Shadow Work

What Is The Shadow Self? And How Do I Do Shadow Work?

Psychiatrist Carl Jung described “the shadow self” as the site of repressed desires, emotions and impulses hidden from our conscious awareness. Shadow work involves bringing these unconscious desires to the forefront so we can better understand them, heal them and integrate them in a healthy way to bring productive change in our lives.

Shadow Self And Shadow Work, Explained

According to some experts, our subconscious and unconscious (or shadow self) drive a good portion of our behavior. They contain some of the deep-seated belief systems and thoughts that we harbor beneath our conscious awareness, usually rooted in and stemming from childhood. It’s no surprise, then, that these hidden aspects of our personality have been hugely implicated in self-sabotaging behaviors.

Yet most of us focus on what is already within our conscious awareness, rather than addressing the internal programs that are driving our everyday actions, to manifest our desires. Psychologist Carl Jung conceptualized our disowned parts, our “dark side” and repressed desires as “the shadow.”

Unfortunately, many of us do not know what is in our shadow — and these disowned parts may still be driving the show in creating our reality.

The shadow self or subconscious does not know whether it’s sabotaging us or not, of course. Because it is hidden, it can seep into our life, our beliefs, and everyday behavior in unexpected ways – sometimes even as protective defensive mechanisms meant to keep us from owning our full, unbridled power – hidden from the world or from potential scrutiny. That’s why it’s so important to bring the shadow self to the surface, to perform the necessary inner work to create a dialogue between you and your “dark side” to create positive change.

Here are three ways to own your “dark side” or “shadow self” overcome subconscious blocks and curb self-sabotage if you want to manifest the life of your dreams:

The first shadow work lesson: You need to believe you are worthy of what you desire – and enough to “deserve it.”

Many of us carry around “not enough” myths. You might believe you’re not worthy of a loving relationship or your dream career, yet actually, you are probably overqualified for both. Addressing these self-sabotaging beliefs could mean working to undo years of childhood conditioning, societal expectations, as well as any harmful things said to you during your lifetime. Yet it’s more than possible to do so – whether that means through counseling, self-hypnosis, meditation, affirmations, healing bodywork or a combination of all these modalities.

To fully examine these subconscious programs operating on autopilot, you can’t just work on the surface-level beliefs you think you have. You have to go into the dark underworld of thoughts you don’t want to own. Bringing them to the surface is the only way to heal them, understand how they came to be, and ultimately replace them with healthier beliefs. 

Understand what these repressed parts are trying to tell you. Are they trying to protect you from something? Listen to their reasoning. Engage in a conversation with your inner parts to better uncover their origins and what they’re trying to achieve – even if they don’t make sense to you. For example, you may have an inner part that opposes your conscious desire for beautiful friendships with trustworthy people. Maybe that inner part has been “burned” by people in the past – so it doesn’t allow you to consider the possibility of people who may want the best for you entering your life. In doing so, it tries to defend you ferociously. This is a noble cause, but without moderating this desire, it can take over your life to the point of isolating you from those who could be compatible friends.

If you’re still doubting your worthiness to manifest your desires, use what I call “reverse comparison.” Consider that you’ve seen people far less loving than you enjoy the relationship of their lives. Did they do anything to “earn” their right to an ideal relationship? No! They simply believed they deserved it. You’ve seen others with less credentials and expertise climb the corporate ladder with ease; you’ve witnessed many who didn’t have to work as hard to be loved; you’ve even seen selfish narcissists gain the adoration and approval of the people they manipulate and dupe.

Given these facts, there is absolutely no reason why you, an empathic, compassionate human being, wouldn’t be worthy of what you desire.

Here is a radical, counterintuitive thought: You are already deserving, just as you are. It is your birthright to have the life of your dreams. You were not put on this earth to play small. You are in fact worthy and enough for everything you desire, you just have to ‘reprogram’ yourself to believe it.

Affirmation: “I am enough. I am worthy of everything and anything I desire. I am deserving. I deserve all good things in my life. I embrace all good things coming to me right now. I allow all miracles to enter my life.

The second shadow work lesson: Spiritually bypassing your emotions is not your pathway to abundance; owning your emotions all while remaining grateful is.

A lot of us are told that we need to be grateful constantly to manifest the life of our dreams. I find that repressing your emotions just for the sake of gratitude actually creates more subconscious blocks of resentment and unhealed stress beneath the surface. This depletes your internal resources. Finding the sweet spot between gratitude and a healthy sense of emotional validation is necessary. Your abundance mentality can clear the pathway for what you desire, but you don’t have to suppress your emotions to be grateful.

It’s okay to not be okay. Emotions should never be ignored or swept under the rug. They should be validated, heard, honored. You should be able to seek support to heal anything that needs to be healed. What people don’t realize is that honoring and acknowledging your emotions can also be combined with a sense of gratitude for what you already have. They are not mutually exclusive. You can acknowledge how unfair some aspects of your life experiences have been, all while maintaining an appreciation for the things that have gone right. This allows you to remain open to more abundance, without sacrificing your sanity or authentic emotions.

If you find yourself going in a downward spiral, stop for a moment. Breathe. Look around. What is good about your life? What has happened for you so far that is evidence that you do have support in your life? Take an inventory of things that you are so grateful to have, even though you may have taken it for granted.

Create a gratitude jar or write in a gratitude journal for when you’re struggling to ground yourself. Find ways to celebrate all the incredible things in your life, both big and small. Invite more of those things in, and watch them multiply – without sacrificing your authentic emotions.

When you appreciate the abundance you already have, you can become a magnet for more abundance. But you need to be able to also own all of your emotions too. Emotions are powerful manifestation and healing tools – they just have to be channeled wisely.

Affirmation: “I am so wealthy in every facet of my life. I deserve abundance in everything and anything. I am already abundant. I allow more abundance to flow into my life. I validate all of my emotions. I honor when I am angry, hurt, confused. Sometimes, life is deeply unfair. I never deserved the pain inflicted on me. I rise higher than my oppressors and bullies.”

The third shadow work lesson: Becoming fully integrated means owning your perceived “darkness,” not compartmentalizing it.

One of the biggest misconceptions about manifesting the life of your dreams is that the journey has to be only full of positive vibes and love and light. We are encouraged to prematurely forgive and reconcile with toxic people, to only see the good in every situation. We are told we need to be happy all of the time in order to generate more happiness.

In reality, compartmentalizing your darkness and trauma only severs your connection to immense manifestation, self-validation and healing. 

When you’re only owning a few facets of who you are, you’re not allowing the magic of your other inner parts and experiences to chime in and contribute. Fully integrated human beings actually generate more success because they’re not afraid to face their demons. Becoming a fully integrated human being requires that you speak to and own the deeper subconscious desires that may be driving your behavior without you being aware of it.

Maybe you claim you want a dream relationship, but there’s a part of you that believes there’s a greater association between being single and being happy to due to your experiences in previous relationships. Nothing is wrong with this belief – it is actually perfectly valid. However, there may be ways to remodel this belief so that you are also open to the idea of the happiness healthier relationships can bring, if you do want a happy relationship in the future.

Or, maybe you’re trying so hard to disown the traumas you’ve been through and the resulting anger from them that you’re not allowing yourself to see how this anger can be both healed and channeled into productive outlets. Anger is an extremely powerful tool – it can be used to defend yourself, set boundaries and honor your divine sense of self-worth.

Don’t dismiss “dark” emotions just because society has convinced you they are not “proper.” You don’t have to act impulsively or destructively on your anger or outrage to manifest the life of your dreams. You just have to acknowledge it is a valid part of you and use it to your advantage. How can so-called “darker” emotions like anger fuel and motivate you? How can it inspire you to see you do deserve better? How can it permit you to see all the times you were robbed of the respect you have every right to?

Eventually, if used constructively, you’ll find that these emotions will run their course precisely because you’ve allowed them space to just be. The added benefit is that your goals will be achieved with much more fervor and determination because you chose not to negate their existence, but to use them for your highest good.

By not stifling or ignoring your true emotions, now you’ve just used them to serve you. Anger is just one example of how a very stigmatized emotion can be destigmatized, reframed and rechanneled to serve your higher purpose. It is one way that an emotion considered ‘unhealthy’ can be rerouted toward a healthier mission and the greater manifestation of your desires.

Give yourself permission to be “bad” sometimes (so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else).  If you’re an empathic individual, what you perceive to be “bad” is actually probably not at all. It probably contains a range of things that others convinced you weren’t right to feel, think or say, because if you did them, you would discover your right to healthy boundaries and gain access to your full power.

Say no to the things you want to say no to. Say yes to the pleasure that might otherwise be seen as shameful or taboo by the people who’ve sought to keep you down. Say yes to the various parts of your identity that don’t fit with your cookie-cutter image: whether that be your deep spirituality or your wild sexuality.

Your so-called “dark side” holds as much of a key to your dreams as does your ideal self. It’s because your dark side contains all the parts of you that you blocked out to fit in with society. When you begin to own these parts and use them strategically to help yourself and others, there is no limit to what you can achieve.

You’ll find that when you do give yourself permission to be yourself, fully and with confidence, you start to manifest great abundance at lightning speed because you’re no longer restricting yourself to embodying just one part of yourself when all other parts contain unbridled magic, too.

You don’t have to sugarcoat your complex identity or censor your true self to manifest the life of your dreams.

Affirmation: “All parts of me are valid and I approve of myself fully. I own both my light and my dark. My empathy can heal others just as much as my outrage can fuel a revolution. I know I am imperfect and those flaws and scars are some of the most beautiful parts of me. I am beautiful in my imperfection. I am wild in my truth.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.