Friday, August 14, 2020

[Shadow Work Series] Standard Approaches to Shadow Work: How the Rest of the World Does It

So far, we've discussed the history of shadow work and the definition of the shadow, even giving reasons why shadow work can benefit you both as a person and a witch.  We then dove into skills to hone before practicing shadow work, specifically highlighting self-care as an important coping skill for the unnerving emotions we may face ahead.  Today, we'll officially get to business!  In the following article, we're going to discuss some practical approaches to shadow work.  These are typical approaches that you might find in a self-help book or on a website unrelated to witchcraft.  While they may not be witchcraft-specific, you may find that having a solid foundation in the practical applications will help you better understand how to connect shadow work to your Craft.


The most common way to tackle shadow work, or any advancement in your own personal growth and psychology for that matter, is to keep a journal.  A journal is useful for taking a long, hard look at our inner psyche. By writing down our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, we can record, process, and return to them to analyze these thoughts in a different light.  By doing just that, we're able to better identify key traits of the shadow.  Taking 5-10 minutes each day to simply process life and dive into our self-identified negative traits can slowly chip away at our shadow without overclocking our mental state.  In fact, you may notice that, in the exercise portion, we've long already begun!

When journaling, it's important to identify negative thoughts and tracing them to a source.  You might do this by recounting dreams and dissecting their symbolism, exploring a time when you blurted out something harmful in a state of anger or fear, or process traits you were told to repress in your childhood.  A quick Google search brings up hundreds of results on shadow work journal prompts, and I've even linked one such result below in the references section.  Additionally, journaling after any kind of alternative shadow work method, be it listed in this article below or in the upcoming witchcraft component, can help you remember and process those sessions as well.  In the end, your shadow work journal becomes a record of your personal growth and, ultimately, the integration of your shadow traits.

Sitting with Your Emotions

Often, we're told to avoid or ignore "bad" emotions.  If we're crying, we're told to "suck it up."  If we're angry, we're told our anger is impolite.  It's easy to fall into the trap of pushing weighted emotions down for not just others' comfort, but even your own.  Shadow work requires us to stop doing that, teaching us that we need to sit with these heavy emotions and truly feel them in order to heal the wound from which they originate.  This doesn't mean we should act on them.  It simply means digging down into those uncomfortable emotions and allowing ourselves to actually have them, no matter how painful or difficult it might be.

When we have these difficult emotions during shadow work, we also have to ask ourselves why we're feeling what we are.  Sometimes we'll be able to identify the reason quickly; other times, it may take us sitting with a particular emotional reaction several times before we "get" it - and that's okay.  The important part is to breathe through it and keep asking yourself why.  The truth is that these heavy emotions are the portal into the shadow, putting certain archetypes and shadow traits on full view.  By asking ourselves the why of an emotion and seeking out its original shadow trait, we learn how to properly identify and work with it.  We gain language to better communicate these feelings - something known as emotional intelligence.  We also learn to trust the emotions we have more because we can better identify them.  When we learn to trust our feelings, we develop intuition.  

Keeping a record of these experiences with difficult emotions in your journal will help you process and evaluate your experiences as you go.


Meditation is a different approach to sitting with our emotions.  When we sit with those weighted feelings, we're frequently doing so because external stimuli unexpectedly touch a piece of our shadow.  Meditation, however, involves internal stimuli.  We're able to schedule a certain amount of time to explore specific difficult feelings in a safe space and we can then have the appropriate post-meditation self-care plan in place.  All of this an go a long way in protecting our mental health.

Meditation is not a witchcraft-specific practice and is frequently employed in settings involving self-help and therapy.  As such, it doesn't have to be mystical or elaborate.  Shadow work meditation can involve something as complex as the right music and script that can guide us to our designated shadow trait, or something as simple as a mantra we repeat.  It can be 30 minutes or 5.  It can involve sitting in a specific pose that helps you achieve a meditative state or you could simply sit or even lie down.  Meditation varies greatly from person to person, so experiment and find the way that's comfortable for you!

If you're not sure how to meditate or you struggle with it, here are a few guides that can help you out.  And, as always, having a record of your experiences during each meditation will further your progress with shadow work - which is why we keep coming back to journaling.

Nurturing Your Inner Child

Because the shadow is formed by your experiences with societal figures in your childhood, giving yourself the same tender, loving treatment you'd give a child can help you better access the feelings you buried at that age.  The way we were parented and taught, the experiences we had with friends and classemates, all helped to create both who we are now and the shadow we carry.  In some situations, these events can leave deep, difficult wounds that still haven't healed.  Think back to your childhood and re-experience difficult events where you were perhaps lectured or scolded.  Remember mistakes you made and how you were treated.  You can even act out these events as a personal play that hearkens back to the imaginary games you once played as a kid.  Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to think, feel, and act as a child would.  As you do, however, recognize the emotions that come up in an adult way.  Sit with them.  Meditate on them.  Record them and analyze them.  

Then take care of yourself as a loving parent might take care of their own child.  Allow yourself to feel the emotions, to cry it out, then give yourself a nice treat or an hour of play.  Hold yourself, love yourself, read to yourself, and tuck yourself into bed.  As the title of this section states, nurture your inner child.  When you give yourself the love and care that you needed when these events occurred, you learn to heal the wounds they may have left.  By healing the wounds, you can better face the shadow traits created in their wake, integrating that aspect of the shadow into the self and becoming more whole.

Exploring Your Shadow Creatively

If you're particularly creative or crafty, you could use art as a means to explore your shadow self.  As one of the most basic forms of self-expression, art has been used as therapy by psychologists for ages.  The best part is that it doesn't even have to be "good."  In fact, it's important that you don't apply societal standards of "good" and "bad" art to your work when using this method to do shadow work.  However, if you do run into frustration or perfectionism, that's simply a manifestation of your shadow anyway, and thus a form of shadow work in and of itself!

You can use your creativity as a form of self-expression in any number of ways, from standard art like drawings, paintings, sculptures, and so forth to scrapbooking, crocheting, cooking, jewelry-making and more.  Think outside the box!  Writing, dance, theater, musical instruments, singing, and photography are all creative activities.  And again, it doesn't have to be something "professional."  Grab a pen and doodle on lined paper.  Take a drink-and-draw wine party class.  Look into free or low-cost belly dancing or Zumba classes.   If you enjoy writing, participate in NaNoWriMo, NaJoMo, or one of the many Camp NaNos throughout the year. The more spontaneous your creation is, however, the better as it's more likely to tap into that shadow - which is the whole point of this exercise!

As you create, explore feelings associated with the process.  Do you feel like you're not good enough?  Do you start to get competitive with your classmates?  Do you take any critique personally?  If so, recognize the emotion for what it is and explore the why.  Where does that feeling come from?  When did you first experience it?  Why is it still a reaction you have to this day?

As usual, recording these events as they happen, as well as your exploration of them, will help you document your journey.  

Working With Shadow Archetypes

While the shadow itself is considered an archetype, Jung theorized that the shadow could take on a variety of archetypal titles.  In his and his predecessors' studies, hundreds of potential shadow archetype lists would be created.  Potential archetypes to note ranged from Jung's Trickster, Hero, Victim, Destroyer, and Addict, and even neo-Jungian Robert Moore's King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover.   You could even look to other types of archetypes, such as enneagrams (the Perfectionist, the Giver, the Performer, etc) to dive into shadow archetypes.  Each archetype spurs a chance for exploration during shadow work.  You can choose an archetype title that jumps out at you and research it or explore it through any of the methods here.  Alternatively, you could write a bunch of archetypes on pieces of paper, throw them into a hat, and choose at random.

We'll explore archetypal work more in-depth in the next section as well.

Using Modern Technology to Your Advantage

Another way to incorporate shadow work into your life is to use modern technology and its influence on our daily life to your advantage.  As you're watching a movie or TV show, or while you're reading a book, consider which characters you relate to the most.  Why do you relate to them?  What are the pros and cons of seeing yourself in their shoes?  Alternatively, which characters do you absolutely despise and why?  Utilize this as an opportunity to explore the parts of your shadow this touches.  

Alternatively, take a look at social media.  As you scroll through your Instagram or Facebook feed, what strikes you?  Who do you relate to and who annoys you?  What kind of posts irritate you and what kind of posts do you look forward to?  Observe how people interact with each other online versus in real life.  Why is it different?  How does this bother you?  What would be the worst thing someone could post about you on social media?  What characteristic would you be embarrassed about if someone pointed it out to you on a public post?  As you explore these questions, keep asking yourself why.  Dig deeper until you find the fundamental aspect, the shadow trait, that is creating these festering emotions to bubble up under the surface.

You can combine these methods with any number of other standard or witchcraft approaches to see what you uncover.

Seeking Out a Therapist or Counselor

Not to beat a dead horse senseless, but you know it had to come up.  If you are struggling with shadow work on your own, seek out a therapist.  Shadow work was born in analytical psychology and has its roots in personal growth, self-help, and therapy.  Many therapists are explicitly trained or have at very least studied Jungian analytical psychology and could assist you in the work you're trying to do.  If nothing else, the therapist can offer an objective opinion to aid you in your own personal growth, supplying you with the tools you may lack to 

As stated earlier, shadow work is a key component of psychotherapy. Many therapists are trained in some aspect of shadow work and are familiar with Carl Jung’s shadow work theory and working with the shadow self.  If you're serious about diving into shadow work but are struggling with where to start or the immense emotions associated with the work, a therapist can aid you in your journey.

Exercise Seven
A Practical Approach
In Exercise Four, you picked a few specific opposite traits that you saw in others you disliked and wrote them each on their own blank sheet of paper.  In this exercise, you’re going to take one of those traits – which we now know is a part of our shadow – and tackle them using one of the standard approaches above.  Picking an approach that appeals to you will help you stick with it when it gets difficult.  Tackle this over the next few weeks.  At the end, on a separate blank page, write about the pros and cons of that approach.  How did it help?  How did it not?  In what ways was it easy? What were the difficulties?  Did you truly see the trait for what it was?  Were you able to come to terms with it over the past month?

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