine. As such, everything comes from the Oneness of the same Source. The shadow is therefore an illusion, because it seems to create a duality, which does not really exist. When looked at closely and felt without fear and only with love, the so-called negative aspects of ourselves disappear, because we are the Light. You are the Light.
I offer individual and couples’ sessions in Teesside and London. Contact me to find out more about shadow work, tantric bodywork and tantric philosophy.