We all have our demons. Some of them are more pronounced or more dangerous than others, but no matter who you are, you have a few demons or shadows or dark thoughts that you keep locked away in the deepest parts of your mind. It’s not something to be ashamed or afraid of — it’s just human nature.
With most of these pieces of your “shadow self” — a term coined by psychologist Carl Jung — the temptation is to simply box them away and forget about them. Instead of tossing your anger, guilt, shame or grief into a deep, dark hole, did you know that you can work with these shadows to improve yourself?
What Is Shadow Work?
The term “shadow work” refers to the practice of actively seeking out those shadows that we all hide from ourselves. Our shadow selves are made up of everything that we’re ashamed of thinking, all the intrusive little thoughts that cross our minds that wouldn’t be acceptable in polite company.
What makes up your shadow self is as unique as your fingerprint. What you feel is disturbing or dark might not even faze the person sitting next to you.
Shadow work is the practice of reaching into those dark places and finding out both what’s hidden there and the reason behind it. By looking at these dark thoughts and discovering exactly why you place such importance on them, you can start to learn why these thoughts bother you so much. Discovering your shadow self is a journey of discovery that can be used for self-improvement.
An Example of Shadow Work
Your inner demons or your shadows might be filled with a variety of scary or disturbing thoughts and emotions. For our example, we’re going to focus on one that we’ve probably all got as part of our shadow selves: anger. If you’ve ever come across something that makes you completely and irrationally angry or leaves you stewing in a rage, then you understand what it’s like to have anger as part of your shadow self.
To use this technique to improve yourself, you need to sit down and ask a few questions.
- What’s causing this anger? Is your irrational rage directed at a person, thing or occurrence, or simply at your environment?
- Have I taken steps to change what’s causing this irrational anger? Have you tried to change whatever’s making you angry, or are you simply bottling it up to be stashed away or dealt with at a later date?
- What does this anger say about me? Discovering what your dark thoughts say about you is the biggest part of shadow work. Are you irrationally angry at a person because your own strengths aren’t being recognized? Are you furious at your morning commute because they’re doing construction that takes your route out of your control?
By analyzing what it is that’s causing your anger, you can take it out of your shadow self and let it become something beneficial.
Shadow Work for Self Improvement?
Our dark thoughts will always be a part of us. This is something that’s irrepressibly and entirely human, but it doesn’t mean these thoughts have to define us or hold us back. Think of reaching into your shadow self as exercise for your mind. You wouldn’t attempt to compete in a marathon or a heavyweight competition without practice and training, would you? Shadow work is the exercise that you need to help you come to terms with the darkness within you.
Instead of bottling up those feelings, you can turn them into something productive. Anger becomes the fuel for change, and the darkness that we’re afraid of burns away once we bring it into the light. How can you use your shadow self to your benefit?
- Encourage self-awareness. By being aware of your demons, you’re no longer at their mercy. This can also lead to self-awareness in other areas of your life, as well.
- Gain more control over your own life. When we repress our darker halves, we often find ourselves compelled by those darker impulses. By accepting this shadow as part of you, rather than something that needs to be defeated, you can gain more control.
- Enjoy more energy for other activities. Repressing your shadow self is a constant and exhausting task. When you stop fighting those thoughts and embrace them instead, all of that energy gets freed up to be used for other tasks.
- Take advantage of your environment. A lot of everyday activities can help you give voice to some of those baser instincts. Humor is a great outlet, as are many sports that allow you to enjoy things like aggression and ego in an otherwise safe environment.
- Express your shadow. Art, music and writing are all great ways to express and explain your shadow self without harming yourself or others with any particularly dark or dangerous thoughts.
You may find other techniques that work better than these. Your shadow self is as unique as your fingerprint, after all, and should be treated accordingly.
Looking inside yourself is never an easy feat, and delving into your shadow self might seem terrifying or entirely impossible, but by facing those demons and making them work for you, you can improve yourself and your entire outlook.