What is Shadow Work?
“Every pain, addiction, anguish, longing, depression, anger or fear is an orphaned part of us seeking joy, some disowned shadow wanting to return to the light and home of ourselves.”
Shadow Work: It’s Time to Shine a Light on Your Shadow Side…
Shadow work helps us make contact with the entirety of who we are. Let’s face it: There are parts of ourselves that we are proud of, and there are parts we would rather never see the light of day. Sometimes, we are not even aware of these dark aspects of ourselves. These hidden aspects form your shadow self. To create genuine change in your life, you have to face it.
In this episode of the podcast, I discuss how shadow work leads to self-awareness and, ultimately, self-acceptance. Through several examples, I share valuable tips and walk you through uncovering your shadow self. (Be sure to download the workbook I created for you so that you can do even more shadow work exercises on your own).
If you find yourself wondering why you do things you shouldn’t and how to change behaviors you don’t like, this episode is for you!
Shadow Self Work
In this episode I’ll be discussing how you can:
- Discover how your shadow self can control you without you knowing.
- Learn tips on how you can get in touch with your shadow self.
- Understand how shadow work can help you and your relationships with people.
Shadow Work: Making Contact With Your Subconscious Mind
The human mind is so powerful and complex that it’s impossible to be fully aware of everything. Most of the time, we are only aware of what is in front of us. A lot is going on in the background, which determines our behaviors or reactions.
Your shadow side lives in the part of you that you’re not fully conscious of…
Your shadow self consists of you with goals, needs, or a voice that you sometimes don’t consciously know of or hear. If you’re not aware of it, it can drive you to make unhealthy or unhelpful decisions. Your shadow self only has control when it remains unknown.
Listen to this episode to get new insights into yourself, and how shadow work therapy can help you get in touch with the deepest parts of yourself. Thought this powerful self awareness work, you can become truly empowered.
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To finding love, happiness, and success
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Shadow Work: Podcast Transcript
Access Episode Transcript
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
That’s “The Visitant” by the band The Tunnel. I am recording this leading up to Halloween. I love this time of year, not least of which is because I get to trot out gothy music for you, you guys, you little Gen Z’s and millennials. And I’m keeping it alive. So I hope you enjoy it.
And in addition to entertaining myself, I am also playing this in to set the mood for our topic today. Because today, we’re going to be talking about yet another kind of deep and important issue that will benefit you, and your love, happiness, and success to learn a little bit more about. We are talking about Shadow Work.
As always, today’s topic is about me doing my best to support you on your journey of growth. I have recently been getting a number of questions on the blog www.growingself.com, through Instagram, through Facebook that are in this category of “Dr. Lisa, why do I do this?” And the ‘this’ can be many different things. It can be, “Why do I have the same pattern and relationships over and over? Why do I make choices that I later regret? Why do I do things that I know are not really in alignment with my long term goals, hopes, or even values?” Like I had somebody get in touch with me not too long ago, it was like “Dr. Lisa, why do I lie to my partner?”
And these kinds of questions are hard, and they’re very real. And I hear and feel the intention behind them. Which is that you really legitimately do not understand why you do the things that you do. And without that clarity and self awareness, feeling like a little helpless or even hopeless about being able to change these patterns and behave in a way that is more consistent with who you want to be.
But when I get these kinds of questions around, why do I do XYZ? The knee-jerk and true response to this question is I don’t know. I don’t know why you lie to your partner. I don’t know why you cheat on your girlfriend. I don’t know why you say one thing and you do another. I do not have that information.
But what I do know is that this information is contained in a part of yourself that you do have access to. And that with some support and guidance, you can get into that aspect of yourself, get that incredibly valuable information to understand, “Oh, that’s why I do what I do.” And with that self-awareness and knowledge, then you will be empowered to handle things differently, and make changes that stick, and feel more in control of yourself and your life. And the part of yourself that all of those things exist in, all of that information is available in your shadow side.
And that’s what we’re going to be doing today on the podcast. I am going to be sharing a little bit more information with you around what that is, how you can make contact with it, and then what you can do in order to achieve that clarity by listening to these parts of yourself that you not only just don’t listen to or maybe even don’t know about. So that again, you feel more aware and complete, and able to do what you want to do, and be who you want to be.
So on this episode, I’m going to be talking about all kinds of things. And in addition to the information I’m providing, I’m also putting together a little worksheet for you that has some tips, ideas, strategies that you can use to crack into this a little bit more deeply. If you cruise on over to www.growingself.com/shadow-side, you will be able to download a worksheet that has some journaling prompts that can give you the opportunity to reflect and answer for yourself some of the questions that I will be posing to you today on this episode. Because, as always, and is so often the case really with any kind of growth work, the answers to the questions lie in new questions and being able to answer those questions.
And that’s one of the real, I think, strengths and almost superpowers of being in relationship with a great coach or therapist is being asked the kinds of questions that will help you elicit the truth and the answers that do exist within you, but that you may not consciously have access to. So if you’re one of the listeners who has been asking questions or leaving comments on the blog, or getting in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram, elsewhere, I’m so glad that you’re reaching out and letting me know what’s going on with you, so that I can be of service to you on this episode and hopefully others.
And if this is your first time listening or if you’re a longtime listener who has yet to pose a question, I would love to hear from you, too. You can comment, question, rant, opine, anything you’d like on the blog www.growingself.com and always get in touch with me, Facebook @drlisabobby, or Instagram at @drlisamariebobby. I can’t wait to hear from you.
Now, let’s jump right into our topic today. So okay, Shadow Work. We, humans, are incredibly complex. As we’ve talked about on different podcasts in the past, when I was talking to my colleague, Josephine, a while back about being honest with yourself or last year, I think we did a podcast about your subconscious mind and how to connect with it. There are parts of ourselves that are known and parts of us that are unknown. And I am not talking about it in like a really, you know, Freudian way necessarily. It’s kinda just a fact. We all have things going on inside us that are operating outside of the level of our awareness. They’re often subconscious core beliefs, or thoughts that fly through our head so automatically and outside of our awareness that we don’t even notice them. We just have a feeling we don’t even know why.
And also, we have emotional and mental and psychological processes that are operating at a level that is so deep, we don’t even know it’s there. And it’s all okay. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with anybody because those things are happening. That is actually the way that human beings work. The human brain is incredibly powerful and complex. And because you are so smart, and your powerful brain is capable of remembering so many things, and so much information, and being conscious of so much stuff, all at the same time.
It would actually be so overwhelming that no one would be able to function at all if we were all completely aware of everything all the time. It would overload the systems. And so our brains typically pay attention to what is in front of us, and what we are consciously aware of, what is occupying our attention in the moment. And everything else is kind of humming away in the background, not a problem in and of itself.
But we do have things humming away in the background that typically have much more power and control over how we feel and what we do than the things we are consciously aware of. And so I know you know what I’m talking about here. I mean, we’ve all had the experience of going on autopilot. Sometimes you’re in the car, and then you get to a place and you can’t quite remember how you got there but you’re there. Or you know, “Wait, did I take my vitamins this morning? I can’t even remember.”
We do things all the time without being consciously aware of them. But we are also – without conscious awareness – having reactions to things. We are making choices. We are responding to things in accordance with what lies beneath much more often than the things that we’re telling ourselves are true or what we want. And it’s important to understand that every person is complex and that we all have pieces of ourselves that we know.
The parts of ourselves that we know are often the parts of ourselves that we feel good about, or at least okay about. It’s our public front. This is who I am. The part of yourself that has your personality as you understand it, the part of yourself that goes and talks to people, or does the things. If you were to give somebody an elevator pitch about who you are and what you’re about, that would be your conscious self.
And it is also true for everyone that if you observe yourself over time, the way that you actually behave is often different than the story that you tell yourself and others about who you are, how you feel, what you want. The classic example that everybody in the universe has done, self included, is to say, “I need to get more exercise.” “I need to go to bed earlier.” “I need to eat more vegetables.” Whatever it is. And that your narrative, your working self-concept is that I am a conscientious, responsible person. I take care of myself. I care about my health. I care about the health of other people. I do the right thing. That’s the core narrative, right?
And then, we observe ourselves being like, “No, I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m just gonna sit here and drink coffee and eat jelly beans.” You know what I mean? It’s like these patterns, these habits. They’re always operating in us all the time. And so it’s not that we are not thoughtful, conscientious, care about our health, XYZ. It is just that there are other things inside us also, that have preferences, and needs, and hopes, and a voice – whether or not we consciously hear it – that actually have more control over us most of the time than the parts of us that we are aware of. The part of yourself that wants to sit around on your bed for 45 minutes and a towel staring at a wall when you know you are going to be late for work and you really should get ready for work. The part of yourself that just wants to sit there is stronger.
That is your shadow self. The part of yourself that steers you towards having unhelpful reactions with other people or engaging in relational patterns that you know consciously are not good for you is simply stronger.
And one of the reasons why it is stronger is because it – before you gain awareness of what it is, and what it wants, and why it’s doing the things that it’s doing. Because it is unknown and operating without your knowledge or consent, it is able to assert itself in your life. When you shine a spotlight on it and understand it, it immediately loses significant amount of its power right then and there.
So, a big part of Shadow Work is really deliberately focusing on the parts of yourself that are currently unknown in order to bring them into the light. Once you do, that is half the battle. And then from there, you can continue acting to deliberately make changes based on your understanding of that shadow side of yourself.
So I feel like, again, we’re talking about this a little bit theoretically. So let me give you some examples in addition to the little ones that I shared. You or someone that you know and love probably has developed a shadow side – we often do – in response to often early childhood messages about who we should be. The classic example would be a little boy who gets messages that he shouldn’t cry. He shouldn’t feel or express vulnerable emotions. That’s not who boys are or what boys do. And so because children always accommodate their parents in order to maintain a relationship with them, children will always disown parts of themselves in order to stay close to their parents and try to be the kid that their parents want them to be.
So for many boys that grow into men, their shadow side is often a repository of all of the vulnerable feelings, or attachment needs, loneliness, desire, longing that they were scolded out of having by the time they were five or six years old. So they want to be good. Therefore, they do not have those feelings consciously. But of course, since they’re human, they do still have those feelings. They’re just in the shadow side. They’re tucked away.
For women, many times, what do we learn? Girls should be nice. We should share. We should take care of other people and we should always be sweet. And so for many girls who grow into women, they will put into their shadow side the things that others have communicated are unacceptable, like anger, taking care of themselves, prioritizing their own needs and feelings. Sometimes even their sexuality gets put over into the shadow side.
It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t go away. But things that aren’t acceptable need to be put somewhere. And so they’re kept safe in this semi-conscious or subconscious part of ourselves. And they still influence us, but in ways that we don’t understand or expect or feel in control of.
So when we disown parts of ourselves, we are disowning the parts oftentimes that have been criticized or rejected by others. And through the process, we have – sometimes again subconsciously – come to believe that those parts of ourselves are unhealthy or shameful, or that they should be rejected. They shouldn’t be listened to or embraced. But part of doing really authentic, impactful Shadow Work is beginning to reclaim not just parts of ourselves that potentially make us uncomfortable, but is questioning the discomfort in the first place.
For example, as we’ve discussed on this podcast before, dark emotions are your best friend in the whole world. Healthy, legitimate anger is incredibly protective and instructive. In our feelings of sadness or grief even, that is the wellspring of empathy, and compassion, and caring for others. The ability to recognize and effectively cope with big feelings is something that we don’t learn how to do if all of those big dark feelings are getting pushed away into our shadow side to be dealt with later, if at all.
So to begin to haul all of these stuff back out and asking yourself really powerful questions like, “How do I really feel about this?” What’s interesting, what I’ve learned over the years as a therapist or coach when I sit down with a client and I say, “Well, how do you feel about that?” The first answer I get usually is what people think they should feel about something. So they tell me, they say, “Well, you know I love him. It’s fine.” And then I ask, “How do you really feel about that?” And we go into like a little bit deeper. “Well, you know, sometimes, when I think about it, I’m really not that happy. You know, I feel frustrated but then, you know, I feel bad for feeling frustrated. I mean, they’re doing the best they can, too.”
Like, there’s all these efforts to kind of minimize and push away again. And it can take me quite a while. Many, many episodes of questioning on different days to finally help someone peel that onion and get into the truth of how they really feel and what they really want. And not even just like what the truth is, but being okay with what that truth is. Because it’s one thing to have something be true and to feel it. But many people feel ashamed or judgmental of themselves for having the thoughts or feelings or ideas that they have. So it can be it can be scary work. And I think that that’s why it’s so important to be in a relationship with a coach or a therapist who can help you. First of all, who can ask you the question 17 times and not accept the first answer – which is the one that is the conscious answer. That’s the one that you’ve been telling yourself.
Our work involves going into the rest of the story to help you uncover the true story, the true feelings, and be able to walk in to that shadow self. And the reason why this is so important, is because unless and until you do this work and begin to understand all the thoughts and all the feelings, they cannot just control but sometimes ruin your life. And I know that sounds incredibly dramatic, but it’s really true.
Like, so, for example, if we go back to that simple scenario that we can all relate to, which is having a bad habit. You do something that you don’t like. You wish you didn’t do it. You tried to stop it, but you can’t and you don’t know why you keep doing it. When we walk into the shadow part of ourselves fearlessly and honestly, we often discover that there are understandable reasons why we do the things we do.
Very often they’re related to comfort of ourselves, needing connection, wanting to feel good about ourselves, wanting to feel pleasure, wanting to feel taken care of, managing anxiety, or managing fears that we’re not even aware that we have. Those are often things that are discovered through this type of Shadow Work. And you may be thinking that this is like more of a deep, super serious therapy thing, right? And certainly, to gain self awareness and make contact with the shadow side is always — whether explicitly or implicitly part of effective therapy — but it’s also really part of good coaching as well.
We think of life coaching as somebody coming in and being like, “Okay, these are my goals. Help me attain them.” And you’re like, “Okay, here’s what to do.” And coaching can certainly have that quality sometimes. But what will also invariably happen over the course of any type of coaching – whether it’s life coaching, career coaching, relationship coaching – is that somebody’s like, “Okay, these are my goals.” I’ll be like, “Alright, here’s how to attain them.” They’re like, “Great, I’m gonna go work my plan.” And then they come back, and they’re like, “Well, I didn’t do the plan.” I’m like, “Why didn’t you do the plan?” They’re like, “Well, I don’t know why I didn’t do the plan. Why didn’t I do the plan?”
And that is actually the moment where we can then start to get all kinds more information about what’s really going on. And talking about why they do things they do in terms of not how annoyed or frustrated they’re with themselves. But let’s talk about this, about why it makes sense that you didn’t do the plan. I know your conscious mind is telling you this, but if we were to listen to what else is true, and what we always find is that this person in their shadow side, in this like closet part of themselves where all the rest of this stuff is, there are other goals that they are actually achieving. They’re just not conscious of them.
And so we have to uncover the unconscious goals that they are achieving and fulfilling at the expense of their conscious goals in order to help them make progress towards their conscious goals, competing goals. So it can get quite complex, but it’s always so interesting.
So, one great way to really make contact with a shadow self is to connect with a coach or therapist who understands how you’re operating, how we’re all operating on this level, and who can help you make contact with that part of yourself through questioning, through kind of shining a blind spot. Like, “I hear you say this and I see you do that. Help me understand the discrepancy.” So super annoying coaches and therapists ask those kinds of questions for better or for worse.
But in addition to that, there are some other great ways that you can begin to tap into some of this on your own. Dreams are a fabulous window into how we’re really thinking, feeling, and viewing the world on a deep level. And I am not talking about dreams like prophetic dreams or like magical dreams or I dreamt that I lost a tooth therefore it means XYZ.
Our dreams are always just a little window into the part of our mind that we are not fully conscious of during the waking hours. And so sometimes, dreams do not make any sense at all. Sometimes dreams are simply – our brains running through a little program that helps us synthesize and incorporate little bits of information. Part of the reason we sleep and dream is to kind of just literally clean and organize our brain.
And it is also true that when you pay attention to dreams, you can get information from a different part of yourself that may be worth listening to. So one great strategy to get in touch with your shadow side is to simply start keeping a dream journal. And it does not have to be anything complicated. It can simply be a notepad on the side of your bed or a little notes app that you keep on your phone. And first thing in the morning, just write down what you remember even if it was completely dumb, irrelevant. Not all dreams are significant, right? And some of them are. And again, maybe it’s not a specific dream, but patterns of dreams, or themes, or “I had that weird tornado dream again. What could that possibly mean?” Being able to do some exploration around that.
Another fabulous way of making contact with your shadow self is to observe what you do and just even write it down. Log it without judgment, condemnation, criticism or excuse. Just write down what you do, what you actually do. Because we all have intentions that are conscious. We all have reasons why we do the things that we do that are conscious. We have excuses. “I meant to go to the gym, but then you know, I got to be at work, blah, blah, blah.” So fine, like those are all well and good. And those are all your conscious mind telling you what it wants you to hear and what is available. But it is through our behaviors that we really get the truth.
So just begin to notice what you do and perhaps how that is different than what you intend. Again, over time, you can see patterns in your way of behavior that point to the existence of an aspect of your shadow self that you will need to get to know before you can have those behaviors be different.
Additionally, another great window into our shadow self is our reactions to other people, particularly the big ones – either really positive reactions or really negative reactions. But if you are aware of yourself and like why do I have this feeling when I’m around this person? Or why did I snap at somebody in this situation? Or why did I feel this like big feeling when this person did this or did that because it was a little bit out of maybe proportion to what the actual event warranted? What is going on with me right there?
Particularly in relationships with people that we’re close to that can come up – and not just with your romantic partner – sometimes with friends, very frequently with our family members – we can have interesting reactions that if we follow that thread all the way down can really illuminate some important things about patterns, shadow selves, and also particularly when it comes to reactions to your parents.
Part of their – let me say that differently. I was gonna say part of their messaging to you. But let’s just be fair. There can oftentimes be a difference in what particularly children think people are saying or think that people are wanting – that may or may not be true – because they are filtered through our very limited child minds. So your child self may have received a message that a parent or authority figure may or may not have intended to send and it doesn’t matter because it was still incredibly true for that child and therefore true for you as an adult. But I just want to be fair to parents in this situation as well, because all kinds of things can happen in the space between a parent and child in close relationship with each other.
Now, in addition to these self observation practices that I’ve been sharing, including noticing your behaviors, noticing your reactions, you may also consider keeping an ear out for how you hear other people perceive you, particularly if those perceptions that other people have are different than your self-concept. And certainly, we want to limit this to only healthy, emotionally safe relationships, because you may also have relationships in your life with people, who perhaps due to unrestrained forces on their own shadow side, are unnecessarily hurtful, or critical, or condescending, or unloving towards you. And in those cases, it’s often a better strategy to set boundaries and protect ourselves from people who may not be in the best place themselves, as evidenced by their behaviors.
And if you also scroll through the people in your life that are close to, you’ll probably also have friends and family – who you love and who you know love you and who are kind and good and treat you well – who also may share their impressions of you that are worth listening to.
And I don’t know what those may be. That’s obviously behind beyond this, the scope of a podcast. But if I were your therapist or coach, I might help you make a list of some of the things that you’ve heard over the years from people that you trust. Not that we have to agree with them, but just to log them. Because there might be useful information there that is easy for our conscious selves to reject out of hand as being wrong and well, “They just didn’t understand XYZ.” And we can explain away all kinds of stuff, doesn’t mean it’s still not there in the shadow side. So, there’s that.
And also, I want to say something. So I am giving you strategies to make contact with the shadow self around dreams, and noticing your reactions, and noticing your behaviors, and kind of how others might perceive you. In order to be ethical and appropriate here, I want to be very clear that where this is helpful to do on your own in the way that I’m describing is when your shadow self is kind of like garden variety shadow self that everybody has, right? We all have aspects of ourselves, things that we’ve disowned, etc., that we need to engage with, and incorporate in order to grow and grow into the fullness of our potential.
It is also true that people who have been traumatized at points in their life, particularly early childhood trauma, can have dreams, super scary dreams, intrusive thoughts, incredibly intrusive feelings, or reactions that are extreme to people or situations that are quite mysterious to them. And they can feel sometimes out of control with their behaviors. Like they’re doing things that they don’t want to do, but they can’t stop doing them anyway.
It’s thought by some researchers in the field of substance use and substance disorders that to a person, everyone who has a profound and debilitating addiction or attachment to a substance is at least partially as a cause of their efforts to protect themselves from the symptoms of often early childhood trauma or neglect.
And so, I just want to say this for the purpose of providing you with information to help you differentiate. Is my shadow self something that I can kind of like get to know and like hang out with and take information from? Or is there stuff in here that is trauma-based and that I really need to get help with in order to recover, because my experiences of what’s coming out of that shadow side are above and beyond what’s kind of normal and expected for everybody to have. What is coming out of the shadow side is actually a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder that needs to be dealt with.
There’s a real difference there. And also, just if you’re listening to this, if you have someone in your life who has been traumatized and who may not fully be in control of themselves or have things that they are really working hard not to feel or deal with, just be sensitive to the fact that there might be a really good reason for that.
Not just that they can’t, it would be potentially even harmful to try to force them to go into that place and deal with those things on their own or through their conversations with you. They really need a very experienced, licensed mental health professional who is specifically trained in evidence-based forms of trauma recovery work. There are many out there: trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR has achieved good results. There are also kinds of exposure therapy that can be super helpful for trauma work.
And I just wanted to bring that up, because I would hate for anyone to hear what I’m saying on this podcast and be like, “Okay, cool. Shadow Work. Got to do that.” And unintentionally stumble into something that’s beyond the scope of this kind of self-help work that I’m describing.
Okay, that’s my disclaimer. Now, when you use these kinds of activities to do your shadow work, be aware of the fact that you are deliberately trying to make contact with something that you can’t see, that you are not fully aware of, and that there is a tendency as a result to avoid.
One of the key indicators that you are connecting with a really important motherlode of shadow self that is important to connect with is a feeling of discomfort and an immediate sort of knee jerk reaction. Like, I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to think about that. No, I feel bad about that. I don’t want that to be true.
Whenever I hear that, as a therapist, or coach, I think to myself, “All right. Like we’re getting somewhere.” And so just know that as you do the self exploration work, that can be one of your signs that you’re actually on the right track. And to practice in these moments, mindful self-compassion, and be very actively not judging yourself, not criticizing yourself, not shaming yourself, and really just practicing being like, “What if this is true?”
If that feels too hard to do, and you notice yourself just avoiding and avoiding things all over again, and it feels like it’s like too uncomfortable to stay in contact with, that could be an indication that it’s time to connect with a good life coach or therapist around that.
And then also a question that I often ask my clients and that I would encourage you to use on yourself is the question, “How does this make sense?” Which is the exact opposite of our tendency to criticize or shame ourselves. But when we encounter one of those sort of uncomfortable things, ask yourself, “How does this make sense?” And embrace that. Like, if I had to tell myself a story of why this made sense as opposed to like me trying to make this not be true or feeling bad about it – why does it make sense? And that’s often the doorway to not just self-awareness, but a really deep self compassion and empathy for yourself that you do actually make sense. And there is a perfectly good and understandable reason why you do all the things you do.
And that if other people had lived through your life path – and we’re born into the world with your set of circumstances and dealt the hand that you were dealt – they would probably do exactly the same thing, that we are all a product of our life experiences. And so it’s okay.
And even if you encounter things that you don’t currently love, understanding why they make sense will empower you to then be able to say, I’ve been kind of doing this on autopilot. I haven’t fully known why I have done all of these things that I don’t love. It now makes sense to me. Here are the needs that I was subconsciously attempting to have met. Here is the unconscious narrative that has been going on in my head that led me to do the things I did and make the choices that I made. Or here are the messages that I internalized about who I should be that aren’t actually true for me. When I tap into my shadow self and listen to it compassionately, so it really just opens the door to so many, so many opportunities.
So I hope that this discussion has helped you just gain some insight into what this type of work involves and some strategies that you can use to begin to unearth these truths inside of yourself. Because the answers to all of the questions that you guys have been asking me lately, everything from “Why am I attracted to these partners who are emotionally unavailable over and over and over again?” Ask yourself the question, why does that make sense? And pay attention to the answer. To really ask yourself without shame, judgment or criticism.
Why do I lie to my partner? What is going on with me in those moments? I’m not fully aware of having a feeling or a thought, but I’m doing it for a reason. Why does that make sense? What am I obeying? What am I feeling that would lead me to do that?
And beginning to crack into that truth? Why did I or do I cheat on my spouse? My spouse would tell me it is because I’m a monster, and I am a terrible person. I don’t know if that might be true. But also, what is the reason why it makes sense for you to be doing that?
Again, these can be very challenging questions to grapple with on your own, particularly if you are aware of doing things or feeling things that you’re really unhappy with. And especially if you use some of these exercises that I shared with you today. And a true understanding of yourself feels elusive, that could be a sign that it’s worth getting involved with someone who can help kind of like pull you in deeper to those parts of yourself in a safe way. There’s always a balance in growth work. Like it has to be somewhat challenging in order for it to be meaningful and effective, but it can’t be so challenging that it feels scary and like you’re really uncomfortable or emotionally unsafe with the person that you’re working with.
So always step number one is to establish a really positive and trusting relationship with a therapist or coach who can help you and make sure that you feel good with that person. And then slowly over time, allow them to assist you in peeling that onion, and getting deeper and deeper into these parts of yourself that need to be brought out into the light, so that they can be in your conscious awareness and dealt with intentionally and effectively.
Because when you do that, not only will you be happier with what you’re doing day to day, you’ll feel more in control of yourself. You’ll be doing things that are more in alignment with what you want. But there’s also the sense of like integration for the part of yourself that you’ve known about, but also this other part of yourself that maybe you haven’t known about, maybe you have kind of disowned, or rejected.
And in my experience doing this work with people, even though they’re a little like, “Oh, I don’t know what’s there. I’m not sure I wanna make contact with that.” Like when my clients do, they almost always move into this space of developing greater compassion and appreciation for themselves. And like a more compassion and appreciation for other people too, as a result of that work on understanding, and accepting themselves, and making sense of their own life story.
Also, through this kind of deep, deep Shadow Work, you can – believe it or not – attain greater emotional intelligence. Because in that shadow side, as we mentioned, are oftentimes the dark feelings or the challenging feelings that we have pushed away. And through that pushing away, we really sometimes do not know what to do with them when they come up in a constructive way.
And so, we are reactive, or we lash out, or we do weird things in the moment when we’re feeling emotional intensity, because we simply have not had the practice and the opportunity to learn skills of what do I do when I start to feel mad? How do I have productive conversations with people without flying off the handle or not saying how I feel? Because that’s not helpful either. How do I manage stress and anxiety in productive ways? How do I stay in control of myself, even when I am going through something hard, and most importantly, how do I understand the presence of these emotions in others and use their expressions of emotion in order to help me understand them better, and have more meaningful and productive conversations and communication and connected relationships with them? It’s so important.
Another neat byproduct of this work is that when you do it, you will walk through the experience invariably of encountering some uncomfortable things about yourself that again, you need to embrace, and learn about, and appreciate, and accept. And in doing so, you will release any judgment towards yourself that you may be holding. You will feel more confident in yourself. You will feel higher self-esteem oftentimes.
And you will become – I wish there was another way to say this but I’m sure there is – you will become less judgmental of other people. Because you will come to understand that everyone, every single one of us is fighting these types of battles on the inside. And that when people perhaps don’t behave well – just like it was true for you – there’s a reason why it’s true for them, too. And you know, maybe they haven’t yet done all the work that you have done, but to hope that they will and understand that they have conflict inside themselves as well, as opposed to just kind of judging people harshly and casting them away as a result. Everyone makes sense.
So, again, I hope all of this has helped you and inspired you to begin to Shadow Work, either for yourself or with a coach or therapist. Again, I have prepared a worksheet like a little plan with some questions and activities to help you do some of this work on your own. Again, cruise on over to www.growingself.com/shadow-work to download your copy. You can print it out and write in it. And that in itself may be very, very useful for you. I hope it is.
So again, if you have questions for me, or would like to follow up questions about Shadow Work, or would like to hear information about a different topic or other types of questions that you’ve been grappling with, I’d love to know about it so that I can make a podcast just for you. You can leave your comments on the blog at www.growingself.com. You can also get in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram, et cetera. And I look forward to hearing from you and to being with you again on the next episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.
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