On Shadow Work

What is Shadow Work?

What we call Shadow work can be one of the more difficult practices of living a spiritual life. The term has its roots in Jungian psychology. Carl Jung identified the Shadow as one of the archetypes of human personality. We each have a Shadow, and the more we deny its existence, the more powerful it becomes.

“By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions…If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of what you are, you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.” –Carl Jung

Shadow work is the art of exploring your shadow and coming to terms with its existence, integrating it consciously into your identity.

What, then, is the Shadow? The Shadow is composed of everything about yourself which is suppressed, hidden, or denied. It is all of your repressed impulses, character flaws you do not acknowledge or recognize, desires denied, characteristics of which you are ashamed, and traumas too painful to acknowledge.

Much of what can be considered the Shadow is typically unconscious. We don’t realize these things are even there in our minds until we’ve begun shadow work. When we have impulsive emotional reactions in ways that are unhealthy or maladaptive, and we may not even know why we react the way we do, that’s our Shadow at work.

Shadow work allows us to unpack these repressed and hidden aspects, and in so doing we bring them into conscious awareness, giving ourselves greater understanding, and greater control over our own behavior. Our goal is not to suppress, control, or do away with our Shadow, but to accept it, make peace with it, and integrate it into our conscious personality.

This process will almost certainly be painful, but it will be well worth the pain.

Getting Started

The first step in Shadow work is acknowledging the work that needs to be done. You have a Shadow. If you think you don’t have a Shadow, you especially need to focus on Shadow work. Your Shadow is deep and complex, and you do not know all of its facets. You will never be finished with Shadow work. Unpacking our repression, trauma, and fears about who we are is an ongoing process throughout each of our lives. There will always be more for you to uncover and grapple with. I’ve been doing the work for over a decade and I still have more to do. Shadow work is about healing, and making ourselves whole.

This work will be surprising. It will be painful. It will also help you to be more at peace, more fulfilled in your life, and more mindful and self aware.


Journaling can be an extremely valuable tool for Shadow work.

Keep a daily journal, and focus especially on where you are emotionally, and any incidents in your day which provoke a strong emotional response. Especially if that emotion doesn’t seem rational, or it causes you to act in an unhealthy or uncontrolled way.

You should also journal your dreams. Write down what you remember from your dreams before you get out of bed. From the moment your feet touch the floor, your recall of your dreams is fading, so at least write bullet points before you do anything else.

In both your dreams, and your days, read previous entries and look for patterns which can give you clues into your unconscious emotional landscape.


 Meditation, visualization, and mindfulness is the heart of Shadow work.

To begin, find a comfortable place to sit where you will not be disturbed. Ideally, this should be done in the dark, or perhaps by candle light.

Focus on your breathing, or use any other method you prefer for bringing yourself to an introspective state of mind. Turn your attention inward, looking into the depths of yourself, and ask to see your Shadow. Bring your attention to what you repress, what you dislike about yourself, and your unconscious mind.

You may as your attention focuses on these things, receive insights about yourself. You may also, if you are practiced in visualization, be able to meet and interact with one or more personifications of your Shadow.

In my meditations, I have met three different manifestations of my Shadow, embodying different aspects of my repression and trauma. I started Shadow work before I realized I was a trans woman. Meeting my Shadow and finding that she was a woman helped me to realize I needed to come out and start transitioning. I gave her a hug.






3 responses to “On Shadow Work”

  1. Liz Watkins Avatar
    Liz Watkins

    Great work!

  2. Borderlands Collective Avatar
    Borderlands Collective

    I loved reading this. You write very well.

    1. dragonmom Avatar

      Thank you!

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