Do Shadow Work FOR Yourself, Not AGAINST Yourself - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

Do Shadow Work FOR Yourself, Not AGAINST Yourself


There is an interesting saying that goes: “Everything that poisons can also heal and everything that heals can also poison.” Regarding how this very wise concept applies to what we will be talking about today, it is important to know that nearly everything in existence can be misused. And this includes shadow work. When shadow work is misused, rather than serving as a tool for integration, life improvement and alignment, it can become a tool of separation, self-hate and misalignment. There is a big difference between using shadow work FOR yourself and using shadow work AGAINST yourself. 

First, let’s define shadow work. Many years ago, the revolutionary psychologist Carl Jung (while studying with Freud), realized that there were parts of his patients that they, themselves were aware of and to the contrary, there were parts that they, themselves were unaware of.  Consciousness has long been referred to as a light. To become conscious of something is to be able to see it in the same way that we see something that is exposed to light. When something is unconscious, we cannot see it. It is as if we are trying to see it in the dark. And so, Carl Jung began to refer to the unconscious aspects within a person that they, themselves are unaware of or could not see as their ‘shadow’. And this term caught on. Now a days, what we mean when we say “shadow” is any aspect of a person that is not exposed to the light of consciousness. It is what they don’t know that they don’t know. And shadow work is now a term used often in spiritual and psychology circles to describe any process (of which there are thousands) that makes the subconscious conscious and work directly with those things you become aware of. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch three of my videos. The first tiled: What Is Shadow Work? The second titled: Shadow Work Vs. Positive Focus and the third titled: What Are the Benefits of Shadow Work?

A very large percentage of the human shadow is made up of what we reject or deny or suppress or disown about ourselves. The aspects of our personality that we have decided are least desirable, most of which we have very little awareness of. Because of this, “shadow” also became the term that people now use to describe the aspects of a person that are judged as negative. For example, a person may have a real competitive streak. They may have no conscious awareness of how this competitive nature came to be and what the part of them that is competitive thinks and feels and is afraid of and wants and needs. They are likely to refer to their competitive side as their “shadow”.

In an ideal situation, shadow work would be something that a person would do, not with the attitude that anything about them is bad and wrong and must be dealt with. But rather with the attitude that the doing of the shadow work is a caring gesture towards the self. For example, doing shadow work against yourself might look like doing shadow work so as to try to eradicate a trait about yourself that you don’t like. Or doing it because you are so resistant to the ego that you want to totally disidentify from it. Or doing it to convince a part of you that it is bad and wrong and should therefore, not be the way it is. Or doing it because you want to fight an aspect of yourself and win. Or doing it to please someone else in your life, who disapproves of an aspect of yourself. Or doing it because you think if you don’t, you’ll never be good enough or enlightened enough. Etc.   

  Whereas doing shadow work for yourself might look like doing shadow work so as to understand yourself better so that you can make more authentic decisions and take actions that are more in alignment with your best interests. Or because you intend to have better health. Or because you want to feel more internal peace. Or because you want to find more effective and beneficial ways to operate in life. Or because you want to discover your needs and better meet them. Or because you don’t want to live in rejection of yourself anymore. Or because you want to be more aware. Or because you want for all of yourself to move from determinism to conscious choice. Or because you want to increase a sense of empowerment for all parts of you. Or because you want to re-own the parts of yourself that you denied, suppressed and disowned. Or because you want to help yourself to get un-stuck so you aren’t suffering anymore. Or because you want all of yourself to be aligned when you make a decision or take an action, rather than bulldozing yourself etc.  

A great many people use shadow work in a way that is resistant to or against themselves, especially the parts about themselves that they have judged as negative and thus, would label as their shadow. So that you understand the difference, I’m going to give you two examples. One being an example of someone who is using shadow work against themselves. And one being an example of someone who is using shadow work for themselves.

Nathan has a weed addiction. He doesn’t understand what it is that makes him feel like he can only function in life when he is smoking daily. He doesn’t understand what it is that makes quitting weed so hard. Nathan feels a lot of shame about this. He judges himself as weak and undisciplined and pathetic. Everything he does to try to quit smoking weed, is done in resistance to himself. This includes shadow work. The reason he is doing shadow work about his weed addiction is that he wants the aspect of him that keeps engaging in the addiction to vanish from his life or at the very least to stop. He sees this part of himself as his enemy. He sees shadow work as the way he is going to gain control over this part. He is at war with this aspect of himself. And now, shadow work has become his weapon of choice. When he does parts work, he does not go into it with curiosity or caring. He has already decided what the “right” thing is. Because of this, he doesn’t use parts work to try to understand the aspect of himself that he doesn’t understand. Rather, he goes into it looking to debate this aspect of himself into submission. And because of this, he reinforces the internal zero-sum game being played. When he does journeywork breathwork, he does so with the intention of not being so weak anymore. When he does hypnosis, he does so with the hope that the therapist will simply manipulate his mind so he no longer has the need for weed anymore. When he does core belief work, he does so with the intention of shutting up his negative internal voice. Because of all of this, Nathan is in fact adding to the wound that caused the addiction in the first place and because of this, if anything, his shame is getting worse, and so is his addictive behavior. What he has managed to do, is to intensify splits within himself (the opposite of integration) because he has managed to inflate the protector part of himself that judges him and punishes him from the inside in the hopes that doing so will cause him to stop doing the things that will get Nathan rejected and start doing the things that will get him approved of. This part of him is now louder and more abusive than ever. 

Tony has a weed addiction. He doesn’t understand what it is that makes him feel like he can only function in life when he is smoking daily. He doesn’t understand what it is that makes quitting weed so hard. Tony feels a lot of shame about this. But he realizes that he doesn’t have enough information about himself to fully understand this behavior of his. Tony recognizes that in his life, people have not shown him much attunement or caring so as to understand him. He doesn’t want to keep harming himself in the same way that people have so badly wounded him. He decides that the way to be a genuine advocate and ally for himself is to do shadow work so he can understand himself. He knows that you cannot make the right choices without the information. Because of this, tony does shadow work from the space of curiosity. He spends a long time diving into the perspective and fears and needs of the part of himself that feels it can’t live without weed, that he now understand exactly what he is using weed to avoid. And because of it, he is able to clearly define steps to take which caretake this part’s pain and empower him to solve the problems he is facing in different ways. When Tony does journey work breathwork, he does it with the intention of soaking in the prana to give him strength. When he does hypnosis, he does so with the intention of being able to find and caretake his inner child, which he knows was hurt so badly that he just wanted to escape life. When he does core belief work, he does so as a loving measure to himself, to let go of ideas that no longer serve him and to replace them with ideas that truly do serve him. Because of all of this, Tony is building a framework of internal self-trust. His anxiety is going down. He has developed both understanding and compassion for himself. And he only smokes weed now when he is in distress rather than every single day. The best part so far is that now, Tony is never confused about why he smokes weed when he does it. He understands exactly what is going on with him and can take steps to get himself out of distress so that the dependency on the weed is rapidly decreasing. 

Whenever you do shadow work, it is important to become clear about the real, honest WHY behind it. Why? Because the motivation for doing something changes what you do and the way you do it. Your feelings don’t lie. How do you feel towards whatever you are wanting to do shadow work on? Are you in resistance to it? Have you already decided that it needs to change or go away? If so, you need to do shadow work on your resistance first. You need to become more aware of the part of you that is interested in using shadow work AGAINST that aspect of yourself. To learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: Parts Work, What Is Parts Work and How To Do It.    

I will warn you that anytime you feel shame about something, you run the risk of using shadow work against yourself, rather than for yourself. You run the risk of trying to use it to manipulate yourself or force yourself into changing to become what you have decided you must be or to do what you have decided you must do. When this is the case, outside of working directly with the aspect(s) of you that are using shadow work against other aspects of you, it helps a great deal to externalize your attitude towards yourself. The way you do this, is to imagine that someone else is feeling towards you the way you are feeling towards you and is saying the things to you that you are saying to yourself, and is approaching “working on you” using shadow work in the same way that you are approaching working on yourself with shadow work. Are you doing shadow work in resistance to yourself, or are you doing it to help yourself to feel better? Are you doing shadow work to control yourself or are you doing it to understand yourself? Are you doing shadow work to make yourself change to be the way you think you should be, or are you doing shadow work to uncover who you authentically are and are not? Are you doing shadow work to eradicate or change things about you that you hate, or are you doing shadow work to understand yourself so that you can figure out the right thing to do for yourself, which might mean embracing things about yourself that you spent your life rejecting? 

Never forget that you can do anything, including shadow work, FOR yourself, or AGAINST yourself. The difference between them might sound subtle, like the splitting of hairs. But in reality, the difference between them is the difference between two roads headed in opposite directions. And each of those roads leads to drastically different results and to drastically different destinations.







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