Without awareness of our unconscious practices we have little chance of freeing ourselves from the suffering they cause.
In therapy when we do shadow work, we are talking about working with aspects of ourselves that are hidden from us. We may have rejected or denied these parts because we are ashamed or disconnected from them. Unfortunately they do not go away but get expressed through unhealthy and distorted ways. Shadow work brings these parts of ourselves into the light of the day where we can accept, understand and integrate these hidden drives feelings, needs and potentials. They then become a part of us in a healthy whole way.
How do you know when something is a shadow part? Often the things that most disturb and upset us about others are really a reflection of our own self. We displace our own fears and emotions onto someone else. If the threat of an emotion or situation is overwhelming, we can totally disown it and dissociate from it.
For example, I was shamed as child for having speech problems. I did everything I could as a young child to hide the fact that my parents called me “the dumb one in the family.” I got high grades in school because I thought I was hiding the fact that I was really dumb. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t have gotten those marks if I was really dumb. When someone around me did something that I felt was embarrassing or stupid, I felt deeply ashamed of them. I felt that by acting that way, somehow that was insult to me. Until I could ‘see’ this shadow aspect, heal it and embrace it, I falsely projected my fears on others. When I reclaimed my shadow I had more compassion for others who didn’t understand something and more energy for myself because I did not have to spend energy on covering up my feelings. I had new insights and it no longer felt devastating or dangerous if I did not know something.
Art Therapy Shadow Exercise:
Draw three people who you admire and write the traits that you admire beside them. Next draw and write the traits of three people who irritate you. Now write: In me are the following traits… and copy down all the traits in the first group. Next write: In me are also the following traits…and write down all the traits in the second group.
The truth is we contain all expressions that humans are capable of. All parts of us do not have to be acted on, but they do have to be acknowledged. I may never commit acts of violence, but I can’t pretend that the capability to do so is not in me. If I didn’t, I would be creating shadows not light.
These are some of the more common examples of how shadow translates into symptom (and vice versa).
Resentment of outside pressure drive
Rejection (“Nobody likes me”) Rejection (“I reject them”)
Guilt (“You make me feel guilty”) Resentment (of another’s demands)
Self-consciousness Outward focus (on others)
Fear (“they want to hurt me”) Hostility (“I’m angry and attacking without knowing it.”)
I can’t “I won’t!”
Obligation (“I have to”) Desire (“I want to.”)
Envy (“You’re so great”) “I’m better than I realize.”
From: Integral Life Practice
To learn more about shadow work read Integral Life Practice by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard & Marco Morelli.