Inner Shadow Work

“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” (C. Jung)

Defining the Shadow

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” may refer to (1) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious, or (2) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality, the shadow is largely negative. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in one’s shadow.

The shadow has many facets. It is largely taboo. For most people it is difficult to speak about. That which is unspoken and buried is not forgotten in the subconscious. Anger, arrogance, hatred, disdain, specialness, self fixation, greed, gossip, need to control or manipulate others, these are all shadow aspects. Shadow takes form in individuals and shadow is witnessed in groups… this collective shadow is found in professions and in nation states. The collective human shadow is real, and this is why no one is above it, because they are all a part of it.

Only when shadow is acknowledged and embraced can a person move on and live authentically. Those who say everything is love and light… they are living in a world of pretending. No one who has tackled their shadow aspects would ever say this. There is a potent sobriety in those who do their shadow work.

The White Shadow

The white shadow is a term used for spiritual teachers and followers who deny what is lurking in their subconscious… it is also known as spiritual bypassing. There is usually a superior ‘specialness’ vibe to their behavior. The white shadow (white / spiritual / superiority) cloaks their inner darkness which miraculously dissolved upon their awakening… now they are ABOVE it all. And this superiority complex resonates with a lot of people, so they write popular books and gain followers who relate. Here’s the truth about the white shadow – It’s real easy to cover up, requires no conscious examination, and it feels all warm and fuzzy. Yet the shadow remains.

Conscious Examination or Inquiry

To catch a glimpse of how your inner shadow remains hidden you can start by looking around at your daily life routines and your interactions with others. Your psyche (totality of conscious and unconscious mind) in daily life tries to give you a hint of where your shadow lies by picking out people to hate in an irrational way. In your judgment of others you discover where the shadow lies. This act of attention can extend into literature, movies, and family gatherings. What is it about this person that irritates me?

How to decipher the information coming in is a little more challenging. Generally the source of conflict can be identified in a word or two – judgment of the prostitute would be related to sexuality. Criticism of the pompous attorney might be connected with arrogance or self-importance. Dislike of the wealthy executive may relate to success or power. These connections are all indicators that can help you sift through these thoughts and get to the source of the inner conflict.

There are many facets to this shadow game. Identifying the source of ‘what bothers me about this person’ is a major step forward in awareness. Good work. Now what? Find a way to neutralize the judgment. This is the tricky part. Can you look in the mirror and own this sliver of shadow? Can you forgive this person their faults, and can you forgive yourself the judgment? This can take time and a repeated effort through observation. You’ll know it’s neutralized when the light of acceptance shines.

The key is to go easy on yourself through the process. Be kind as you unwind. Beyond the examination phase, there is a genuine transformation. You’ll learn to catch the old pattern as it arises. Eventually you’ll catch it before you speak or act.  As you diffuse these old patterns with a new awareness, you create more space for play and creativity.

So much of what is witnessed and judged in others is based on a subtle social conditioning that starts at an early age. This conditioning isn’t always accurate. As you begin to take complete responsibility for your inner and outer condition, you begin walking a path of authenticity. It is a return to an authentic self. As your shadow aspects are revealed and embraced you may discover a genuine compassion for others. Your cold shadow becomes a powerful shield of warmth and kindness.

Russell Webb

Art Credit: RAW-SundariStudio


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