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Shadow work for beginners

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Shadow work can transform our lives by improving our well-being, strengthening our relationships and helping us live our best lives. But shadow work can also be emotional and disruptive, which is why I have written this shadow work for beginners guide to help you get started in a gentle way.

While shadow work is often a deeply transformative experience, it can also bring up difficult emotions and cause necessary disruption to our lives. So, while the benefits can be huge, it’s worth understanding more about the process and preparing for the work before we begin.

What is the shadow?

As part of our socialisation, we learn that certain parts of ourselves are less acceptable than others. Sometimes, this is positive and helpful, such as learning to cooperate with others and take responsibility for our actions. However, some of the things we learn may be more damaging to our psyche. For example, we may be told that it is unacceptable to show anger, cry or express our sexuality. We may learn that our value is judged by what we earn, produce or contribute. We may have received constant messages that we were not good enough, or too much, too quiet, or too loud too demanding or too passive…the list goes on.

We absorb many of these judgements and criticisms so deeply that we internalise them. Even if our family, teachers and peers are no longer criticising us, we continue to beat ourselves up over our perceived flaws. These beliefs also impact our lives, affecting how we feel about ourselves and influencing our behaviour. 

Here is an example.

Amelia was brought up in a family where her parents were stressed, overworked and worried about money. If Amelia asked for something, no matter how essential, her stressed parents often got upset and defensive. As a result, Amelia learned that she should not ask other people for their time or financial help.

As an adult, Amelia now has difficulty asking for what she needs even if her demands are fair and reasonable. She often feels overwhelmed and overworked as she is unable to ask others to share tasks equitably. She also finds it difficult to ask her housemates for their share of the bills and has not requested a raise or promotion at work in several years. 

Amelia experiences these difficulties because she has internalized the idea that she must not expect help from others or appear needy. This has become part of her shadow.

What is shadow work?

Shadow work is the process of uncovering, acknowledging and investigating suppressed aspects of our psyche. We bring our shadow into the light so that we can examine it and integrate it into our consciousness in a healthy way. By acknowledging and integrating these hidden parts, we achieve greater self-awareness and ultimately a sense of wholeness as these hidden parts become part of our healthy psyche.

We can do this with practices such as meditation, journaling, self-reflection, counselling, talking with friends and family and paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. A simple but powerful practice we can use is to answer certain questions or prompts to help us examine what may be hidden within our shadow selves.

This process can be transformative and healing as we gradually reveal layers of our psyche and heal them. We become more confident and loving as we go through the practice, healing deep parts of ourselves that we have shut away for years until we become whole.

However, the journey to wholeness can also be traumatic and overwhelming, which is why it is important to prepare carefully before you begin.

Here are four things to consider before you begin shadow work

Shadow work can be confusing and overwhelming

Working with the shadow means looking at your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and trying to understand why you are the way you are. Once you have done this, you need to find a way to integrate these insights into your consciousness. This is not as simple as it seems. 

Even when Amelia understood where her inability to make requests of others came from, she still struggled to find an appropriate balance because she did not have a healthy model to refer to. This led to her feeling overwhelmed and confused about the right way to act. Though she knew, intellectually, that it was okay to ask for her fair share, she still felt uncomfortable and guilty when she did.

For a while, she avoided interactions with others completely as they often led to her getting confused and upset about the right way to behave. Eventually, through further shadow work and talking with trusted friends and family, Amelia learned to create healthy boundaries and practices but it took a lot of emotional work.

Tip

If you decide to undertake shadow work, it is essential to approach it with self-compassion and understanding. Don’t be tempted to dive in too deeply or too quickly as this may result in your becoming overwhelmed and giving up. Be gentle with yourself and take things at your own pace.

Shadow work can bring up unresolved trauma

For some people, aspects of the shadow can be a result of childhood trauma. If this is the case for you then you will need extra support going through this process. It’s not a good idea to attempt shadow work on your own if you have unresolved trauma as the process can retrigger this trauma leaving you very vulnerable. 

Tip

This doesn’t mean that shadow work is not for you – but that you should ensure you have the right support, such as a qualified counsellor before you begin. 

Shadow work can upset relationships

Shadow work will change you and that will also change your relationships. People will have become accustomed to the way you habitually behave and may struggle to know how to feel about the new you. Many people will embrace these changes and be happy that you are healing. However, there may be people in your life who were very invested in the person you were before and they may discourage this change. This can lead to even more confusion and overwhelm. 

Of course, you also have to consider that other people have a right to live their lives in the way they choose and you cannot impose your views on their lives. If your changing views cause irreconcilable differences then some relationships may see a parting of the ways.

Ultimately, though, you need to do what is right for you. if you are happier and healthier as a result of shadow work then any relationships lost through the process were probably not healthy for you. 

Shadow work can create disruption

Many of the changes that happen when you practice shadow work will be uplifting and positive. However, some consequences may be quite disruptive and involve a lot of (necessary) changes. 

If you discover that some of the circumstances in your life are not working for you, this may mean you want to make some significant changes. This could mean changes in the types of relationships you have, your career, the place you live and your lifestyle. This can feel pretty overwhelming at times. In addition, you will probably make some mistakes as you go through the process. You may swing too far in the opposite direction as you attempt to find balance. While I believe shadow work is ultimately very worthwhile, there is no doubt that there can be some bumps along the road.  

Tip

When times are tough, remind yourself why you are doing shadow work and of the peace and wholeness that it will eventually lead to.

How to begin with shadow work

If you feel this practice would benefit you the following is a gentle introduction to shadow work for beginners. There are many ways to begin with shadow work but I have found that a shadow work journal works well for me. I like to do my shadow work on days when I don’t have too many other commitments, such as at the weekend. If you prefer a more structured approach and more detailed guidance, you can find a great post on shadow work workbooks and journals here at Mindful Zen.

Before you begin, find a quiet comfortable place where you will not be disturbed. You may like to take a few deep breaths, do a short meditation or light a candle before you begin. 

When beginning shadow work I usually recommend working with prompts around self-love. This is a gentle but powerful way to begin to reap the benefits of working with the shadow self. Self-love is vital for cultivating lasting happiness and healthy boundaries. 

To nurture your relationship with yourself, consider exploring the following shadow work prompts. Take it at your own pace – you may want to choose one prompt per day or one per week to give yourself time to explore each prompt fully.

Shadow work for beginners prompts

  1. What do I most like about myself?
  2. What achievements am I proud of?
  3. What are my best qualities?
  4. Why do others appreciate me? ( ask a trusted friend if you need to)
  5. What values are important to me?
  6. What would I do today if I loved myself enough?
  7. How could I practice self-care today?
  8. How would my perfect life look and what steps do I need to take to start living it?
  9. What do I need to release to love and accept myself fully?
  10. What would I like to forgive myself for?

The questions above can lead you deep into your psyche to help you uncover your hidden shadow and bring it out into the light. This process will transform your life giving you more confidence, and helping you be more compassionate with yourself and others. If you find a prompt too difficult, simply skip to the next one. However, do try to go back to the difficult prompt when you are able as this is often where the most transformative work can be done.

In conclusion, embarking on the journey of shadow work is a profound and transformative experience that can lead to deep healing and personal growth. Although the path of shadow work may present challenges and initially appear daunting, the rewards are worth it. 

By embracing self-love and compassion when working with our shadow, we open ourselves up to a journey of self-discovery, empowerment and a profound connection with our true selves.

I hope you enjoyed this guide to shadow work for beginners. If shadow work isn’t for you right now, you might like to try a different practice such as spiritual alchemy or scripting manifestation

Eva May Baker
Eva May Baker
Hello, and welcome to The City Witch, your portal into the magical world that exists within the hustle and bustle of city life. My name is Eva Baker and I am an urban folk witch, author and your guide on this magical journey.

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