Uncovering the shadow side. Part One.
We talk about mental health in this blog post. I mention unhealthy behaviors based on bad shadow work or a lack of shadow work. I talk explicitly about depression and eating disorders. But if you are sensitive to suicide, self-harm, disordered eating, addiction, or other issues at all, please take care when reading this post.
Episode #7: What is shadow work? Uncovering the shadow side. Part One.
Episode #7: What is shadow work? Uncovering the shadow side. Part One.
Okay, so I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “shadow work” so many times on the internet, but no one has ever had the courtesy to drop a definition. So, that’s what I’m going to do for you! This definition is one I’ve created myself, based on what I’ve learned over the years and how I do my own shadow work. I first learned this term from Jessi Huntenburg. She is an amazing resource on tarot and using divination in your shadow work.
Shadow Work: The inner work of facing your demons. Asking yourself why you are the way you are, and then having the courage to actively work against detrimental behaviors and beliefs while also embracing the hidden or shamed parts of yourself. The spiritual and psychological work of dealing with your shit.
You’re right! It is overwhelming. It’s great *eyeroll*.
Most self-care, well, true self-care, deals with parenting oneself and creating healthy coping mechanisms for trauma or other factors like mental or physical illness. And most of the time, it’s fun, but at it’s worse it can be scary and frustrating. (Remember when you had to make your dentist appointment on your own because you thought you had a cavity and you didn’t remember where your insurance card was and your mom lived three states away and there was no way she could come help? Yeah. Terrifying.)
But what is even so much worse about shadow work is it requires you to call up some of the worst pieces of your (or even ancestral) memory. You dive into the WHY behind the bad behaviors or coping mechanisms you have in place or that were taught to you by your elders. Then you break thru the personal or ancestral trauma that caused them.
And to be honest, most of the time this is best done with a therapist. (Shadow work is typically just considered ~*therapy*~ on its own.) There are resources at the end of this blog post to help you find professional help.
The next section talks about mental health and unhealthy behaviors. Use care when reading on. If you must stop here, that’s okay. 😊
For those of us who can’t afford therapy (American healthcare, amirite?), we can work toward breaking thru SOME limiting beliefs and trauma behaviors on our own utilizing our spirituality as a guide.
I think there is a line between what we have the capabilities to work on on our own vs what should be done with the guidance of professionals.
Find a therapist to help you work through:
Use spirituality to help you work through:
I like to think of doing shadow work on your own like doing mini therapy or therapy LITE. Working through the things that aren’t pretty, or don’t feel good, but also don’t cause you to spiral into reliving debilitating trauma or relapsing into self-harm.
Plus, most of the time, you can do both. Your therapist can work with you on creating a plan for how to deal with your major trauma or mental illness on your own, using your spirituality as a guide. Maybe you uncover trauma in therapy, but then do shadow work at home to develop better coping mechanisms.
It’s important to note that if you don’t have a good sense of healthy habits, behaviors, or coping mechanism, that you may struggle with shadow work and choose to refrain from working on specific areas of your life without guidance from professionals. Especially if the shadow work you’re doing directly impacts your mental health and not just internal biases, limiting beliefs, etc. Below are two ways that shadow work may affect actual mental illness.
TW: eating disorders.
For instance, if you suffer from an eating disorder, it may be important for you to not face any issues around food or exercise without professional help. Even if you’re coming up with self-care routines outside of your diet or exercise, disordered eating behaviors can fall into the cracks without you noticing. Starving is not self-care and romanticizing only drinking one latte all day as “self-care” is not healthy, regardless of whether you have a restrictive or binge eating disorder. It’s the ED talking, and if you’re recovered, could push you back into a relapse. If you don’t think you’re self-aware enough to understand if one eating behavior is normal or disordered, then you better refrain from including ANY food-related things in your shadow work until you get guidance from a professional.
But the good news is that most of the time, shadow work can help you deal with the small stuff and heal one step at a time.
A good use case for shadow work is with depression. A lot of times, there is no “cause” to depression. There is no problem to fix. And even if you do feel like you fixed the problem, you’re still feeling depressed.
So, you can use shadow work to help you uncover places where your self-worth is being questioned, and work on one behavior or limiting belief at a time. Maybe this takes the form of rewarding yourself for getting out of bed and showering. Or actively practicing no negative self-talk.
Doing shadow work on your own most likely will not revolve around any mental illnesses or intense trauma you’ve faced. Especially if you don’t have professional support.
Instead, I suggest focusing most of your shadow work on confronting inner demons that have manifested due to societal pressures or oppression, inner bias and bigotry, or just straight up shame.
Inner demons directly affect your habits, coping mechanisms, self talk, and belief systems. You may not even be aware of inner bias or bigotry and how it affects your everyday life. That is where shadow work comes into play, and dismantling that inner bias is so hard. It takes a lot of strength to admit you have these demons within you, like an inky sickness. Shadow work is eradicating that ink out of you, and pulling the inner selves that have been directly affected by it back into the light to be loved and accepted.
You may find that this type of shadow work requires work everyday. Not only do you have to face the demon head on, but you also have to adjust your behaviors and habits around them too. And that is how you heal.
One point I want to mention is that shadow work is not just about eliminating bad behaviors or beliefs. It’s also about nurturing, accepting, and loving the innermost parts of you that may be hiding behind walls or stowed away because they were directly affected by the demons within you.
Shadow work is about dealing with shadows, so sometimes that means lifting up bits of your identity that you’ve kept hidden in those shadows.
When you do that confrontational work against inner biases or trauma, you often uncover pieces of yourself that you originally did not accept or love about yourself. Doing the hard and compassionate work of embracing those pieces of you fully despite past shame or trauma is so healing. It requires so much work, so much inner space and hand holding, and a lot of self compassion. And you are fully worth that kind of healing.
Now it’s time to jump in! I’m not kidding. The best way to begin doing shadow work is by getting your hands dirty.
I’ve found that the best shadow work to do for people who haven’t done it yet (or for those who cannot get professional support) is journaling frequently. Begin recording your thoughts, experiences, and emotions, and you will begin to discover deeper parts of you that need healing and confronting. It’s important to totally commit to opening up to the journal. Embrace your inner 14 year old too and get a cute, lockable diary.
In Part Two, I dive into practical ways to actually begin doing shadow work. I give real rituals and meditations you can use right now to dive into the darker parts of yourself.
It’s important to do shadow work to deepen your spiritual practice, but sometimes you just need straight up therapy. These resources are focused within the United States by the way, and most likely will need to be paid for via health insurance and out of pocket.
If you are experiencing crisis (life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, or even just overwhelmed), you need to get professional level help immediately over doing shadow work. Consider these options:
If you are not in a crisis, but do need professional help, consider these options:
You are very brave for considering and reaching out for professional help. You are worthy of being healed. You are wanted on this planet. Your existence is needed. Thank you for reaching out to professionals.
Journal prompt: How can I establish a regular and safe shadow working practice? How can I journal regularly to go deeper within? What parts of myself do I want to work on?
Sign up to join the community of fellow beauty witches and recieve beauty rituals, love notes, and more straight to your email inbox every Friday.
Make sure to check your email so you can confirm your subscription! 💕