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Is Shadow Work Dangerous? Here’s Why Some Think So

So you’re thinking of doing shadow work but have looked around online and aren’t sure if it’s right for you. After all, it sounds a bit intense.

You’re starting to wonder if shadow work is dangerous.

I’ll unpack common concerns about shadow work, why some people find it scary, and (hopefully) help you feel more confident in your decision to give it a go.

Or not, if that’s what you decide. That’s cool, too.

What is shadow work?

Shadow work is the process of owning up to the aspects of ourselves that we tend to deny or repress.

It’s about coming to terms with the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or that make us feel uncomfortable, and it can be a difficult and challenging process.

It typically involves exploring our dark side – the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden away – and can be a very confronting and painful experience.

For that reason, it’s not uncommon for people to feel scared or even terrified when they first start doing shadow work.

A profile of a woman in shadow while her shadow projects on the wall
is shadow work dangerous?

Why is shadow work scary?

There are a few reasons why shadow work can be so scary.

For starters, it can be difficult to face up to the parts of ourselves that we’d rather keep hidden away. It can be tempting to deny or ignore our shadow side, but doing so only keeps us trapped in a cycle of self-sabotage and self-destructive behaviors.

Moreover, shadow work can often involve confronting our deepest fears and insecurities. We may have to face past traumas or come to terms with things we’ve been trying to repress.

This can be an emotionally challenging experience, and it’s not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed or even paralyzed with fear.

Another reason shadow work can be scary is that it can require us to make major life changes. We may have to let go of unhealthy relationships, change our jobs or even move to a new city.

These changes can be daunting, and it’s natural to feel scared or uncertain when making them.

What does shadow work feel like?

There’s no universal experience when it comes to shadow work. How it “feels” largely depends on what kind of baggage you bring to your practice.

Unpacking deeply-rooted pain and trauma can feel uncomfortable and exhausting. Some aspects of shadow work feel overwhelming and leave you feeling wiped out.

On the flip side, shadow work can also feel like a relief. Some people describe the process as a lightening like something heavy has been lifted off their spirit.

It’s not uncommon to feel a mixture of extremes. You may feel scared one moment and curious the next. You may feel like you’re in over your head, but then find moments of unexpected peace.

What’s important is allowing yourself to feel whatever comes up for you during shadow work. Don’t try to push away the negative emotions – they are an important part of the process.

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What does shadow work mean spiritually?

There is no one answer to this question as it depends on your individual beliefs and worldview.

For some people, shadow work is a way to connect with their spirituality. It’s an opportunity to explore the parts of themselves that they normally keep hidden away; in doing so, they may find a deeper connection to their spiritual practice.

For others, shadow work may not have any spiritual implications. It may simply be a way to work through personal issues and become a more self-aware and well-rounded individual.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide spiritually what shadow work means for you. If you’re interested in exploring this aspect of the practice, many resources are available to help you get started.

Here are a few books on shadow work you might enjoy:

Is shadow work dark magic?

No, shadow work is not dark magic. It’s a psychological process that can be used for personal growth and healing.

While shadow work can be confronting and challenging, it’s not intended to harm anyone. The goal of shadow work is to help you become your best self.

If you need clearer confirmation, speak with your religious or spiritual advisor and have them weigh in on the religious/spiritual implications of doing shadow work. Whereas there is nothing inherently “dark” about it, your faith leader may advise you differently.

How To Circumvent Common Risks of Shadow Work

While shadow work can be a very positive and transformative experience, it’s important to know the potential risks involved.

As mentioned previously, shadow work can be emotionally challenging. You may have to face traumas or difficult past experiences, which can be tough to handle. If you’re not careful, shadow work can leave you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and even re-traumatized.

1. Make Sure You’re in a Mentally Stable Place

Shadow work is like a workout for your emotions and your mind. If your mental health is in good shape — meaning you generally feel okay day-to-day, you’re not dealing with a big crisis, and you don’t have a mental health condition that makes things harder for you — then you might be ready to tackle shadow work.

But if you’re dealing with a mental health condition like severe anxiety, depression, or you’ve had traumatic experiences, it’s like having that injury.

Your mind is already trying to heal or manage these conditions, and diving into shadow work could be like trying to lift heavy weights with a bad back. It could make things worse if you’re not very careful.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re in a relatively stable place.

If you’re not sure, or if you have a mental health condition, that’s when working alongside a mental health professional who is familiar shadow work is going to be best. They can help you understand if you’re ready, and how to approach the work safely without making your condition worse.

2. Be Prepared for Change.

Another risk of shadow work is that it can lead to significant changes in your life. This can be positive, but it can also be scary and uncertain. If you’re not ready for change, shadow work may not be right for you.

Whether consciously or not, if you’re truly not ready to end that bad friendship, change jobs, or start standing up for yourself more, you might resist the work you’re doing. At that point, you’ll end up fighting with yourself more, which can even make things worse.

3. Know What You Want to Get Out of It.

It’s important to consider your goals and intentions before embarking on shadow work. What are you hoping to achieve? What changes are you willing to make? If you’re unsure, it may be best to wait until you’re ready.

Because shadow work is going to test you.

It’s an emotionally messy process. This means you might feel worse before you feel better. If you’re not ready for that, or you’re doing it all alone without someone to help you, it can feel pretty overwhelming.

Remembering your “why” can help you push through these moments.

4. Be Ready to Face Your Past and Old Wounds.

When you do shadow work, you’re going to dive deep into your past experiences and memories.

Sometimes, when you confront these hidden parts of yourself, you have strong reactions you didn’t expect.

For example, you might get really sad about something you thought you were over, or you might realize you’re holding onto anger from something that happened a long time ago. These surprises can throw you off balance if you’re not prepared for them.

If you’ve been through something really tough, like trauma, poking around in that part of yourself can reopen old wounds. If these wounds are very deep and painful, you might need a professional — like a therapist — to help you handle them safely.

If you know that about yourself ahead of time, book a session with someone beforehand so you can navigate this process safely.

5. Expect Some Ups and Downs

Finally, it’s important to remember that shadow work is not a quick fix. It’s a gradual process that requires time, patience, and commitment.

It’s also not a linear process.

In fact, you may feel worse before you feel better. There may even be stretches of time when you think you’re having a break through and then a setback throws you off your game.

This is all incredibly normal, by the way, in anything worth doing in life. This is true for elite athletes, people pursuing their dreams, and folks like you and me trying to be the best version of themselves.

And while I don’t want that to scare you out of trying, it’s worth understanding at the beginning that this will all take time and progress will be a little zig zaggy.

Safe Ways To Do Shadow Work

There are many different ways to approach shadow work, and finding a method that feels safe and comfortable for you is important.

One way to safely do shadow work is to keep a journal.

This can be a great way to process your thoughts and emotions without feeling overwhelmed. You can write as much or as little as you like, and you can go back and read your entries whenever you need to.

If you’re unsure where to start, I’ve got several pages of shadow work prompts you can use (no gimmicky e-mail sign-ups to get them either). I recommend starting with my list of 70+ shadow work prompts for beginners and going from there.

Another way to do shadow work is to talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, therapist, or coach. This can be a great way to gain insights and learn how to find your shadow self. It’s important to find someone who will listen without judgment and who won’t try to fix you.

Finally, there are many shadow work exercises available online.

These can be a great way to get started, but you must be selective about which ones you do. Not all exercises are created equal, and some may even be harmful.

If you’re unsure about an exercise, it’s best to consult with a professional before doing it.

When done safely and responsibly, shadow work can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth.

If you’re struggling right now, feel stuck, or don’t know what to do next, talk therapy can help. Getting started with BetterHelp is easy!

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