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If you want to achieve a higher level of self-awareness, then you need to do some work on your inner shadow.
This is also really important for any healing process that you are going through. The best way to do this is with shadow work exercises. But what is your inner shadow?
What is shadow work? And what are the best shadow work exercises that you can do? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Your Inner Shadow?
Your inner shadow, or your shadow self, is a subconscious part of you that includes the darker part of your personality.
It is often something you are unaware of, but it can still influence your behavior and your emotions.
Many people reject their inner shadow or dissociate from their shadow selves, but this disconnection is not helpful and causes various issues in our lives and with our mental health.
Have you ever met someone and found them really frustrating but you can’t figure out why?
This is often you coming face to face to aspects of your shadow self reflected in someone else, and it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Shadow projection is quite common – you might be projecting the parts of yourself you don’t like onto someone else, and then using them to vent your anger and frustration.
Often, our views of our ‘worst’ traits are distorted, which makes this whole process worse.
What Is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is a form of therapy that helps you to connect to the darker parts of your personality in your subconscious.
Becoming aware of these aspects of yourself helps you to understand yourself better. Once you learn about the darker parts of your personality and how they impact you, they will have less power over your actions and your feelings.
You can also make peace with your inner shadow, bringing more peace and harmony to your mind.
Shadow work can be a messy and challenging process. You don’t just face your shadow self, you embrace it.
You need to accept all parts of you, even the darker ones. It often feels uncomfortable, but it will be worth it in the end.
You will notice a big reduction in destructive, negative and self-sabotaging behavior. This will improve your relationship with yourself and your relationship with others, and will ultimately lead to a happier and more peaceful life.
What Are The Best Shadow Work Exercises For Healing?
There are lots of different types of shadow exercises that you can try. Here are our top recommendations for the best shadow exercises that will help you to heal.
Recognising Your Reactions
The first step with shadow work is to recognise your emotional reactions so that you can start to analyze them.
An emotional reaction is one that bypasses logic and reason – it’s reactive and instant. These emotional reflexes can tell us a lot about ourselves, even the subconscious parts that we aren’t directly in touch with.
Emotional reactions are not a bad thing, but they can have negative consequences – especially if they involve repressed emotions and sensitive triggers.
They can result in you lashing out at the people around you, or engaging in self-destructive behaviors. If you have had an emotional reaction, you need to take some time to process it as soon as possible while the emotions are still fresh.
How To Analyze An Emotional Reaction
After your emotional reaction, ask yourself these questions and take some time to reflect on the answers:
- What caused your reaction? Was it a specific person, a behavior, a word, or something else?
- How did you feel when you were triggered? What emotions were present, and how did they drive your behavior?
- Where do you think those feelings came from? Are there any secondary feelings hiding behind the big display of emotion? For example, anger is often a mask for fear.
Once you have answered these questions, you need to accept that your feelings are valid. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
You then need to take a step back and look at your reaction objectively- did you react rationally to the trigger you were presented with? Recognising irrational behavior is an important step in getting to know your shadow self.
Journaling is a very accessible type of shadow work that anyone can try. It is suitable for beginners, and can be a very versatile form of therapy.
The best way to use journaling as a shadow work exercise is to make a note of the times you feel triggered, and what triggered you.
You can then begin to process how you feel, and why. Consistently reflecting on your behavior and the emotions driving it will bring you face to face with your shadow self.
You will know when you have been triggered as you will likely display angry or aggressive behavior, or even self-destructive behaviors including recklessness and addiction.
You might be feeling jealousy, shame, guilt, bitterness or resentment. Your thoughts will probably be heavily focused on judgment – either of yourself or other people.
By journaling through these feelings, you will be able to gain a better understanding of the subconscious reasons behind them.
In time, you will be able to recognise these triggers and soothe your shadow self before the negative behaviors begin.
Top Tips For Shadow Work Journaling
Childhood – Spend some time writing about your childhood and identifying moments of pain, neglect, or trauma. A lot of the darker parts of ourselves come about as a result of childhood trauma.
Patterns – Look for patterns in your behavior, and in the events that lead up to you being triggered.
Pay attention to how things make you feel – two events might seem very different but if they make you feel the same way then your shadow self is categorizing them as the same trigger/threat.
Themes – Are there any themes popping up – fear of abandonments, trust issues, feelings of inadequacy etc?
Compassion – You should always approach your journaling sessions from a place of compassion. You need to accept your shadow self so that you bring it into the light. Find ways to comfort the parts of yourself that are hurting, rather than feeling ashamed.
Shadow Work Journal Prompts:
- Write about the last time you felt let down by someone close to you. How did it make you feel? Do you think your reaction was rational?
- Describe how you think other people see you, and how that makes you feel.
- Write about the last time you felt judgemental towards someone else. Do you think your judgment was justified? Where did those feelings come from?
- Write down your core values, then think of a time when you acted outside of those values. What triggered you to act that way?
- Think about your relationships. Do they have healthy boundaries? Are there any relationships where you think you could benefit from stronger boundaries?
- Think about someone that you are jealous of. Why are you jealous of them? How does your jealousy impact your behavior towards that person?
Getting to know your shadow self is just one half of the shadow work. The other half is embracing and accepting your inner shadow.
Being ashamed of the darker parts of your personality leads to many issues, including a lack of harmony and balance within yourself.
Our inner shadow often drives us towards negative behaviors – perhaps you have been unkind or spiteful, or maybe even hurt someone very close to you. In these circumstances, it is tempting to reject your shadow self.
You might try to ignore it, or attack it with shame and judgment, but none of this helps you in the long run – it just gives your shadow self more power over you.
Imagine it this way – your shadow self is a child who has picked up lots of bad behaviors. The child has been deprived of love and kindness, and is lashing out.
If you punish that child with hard words and judgment, or you just ignore it, is their behavior going to improve? No, it will likely get worse.
What you need to do is learn why the child is behaving that way, then use love and kindness to heal the child. It is the same idea with your shadow self.
This is where inner dialogue comes into play. You can also tie this in with journaling if you want to.
Questions To Ask Your Inner Shadow
Which person has caused you the most emotional pain in your life? What did they do, and why did it hurt? (You could follow this up by writing a letter to that person to express your feelings, but not sending it).
What are you most afraid of? How does this fear make you feel? What do you do when you feel this way?
What memories are you most ashamed of, and why? How do you react when these memories come forward?
(You can take this further by reminding yourself that you did the best you could at the time, and you are putting in the effort to grow into a better version of yourself. Try to forgive yourself for past mistakes).
How do you generally feel in comparison to other people? Better or worse than them? Explore this further and think about why.
Which parts of yourself do you feel are overlooked or misunderstood by other people? How does that make you feel?
In general, do you feel like a success or a failure? What does success and failure mean to you? Are you defining yourself by your standards, or other peoples?
These questions will open up an inner dialogue between you and your inner shadow. Don’t be afraid to follow these conversations as far as they will go, pushing through feelings of discomfort to reach the truth.
You might get upset and distressed, but you will feel better afterwards. Remember to practice self-care at the end of your session – perhaps a bath or a walk out in nature to clear your head and find peace.
Face The Shadow
One of the reasons that people are so out of touch with their shadow selves is that they refuse to accept that those darker parts of themselves exist.
Everyone wants to see themselves as a good person, but for every good trait we have there is a negative one hiding in the shadows.
This isn’t a bad thing – nobody is perfect – but repressing those darker traits is what gives them power and makes us feel an imbalance in ourselves.
Try to avoid defining yourself in black and white – in solid, fixed concepts that reject their opposing concept – in reality, most people exist in the gray area in between.
If you define yourself as a ‘good’ person, then you will be overly harsh and judgemental if you do something ‘bad’. It is better to accept that you are an imperfect person who does both good and bad things.
This takes the pressure off you, allowing you to live more authentically.
Over time, this will likely lead to more positive behavior overall – caving into repressed feelings is often what leads to the worst examples of our behavior.
If those parts of us are accepted rather than repressed, they have less power over our behavior.
Adopting this mentality also helps you to see other people in a more realistic way. If you see someone else as a ‘good’ person you might put them on a pedestal and only expect good things from them.
If they do something bad then you will judge them harshly for it, and may even accuse them of acting out of character.
This gives the people around you unrealistic expectations to live up to, and it’s not fair on them. Your relationships with others will be much stronger if you can accept people for the flawed, imperfect but still beautiful people that they are.
The 3-2-1 method of shadow work is a great technique that you can use time and time again and apply to various different situations.
It combines some of the other exercises into a three part process. It is great for helping you work through a trigger, or to handle a triggering situation.
Start by thinking about the trigger – for this example we are going to choose a person who you find it difficult to be around because they bring out feelings of anger.
Step one is to face the trigger. Imagine this person in your mind – conjure a clear mental image of them and then start thinking about all the things you feel when you are around them.
Start listing the traits in them that bring about these feelings for you. Perhaps it’s a smug facial expression, their condescending tone of voice, or their opinions on certain topics.
Don’t hold back – nobody is going to know what you have said and nobody is judging you. Say it out loud if you need to.
Talk To It
Step two is to communicate with this person in your scenario. You don’t actually talk to them, but you practice ‘inner dialogue’ or role play with your mental image of them.
You can say it out loud, write it down, or just think about it – whatever works for you. Tell this person how they make you feel, and ask them why they behave this way.
Imagine what their answer might be. Try to be objective.
The final step is the hardest. You need to embody the person you have been thinking about. Imagine you are them, and say all of the traits you listed but as if you are describing yourself. ‘I am condescending, I am smug’ etc.
This will feel uncomfortable, and the theory is that whatever these traits are, they are part of your shadow self.
This exercise helps to bring those traits into the light so you can face them rather than repress them or project them onto other people.
All of the shadow work exercises we have recommended so far have been quite intensive and mentally active. Meditation is more of a passive healing process – a restorative exercise rather than an explorative exercise.
There are lots of different types of meditation – silent meditation, guided meditation, meditation with music, group meditation, solo meditation – you can find the best type of meditation for you.
It is a complementary exercise that works well alongside the other exercises we have mentioned. It is also a great exercise to do after some grueling self-exploration or reflection, as it can heal your mind and restore peace.
It gives you a chance to let all of the new ideas or uncovered feelings settle down and become part of your conscious mind rather than your subconscious.
Some people find that meditation can unlock an expression of repressed emotion, so you might find yourself becoming tearful.
This is just your mind reacting to the safe space you have created, allowing you to become vulnerable. This is perfectly normal and is actually very healthy.
Try not to hold back – you will feel better once you have let out any feelings that were bottled up.
Regular meditation is an important part of your healing process, so try to make time for consistent practice.
Shadow work can be a challenge, but it is an important step in your healing and your journey to self-awareness.