Friday, April 10, 2020

[Shadow Work Series] Preparing to Meet Your Shadow Self: A Word of Warning

In this series, I've discussed the history of shadow work and its studied but questionable founder Carl Jung.  I then dove into what the shadow is and why shadow work use useful, both in our personal lives and our Craft.  Today, let's discuss ways to prepare for shadow work that will make the ordeal a little easier and more accessible.  

Skills to Hone

Energy Work
 Visualization, Centering, Grounding, and Meditation

Both practical and witchcraft applications of shadow work start with a basis of energy work.  Some of the most important components involve being able to visualize your energy, center and ground that energy, and walk through guided meditations to access your shadow self.  If you're not familiar with these terms, I encourage you to check out my article posted in March entitled Types of Energy Work: A Visual Guide.  This will give you a better understanding of what energy work entails.  For shadow work, it's important that you be able to draw your energy in and stabilize it.  Being grounded and stable helps you focus on the work at hand.  Additionally, a strong ability to visualize and follow meditations will help you access your shadow self faster, easier, and with less energy spent.  If forms of energy work like grounding and centering do not come easy to you, you might want to spend some time working on that before moving forward.

Journaling Skills
Writing, Recording, Analyzing, and Reworking

As you're likely well aware from the exercises included in each section of this series, the shadow worker benefits greatly with a finetuning of journaling skills.  Much of shadow work is recording your feelings and experiences in the moment, then returning to them at a later date to actually process the information and learn from it.  This doesn't mean you need great grammar skills, beautiful penmanship, or an elegant writing style.  It simply means that you should be able to convey your thoughts and feelings in writing in such a way that you can understand your own journal entries later on.  Eventually, you'll want to develop your journaling skills in such a way that you can branch out from guided journal prompts, creating journals independently and without guidance.

Confidence in your Craft
Beliefs, Practices, Techniques, and Entities

Mixing the basics of witchcraft with advanced topics, such as history or psychology, requires a solid foundation in your personal Craft.  It's just like college or high school: You need the 101 of any topic to advance to the 102 or 200-levels.  Also, because shadow work itself can cause even the steadiest witch to lose their footing, having confidence in your Craft can go a long way in catching you.  What techniques are you confident in?  Are you a strong Tarot reader?  Do you know Elder Futhark runes like the back of your hand?  Or is divination not a part of your practice?  Do you have solid relationships with any entities?  How can you strengthen those bonds so that something like shadow work won't disturb them?  How's your base knowledge of correspondences and spell mechanics?  Can you throw together a spell from scratch or do you still need a step-by-step how-to?  Now's the time to brush up on anything you're unsure of in your practice.

Self-Awareness and Personal Accountability
Self-Reflection, Integrity, Honesty, and Neutrality

Shadow work requires a certain ability to self-reflect - to put our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors under a microscope in order to understand the reason behind them. In order to be properly self-aware, you must be honest with yourself, analyze your mistakes without bias, and make non-judgemental observations about them without severe emotional reactions.  True personal accountability requires an immense amount of self-awareness and integrity.  If you want to pursue shadow work, you need to have an unbiased, non-judgemental, and honest amount of conscious awareness and a willingness to look at the uncomfortable without inserting excuses or emotions.  It's truly challenging, but a necessary skill for the work.

Repetition, Breaks, Slow Progress, Habits

When it comes to shadow work, patience is the name of the game.  Diving into your shadow and integrating it with the self is not an overnight task.  The shadow takes upwards of 20 years to form and is always morphing.  Something creating in 20 years is not undone in a day.  The truth is that shadow work is a life-long process and, even so, you cannot truly get rid of your shadow.  Instead, you learn to embrace its pieces.  That's true individuation.  Embracing your shadow means breaking bad habits, forming new ones, repeating the same techniques over and over again no matter how boring they might get, and taking breaks when the work gets too hard.  Rushing will only do more damage than good.  In fact, rushing is still a resistance to your shadow.  It's in having patience, with your self as a whole but particularly with your shadow, that true shadow work begins.

Self-Compassion and Gentle Self-Talk
Friendliness, Kindness, Empathy, and Compassion

I'm not going to sit here and say that you have to love yourself unconditionally to approach shadow work.  In fact, much of learning to love yourself comes from intense shadow work sessions and integration.  But you should learn to cultivate a certain element of friendliness with yourself.  Being able to treat yourself as you would your best friend will help when coming face-to-face with the uncomfortable aspects of your shadow self. If you struggle with negative self-talk, now's the time to work on that skill.  Being hard on yourself, berating yourself with your inner voice, pushing yourself into feelings of shame, guilt, self-pity, or being angry with yourself - none of these will help you when taking on shadow work.  Meeting aspects of and integrating with your shadow self is hard enough work.  You don't need to add the emotional distress of poor self-talk on top of it.

Remember: Everyone has a shadow self.  Everyone.  And because our shadow is formed in the collective unconscious, created by a need for following what is socially acceptable, many people struggle with the exact same aspects of their shadow.  You are not alone and having a shadow does not take away from your worth.  It's important that you are firm on this before you move forward.

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
Negative Energy, Discomfort, Tension, Emotional Pain, Struggle

Shadow work is not comfortable.  It is not easy.  It is not something we take on for a good time and a fun experience.  Shadow work is often unpleasant because we have to tackle the parts of ourselves we might not like in an objective but honest way.  It isn't enjoyable to deal with negative emotions or traits.  It's hard work.  It can be unnerving, especially if we're not comfortable with that part of ourselves.  Some have even described it as intense and terrifying.  So it's important that we understand that what we're about to take on in this work is not going to be pleasant, safe, and enjoyable.  It's also important to realize, however, that all of this discomfort, if approached in the right way, is temporary.  That's why honing all of the skills listed both above and below this point are essential for shadow work.

A Strong Support Network
Friends, Family, Mentors, Community, Religious Leaders

Because shadow work can be so intense and uncomfortable, it's important that you have a strong support network around you.  While much of your work will involve self-reflection that's mostly done on your own, you don't have to process the emotions surrounding it by yourself.  Reach out to a friend or family member, let a mentor know you're embarking on this journey, or confide in a religious leader about your intent.  If you're unsure about your support network, reach out to a few people you feel close to in your life and chat with them about this.  You might be surprised how supportive others can be when you're trying to improve yourself!

Triggers and Boundaries
Trauma Management, Trauma Processing, Therapy

Triggers have gotten a bad reputation on the internet for being mere feelings of being angry and uncomfortable.  True triggers are not that simple or easily ignored.  A true trigger occurs when an external stimulus - that is, a sight, sound, smell, etc - touches a place of trauma, causing a cascade of seemingly-impenetrable emotions and physiological responses.  This might be the scent of a certain food that hearkens back to abuse or a certain color of shirt that reminds you of assault.  Responses vary immensely by the individual, but can include extreme emotions, physical and emotional symptoms of panic, panic attacks, a total shutdown, and more.  Those who are more aware of their triggers and have strong boundaries and self-care measures in place, typically learned through therapy, can catch the trigger and learn how to process it without such a severe reaction.  Being acutely aware of your trauma triggers, building firm boundaries, and creating responsive reactions for such events can help immensely on your way to processing your shadow.


Shadow work in witchcraft is not a replacement for professional psychological treatment and should not be attempted in situations of extreme trauma or untreated mental illness.  If you are currently struggling with a mental illness or have experienced recent trauma or major life changes, shadow work may not be an appropriate venture at this time, particularly if you do not currently have access to professional assistance.

I'm in no way trying to gatekeep therapy and the improvement of mental illness.  I myself went without therapy for decades because it was unaffordable, and thus unattainable.  If therapy is not accessible for you, however, and you do not have the right tools to take care of yourself and your mind, you could be doing more damage than good in pursuing shadow work.  Like trying to treat a wound ourselves, it's easy to make it worse rather than better when we don't have the right guidance and equipment.  Shadow work should only be tackled by those who have developed trauma management and a stable sense of self-worth.


Instagram might have us believe that self-care looks like colorful bubble baths and expensive makeovers.  In reality, self-care is much more mundane and habitual.  In the next article, we're going to dive into what real self-care is and how it applies to shadow work.

Exercise Five
Trauma and Triggers
On a blank page, make a list of thoughts, actions, or beliefs that might bring up your personal trauma, cause depression, or create severe panic attacks when brought up to you.  These are your triggers.  Make this list on the left-hand side of the page.  Then, on the right-hand side, explore why those triggers exist.  For example, if a certain tone of voice makes you have a panic attack, then that tone of voice touches a past trauma and brings that up within you.  Knowing why you have triggers can help you better process your trauma as you work through shadow work.  Take your time going through this exercise as thinking about triggers can, in and of itself, be triggering.  Take as many breaks as you need, as you’ll have two months to complete this portion.  If you find that you’re struggling with this, or are being triggered too much without any coping mechanisms in your arsenal, you may not be ready for shadow work.  If so, that’s okay!  Simply close the book and take a break.  You can either come back to this in some months and try again or seek out therapy to help you deal with your trauma.

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