8 benefits of shadow work and how to use it in your journey
We all have traits that we’re proud of, and traits that we don’t feel so confident about. Some of these traits may trigger or embarrass us, so we hide them from public view. These parts make up your shadow self, and it longs to be heard.
However, it’s not always easy to come to terms with our shadow selves. Many people tend to repress those hidden parts of themselves to avoid having to confront that darker side. Even though the shadow still exists, it gets pushed back and forgotten.
But repressing your inner shadow can have dangerous consequences. Most often, the shadow manifests as our triggers — emotional reactions that we haven’t fully dealt with, but bubble up to the surface under the right (wrong) circumstances. It takes training, self-awareness, guidance, and courage to help you face your shadow self in a healthy way.
This is exactly why shadow work exists. Shadow work is designed to help you integrate and accept every single part of yourself so that you can live and thrive with more clarity and authenticity.
Let’s explore what shadow work means, how you can benefit from it, and how you can start practicing shadow work for yourself.
What is your inner shadow?
Your inner shadow is composed of parts of you that you subconsciously reject.
The psychologist Carl Jung popularized the idea of the shadow self, or inner shadow. He defined the collective unconscious with eight different Jungian archetypes:
Self: The center of the personality or psyche — your conscious awareness
Shadow: The dark and emotional aspect of your psyche
Anima: An image of an idealized woman that draws people into their feminine side
Animus: A part of you that has the capacity for reflection and self-knowledge
Persona: The mask you wear to show the world while you protect your inner self
Hero: A part of your psyche that can overcome evil and destruction
Wise old man: A personification of the self that contains your wisdom
Trickster: A childish part of your psyche that needs gratification
Jung defined the shadow archetype as the dark and emotional side of your personality or psyche. He also defined it as inferior or immoral, but this isn’t always the case.
For example, say that you were often teased for being talkative as a child. Believing that you “talk too much,” you start retreating within, weighing every conversation to see if you “did it again.” One day, someone makes an innocuous comment while you’re preparing for a presentation: “Be careful not to put too many words on that slide” — and you’re furious.
Why? It wasn’t the comment, the presentation, or even whether or not there were too many words on the slide. It was the part of you that was emotionally invested in not being a chatterbox. Anything that threatens the way you present yourself to the world (that is, brings your shadow self into the light) will be seen as a threat to your identity — and ultimately, your safety.
What makes up your shadow depends on what you subconsciously reject within yourself. We usually hear this come up as negative self-talk. Often, these rejected parts of ourselves are the result of childhood experiences.
How your inner shadow affects you
Your shadow side can have a negative impact on your well-being when you ignore or reject it. This part of yourself craves to be understood and explored. This is because it was ignored and possibly shamed throughout your life. Even if it was less dramatic, we don’t feel mentally and emotionally at our best when our shadow is not integrated into ourselves, which is to say — when the shadow and self are far apart.
The effects of ignoring your shadow
When you ignore it, your shadow will find ways to make you aware that it exists. This can lead to issues like:
Self-loathing or poor self-esteem
Self-deceit and deceiving others
Anxiety and depression
Offensive behavior toward others
Struggling to have healthy relationships with others
An inflated ego
When you reject your shadow, you may also start projecting onto others. Projection happens when you see things in others that you subconsciously recognize within yourself.
Those parts can make you uncomfortable. As a result, you can seek to judge or punish others who reflect those traits.
What is shadow work?
The shadow work meaning is as follows:
Working with your unconscious mind to uncover the parts of yourself that you repress and hide from yourself. This can include trauma or parts of your personality that you subconsciously consider undesirable.
Anyone can do shadow work on their own. However, consider seeking out a licensed therapist for treatment, especially if you struggle with severe trauma.
What is the goal of shadow work?
Your shadow isn’t a flaw or a mistake — instead, it’s a natural part of who you are.
Shadow work is, at heart, about developing self-awareness and ultimately, self-acceptance and compassion. Shadow work is often both therapy and more spiritual, helping you see the different parts of yourself. For people who have been especially good at avoiding their shadow — for instance, because it is too far different from your own self-perception or desired impression — shadow work is about acknowledging the existence of shadows and getting curious about exploring them.
For those whose shadow is associated with trauma, this type of work helps you work through trauma to embrace the part of yourself that’s been suppressed or shamed throughout your life.
By accepting your shadow self, you can start to see how your thoughts and emotions influence your behavior. When you’re aware of this, you can take control and empower yourself to live life more deliberately and consciously. You can start to show up as your authentic self.
8 benefits of shadow work
You can benefit from practicing shadow work in several different aspects of your life. Here are just eight examples of benefits you can gain by implementing shadow work into your self-care practices.
1. Gain more confidence and self-esteem
You can show up more confidently when you show up as the full version of yourself, shadow and all.
There’s no more hidden self-doubt about parts of yourself that you may dislike or even loathe. This means you can be more confident as you move forward to achieve your goals.
Most of the time, our shadow traits are actually valuable parts of our personality. But if they are truly weaknesses, you’re better able to address them when you bring them out into the light so you can understand (and maybe better manage) them. Our shadow is most problematic when we aren’t even aware of it.
2. Improve your creativity
Your shadow doesn’t just hide traits that people consider undesirable. It can also hide amazing parts of yourself, like creativity.
Accepting your shadow means you get to embrace your creative side. Instead of suppressing your darker self, you can fully tap into all of the unique expressions it hides.
3. Build better relationships with others
Only when you fully love and accept yourself can you fully love and accept others.
When you tame your projections, you can see others for who they really are. You no longer see them as projections of the side of you that you dislike.
As a result, you can build stronger bonds with them.
4. Practice self-acceptance
You can get rid of the self-loathing you may unconsciously have when you repress your shadow. But you can only do this by fully accepting that side of yourself and practicing self-awareness.
Accepting your shadow means accepting and feeling self-compassion for every aspect of yourself. It won’t necessarily come easily and automatically. But beginning shadow work opens the door for you to get there.
5. Discover your hidden talents
You can use shadow work to uncover what some people call the "gold in your shadow bags" — in other words, your inner strengths and resources that you didn’t realize you had before.
Some people may fear that their shadow contains too much darkness for them to overcome. But in most cases, this golden shadow takes up most of the space. It just never had an opportunity to thrive before.
Shadow work can tempt this side of yourself out of hiding and allow you to step into everything you can really do.
6. Improve your overall wellness
Repressing your shadow can lead to all sorts of problems. You may not even realize these problems stem from a repressed side of yourself until you’re ready to face that shadow.
Shadow work can help you take control of your wellness journey by starting at the root. Instead of addressing specific wellness issues, like anxiety or unhealthy relationships, shadow work tackles their root causes.
7. Increase your compassion toward others
Shadow work helps you reduce projection when you interact with others. You’re less likely to be triggered by other people’s personality traits and quirks.
In turn, this can help you feel more compassionate toward others. You no longer see the dark side of yourself reflected in others. Instead, you can see them as whole people who likely have their own inner battles to face.
8. Have better clarity
Shadow work gives you better clarity on how your thoughts, emotions, and feelings lead you to act the way you do.
When you have this information, you can show up with more clarity and authenticity.