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The Shadow Self: What It Is and How To Find It

If you’re just starting out with shadow work, one of the first things you’ll do is work to find your shadow self. But that can be easier said than done.

For beginners of shadow work, you might be wondering how you find your shadow self and what that process is like. We break down commonly asked questions about finding your shadow self you can start implementing today.

What is the Jungian Shadow?

The “shadow self” is a concept coined by the famed psychiatrist Carl Jung. It’s part of our conscious mind that we repress because it houses all of our dark qualities that we’re ashamed of.

The shadow exists in everyone, and it is both a positive and negative force. It contains our repressed emotions, primal desires, undeveloped qualities, and unacknowledged aspects of the self.

When we face our shadow, we can begin to integrate these qualities into our conscious selves. This is a difficult but rewarding process that leads to greater self-awareness and wholeness.

The first step in that process is finding your shadow self.

Image of a person's shadow
How to find your shadow self

Does everyone have a shadow self?

Yes, everyone has a shadow self. It’s an integral part of our psyches, and it exists in everyone, regardless of whether they’re aware of it or not.

The shadow is often referred to as the “dark side” because it contains all of the qualities that we consider to be negative: anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, and so on.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s an inherently negative or bad thing that we should fear. In fact, our shadow self serves an important function. Our shadow self, despite its name, is a great tool for shining a light on the parts of ourselves that need healing and improvement.

The contrast between the parts of ourselves we like and accept and those we keep buried can provide us with valuable insight into ourselves and each other, as well as provide us with a vehicle for personal growth.

Can the shadow self be positive?

Yes, the shadow self can be positive. In fact, it contains many aspects of ourselves that we consider to be positive, such as our creativity, intuition, and sexuality.

It’s only when these qualities are repressed or denied that they become negative or shadowy. For example, if you’re not allowed to express your anger in a healthy way, it can lead to destructive behaviors like lashing out in violence or passive-aggressiveness.

On the other hand, if you’re able to express your anger in a constructive way, it can be a powerful force for good in your life. The same is true of all the qualities contained in the shadow self.

Another example is that a person may repress their creativity or assertiveness because they fear criticism or rejection. Still, these qualities can be channeled in positive ways when they are acknowledged and embraced.

Ultimately, whether the shadow self is positive or negative depends on how we perceive and use those aspects of ourselves. By integrating and accepting our shadow self, we can become more whole and authentic individuals.

Can the shadow ever be beneficial to personality development?

While the shadow self is often seen as something negative that we should try to get rid of, it can actually be a helpful tool in our personality development.

By facing our shadow, we can begin to understand the parts of ourselves that we’ve been suppressing. We can also start to integrate these qualities into our conscious selves.

This is a difficult but powerful process, one that can lead to greater self-awareness and personal growth. So let’s dive into how to access your shadow self.

We’ll talk about ways to embrace and integrate your shadow self in a minute, but first, let’s talk about about how to find your shadow self.

man photographing his shadow on the beach
How to Find Your Shadow Self

The Relationship Between The Shadow Self and Trauma:

Now for a more serious consideration when talking about shadow work and identifying the shadow self.

The shadow self can be closely linked to trauma, especially when the trauma is not dealt with properly.

When you experience trauma, it can cause a split in your psyche where parts of yourself are fragmented and pushed into the unconscious. These fragmented parts can become aspects of your shadow self, representing the unacknowledged or denied parts of yourself that are associated with the trauma.

How this works:

For example, if you’ve experienced childhood abuse, you may have repressed emotions such as anger, fear, or shame that become part of your shadow self.

These repressed emotions can manifest as self-sabotage, relationship difficulties, or other problematic behaviors. By denying or avoiding these aspects of yourself, the trauma can continue to impact your life in negative ways.

Working with your shadow self can be a crucial part of healing from trauma.

By acknowledging and integrating the fragmented parts of yourself, you can begin to heal the split created by the trauma. This may involve exploring and processing difficult emotions, developing self-awareness and self-compassion, and working with a skilled therapist or healer to address the underlying trauma.

This last part is particularly important. Trauma-inflicted people need to be aware of the risks of shadow work and should strongly consider working with a trained therapist when doing this work.

A brief word on the risk of shadow work and trauma:

While shadow work can be a powerful tool for personal growth and self-awareness, it also comes with potential risks and challenges.

For example, shadow work can sometimes trigger re-traumatization or bring up intense emotions that can be overwhelming to process.

Additionally, there is a risk of spiritual bypassing, which involves using spiritual practices to avoid or deny difficult emotions and experiences.

Shadow work can also reinforce harmful patterns of self-blame and shame if approached in a punitive or judgmental way.

To approach shadow work in a safe, responsible, and compassionate way, I recommend the following:

  • Work with a skilled therapist or healer.
  • Approach shadow work with self-compassion and non-judgment.
  • Practice self-care and establish healthy boundaries.
  • Take breaks and slow down the process if needed.

Ultimately, shadow work can be a powerful tool for personal growth and healing when approached with intention, self-awareness, and compassion.

How to Find Your Shadow Self

Getting started with shadow work is all about finding and getting to know your shadow self. This requires engaging in shadow work – exercises that help you understand your shadow self.

You can do this through a variety of methods. Here’s a brief overview of common shadow work strategies people employ:

1. Use shadow work prompts.

Working through shadow work prompts in a journal can you help you understand your core beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.

Here are some ways that shadow work prompts can help you find your shadow self:

  • Encourages self-reflection: Shadow work prompts encourage you to take a deeper look at your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By asking thought-provoking questions, prompts can help you gain insight into your unconscious mind and explore aspects of your shadow self that you may have been avoiding or denying.
  • Identifies patterns: Shadow work prompts can help you identify patterns in your thoughts and behaviors that may point to aspects of your shadow self. For example, suppose you consistently feel angry or resentful in certain situations. Maybe you’re ready to explode with rage whenever your partner leaves their things out. A prompt may ask you to explore why that is and what underlying emotions or beliefs are driving those feelings.
  • Provides a safe space for exploration: Shadow work prompts can create a safe and supportive space for exploring your shadow self. By providing a structure and framework for self-reflection, prompts can help you feel more comfortable and less vulnerable as you explore your unconscious mind. Plus, they help narrow the scope of your exploration so you don’t end up all over the place.
  • Encourages self-awareness: Shadow work prompts can help you become more self-aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. By shining a light on aspects of your shadow self, prompts can help you understand yourself better and make positive changes in your life.

Overall, shadow work prompts can be a powerful tool for exploring and integrating your shadow self. By asking the right questions and encouraging self-reflection, prompts can help you gain insight into your unconscious mind and become a more whole and authentic person.

2. Pay attention to your dreams and nightmares.

Dreams can be a powerful tool for exploring your unconscious mind. Keep a dream journal and pay attention to any recurring themes or symbols that may point to aspects of your shadow self.

You can even apply some of the insights you glean from your dream journal to your shadow work prompts.

3. Talk to a therapist or counselor about what bothers you.

Working with a therapist can be a powerful tool for uncovering and working with your shadow self. Here are some ways that therapy can help:

  • Provides a safe and supportive space: Therapy provides a safe and supportive space where you can explore and process difficult emotions, experiences, and aspects of your personality. A skilled therapist can help create a non-judgmental and empathetic environment that encourages openness and vulnerability.
  • Offers a trained and neutral perspective: Therapists are trained to recognize and work with the shadow self. They can help you identify patterns, triggers, and blind spots contributing to your difficulties. They can also provide a neutral and objective perspective on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This is honestly so helpful when you’re dealing with deeply emotional topics.
  • Offers specific therapeutic techniques: Therapists may use various therapeutic techniques and modalities to help you work with your shadow self, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and mindfulness-based approaches. These techniques can help you explore and process difficult emotions, shift negative thought patterns, and develop self-awareness and self-compassion.
  • Can help you integrate your shadow self: A skilled therapist can help you develop strategies for working with difficult emotions and behaviors and help you cultivate self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love.
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4. Look for patterns of behavior that you don’t like in yourself.

Spend time in quiet reflection, journaling, or meditation to explore your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Pay attention to patterns or recurring themes that arise, especially those that bring up feelings of discomfort or shame.

5. Identify your fears and insecurities.

Your fears and insecurities can be a clue to unresolved issues or beliefs driving your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

By acknowledging and exploring these fears and insecurities, you are creating a pathway to a deeper understanding of yourself and your shadow self.

For example, if you have a fear of rejection, you may avoid putting yourself in situations where you might be vulnerable or risk being rejected. This fear may stem from a belief that you are not worthy of love or acceptance, which can be an aspect of your shadow self.

By acknowledging and working with these aspects of your shadow self, you can start to shift your beliefs and emotions towards self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love. This can ultimately lead to greater confidence, resilience, and personal growth.

6. Ask yourself tough questions about the things you’re ashamed of.

Asking yourself tough questions about things you’re ashamed of can be a powerful way to uncover aspects of your shadow self. Here is an example of how you can use this approach:

Let’s say you feel ashamed about your tendency to procrastinate. Instead of avoiding or denying this behavior, you can ask yourself some tough questions to explore the underlying beliefs and emotions that drive it. For example:

  • Why do I procrastinate? What am I avoiding or afraid of?
  • What beliefs do I have about myself and my abilities that contribute to my procrastination?
  • How does procrastination make me feel about myself and my accomplishments?
  • How has procrastination impacted my relationships, work, or other areas of my life?

These questions may be uncomfortable to answer, but they can help you uncover aspects of your shadow self that you have been avoiding or denying.

For example, you may discover that you have a fear of failure or success that is driving your procrastination. Or you may have a belief that you are not capable or competent enough to accomplish your goals, which can be a core aspect of your shadow self.

Learning to Ask Questions and Observing in Shadow Work

We are all so busy.

Our attention is constantly tugged on and pulled throughout the day. Whether it’s our devices, our friends and family members, our work, or a world that is perpetually “on”, it can be easy to slip into autopilot mode.

Finding our shadow self requires us to do the opposite. It forces us to slow down and ask, “Why?”

Why do I want to blow up in rage at this woman taking forever to pay at the register? Why is it my first instinct to make fun of someone who dresses drastically different than me? Why do most of my conversations with others involve complaining and commiserating?

The more you stop to observe your behavior and reactions to the world around you, to question the thoughts that pop up into your head, and your instincts in certain situations, the more you will understand your shadow self.

It requires a lot of patience, honesty, and ownership over your own thoughts and behavior – a tall order for a lot of people!

Examples of the Shadow Self

In order to better understand the shadow self, let’s take a look at some common examples:

1. The perfectionist who can never relax because they’re afraid of making a mistake.

2. The people-pleaser who bends over backward for others but never says “no” for themselves.

3. The control freak who tries to micromanage every aspect of their life but can’t stand to let others make decisions.

4. The passive-aggressive person who reacts to conflict by behaving in passive or manipulative ways.

5. The workaholic who is constantly focused on achievement but never seems to have time for family or friends.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of qualities that might be found in someone’s shadow self. Who is your shadow self?

Resources for finding your shadow self:

A video that helps further explain shadow behaviors:

Remember, the goal is not to get rid of your shadow.

The goal is to understand it and learn how to integrate it into your conscious self.

Even when we recognize that our behaviors are negative or unhealthy, we might not understand why we do them. Where did we learn these things? What shaped us?

Finding the ‘why’ is at the crux of all shadow work.

If you’re unsure where to start with this process, we have 65 unique shadow work prompts for beginners that can help you get started.

Is the shadow self the ego?

No, the shadow self is not the same as the ego. The ego is the “I” or self-consciousness that we identify with. It’s the part of us that’s aware of our thoughts and feelings and makes decisions based on them.

The shadow self, on the other hand, is the hidden or unconscious part of us that we’re not aware of. It’s the parts of ourselves that we reject or deny, such as our desire for power, sexuality, and aggression.

Although the ego and shadow self are related in some ways – both are aspects of our consciousness – they are distinct from each other. While the shadow self may contain qualities that also exist in the ego, they are not the same.

Some people may define the shadow self as a type of ego or “false self,” but this is not accurate and may have to do with the ways we use the term “ego” colloquially. There’s nothing false about our shadow self, just hidden.

When people talk about the ego, they are referring to this sense of self that is separate from who we “truly” are. People like to conflate the word ‘ego’ and ‘shadow self’ because we like to believe that we aren’t our dark side.

But shadow work is all about understanding and accepting your dark side so that you can learn from it.

Where do we go from here?

As I mentioned before, identifying your shadow self is really just the beginning of this process. Shadow work takes time. The important thing is that you now have a solid grasp of what your shadow self is and some tools in your toolbox for identifying your unique shadow traits.

The next step will involve learning to integrate your shadow self into your everyday life so that you can break old behavior patterns and see some positive growth.

How well do you know your shadow self? Tell us in the comments below!

What more resources on shadow work?

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