Shadow work is the term used to describe the practice of self-study related specifically to unconscious patterns resulting from early life experiences that impact us in the present day. Sometimes these patterns are a result of traumatic experiences, but sometimes they are simply things that happened when we were young and were not able to understand or integrate in a healthy way. When these deeply ingrained patterns remain unconscious or outside of our awareness, they can lead to behaviors that harm our relationship with ourselves and others. The purpose of doing shadow work is to bring these unconscious patterns to awareness so that we may adjust our behaviors and see the world as it is with compassion, clarity and understanding.
If the idea of shadow work causes stress and pain, or if you know that your shadow contains trauma, it is a good idea to do this type of work under the guidance of a nonjudgmental therapist. However, if you feel mild discomfort and aversion, you are right on track! While there are many ways to approach this work, it is a good idea to have some sort of plan. Author Pixie Lighthorse’s book, Goldmining the Shadows, is a great resource for self-study. This digestible, 52-chapter tome offers shadow workers a private, compassionate and gentle approach to taking a deep look at the parts of ourselves we wish did not exist. Go slowly, practice self-forgiveness and build trust within yourself.
Noticing the things that are bothersome about others can also be a great lead-in to shadow work. The things that irritate us in our relationships are often great entry points into getting to know our own habits and patterns better, as it is true that we notice in others what also exists within us. Once self-compassion becomes habitual, it will in turn become far easier to offer compassion to others. Remember, the name of the shadow work game is making the unconscious conscious so we can move towards accepting all parts of ourselves as equal and equally lovable. Ultimately, this introspective process offers the opportunity to heal past disturbances and move towards wholeness and mature adulthood.
Comprehensive and gentle shadow work offers many benefits:
While this work is not for the faint of heart, mustering the courage to face the parts of yourself that have been previously hidden yields great benefits. Proceed gently and with honesty; the ability to self-reflect in a truthful way will grant the biggest payoffs.
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