Shadow Work: Making the Painful, Yet Sensational Climb Back Into Yourself
Most of us have felt tremendous pressure since we were little to “be the light”. And for those of us who are on a growth and spirituality track -- and live in a culture like the US that is deeply rooted in perfectionism -- the pressure to be positive and “good” can be especially gripping.
And it doesn't help that the wellness and self-improvement industries are oversaturated with fragmented teachings (look up toxic positivity, emotional bypass and spiritual materialism) that perpetuate shame, self-abandonment and inauthenticity.
I don’t write this with any judgement; it's human to abandon ourselves in an attempt to be people-pleasing (which we learn is synonymous with lovable). And of course we want to immerse ourselves in external perspectives and approaches (often developed by men I might add, Law of Attraction being one of the most pervasive) that promise eternal bliss and financial abundance in a futile attempt to bypass our pain and cyclical struggles.
Just like there is a point in childhood when we self-abandon to appease others, there is a point in our spiritual journey when we self-abandon too; when we stop feeling and thinking for ourselves and look to our teachers for guidance.
And then, if we stay on the spiraling path long enough, something beautiful happens. Something or someone comes in to reroute us -- whether it’s intuitive or external, doesn’t matter, life has countless ways of nudging us along -- and we start the painful yet sensational climb back into ourselves.
Which means integrating our shadow: the parts of our personality that we don’t like, are often blind too (but can quickly judge in others), and subconsciously hide from the world.
Our shadow consists of the difficult feelings that we don’t like to face and the traits we deem undesirable or unlovable early on in life. While it is tempting to keep our shadow tied up with a pretty bow, doing so ultimately keeps us caged. Like the old adage goes: “What we don’t own owns us”.
When we’re little we throw things into our shadow that we are scolded or worse abused for as a brilliant form of self-protection. We even take on our parent’s shame as a way to belong to them, and then put it into our shadow. If we have low self-esteem, we may even put admirable qualities into our shadow in an attempt to bolster others, blend in, and stay small because it’s what we know. Thus, our shadow grows bigger and bigger, and the person we think we are is merely a drop in the ocean of who we really are.
Exposing and integrating (learning to accept and love) our shadow is the key to breaking generational cycles like caretaking, people pleasing, trauma-bonding, and low self-worth.
It is only in confronting the shame that lives in our shadow that we can deshamify and unleash our authentic self. And in doing so we can forge deeper, more satisfying relationships with ourselves and others.
Remember, authenticity is the sexiest, most attractive, most magnetic quality you can embody, even if it means you’re a bit of a hot mess at times. And the key to unlocking your authenticity is owning your shadow.
Start by reflecting in your journal: Where am I hiding? What do I feel uncomfortable expressing to my partner, family, on social media? What do I feel ashamed of? Some common examples include: financial status, sexuality, anger, sadness, fear, needs.
To dive deeper, read The Dark Side of The Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford and listen to the Expanded Podcast with Lacy Phillips.
Photo Credit: Art By Mushka
By Allie Andrews, Self-Care Coach for Caregivers and Achievers, Founder of OmBody Health