De-mystifying the process so you can do the work.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” -Carl Jung
If you're in the intentional and mindful communities, you likely hear the term Shadow Work tossed around like a well used penny. But what is it? And furthermore... How the hell do you do it?
Let's get the boring, technical jargon out of the way first. Shall we?
Shadow Work is the incredibly complex psychological work of unearthing the subconscious and repressed aspects of ourselves. Carl Jung coined the term and practice in the sixties. This work expands on Freudian psychology, which puts more emphasis on the sexual unconscious. Carl Jung agreed that the subconscious is an important part of creating our personality and dictating our actions but disagreed on the theory of how our Shadow was born.
Some schools of thought allow for the human mind to exist at a blank slate upon birth but Carl Jung challenged this by insisting that we inherited more than our physical traits from our ancestors. These inheritances include societal expectations that have evolved over time but also archetypical energy that defines how we interact with the world. This is known as the collective unconscious, which differs from the individual unconscious.
Jung also introduced the term 'archetype' and the initial 8 which he believes every person to possess through the collective unconscious. Let's dive in:
Note: The archetypes Anima and Animus rely on traditional gender roles. Again, this is what we believe to be passed down from our Ancestors and has been refined in evolution. As our own societal norms shift and change, the expectations from traditional gender roles would as well. The author does not prescribe to the idea of gender normative behavior and is sharing the information as it was coined in the 60’s.
Integration and wholeness of the personality. This archetype could also be known as the Higher Self, the one who takes into account the other archetypes and has integrated all aspects of themselves.
This archetype of self is who we often work with during Shadow Work, as it is aptly named. This represents the “darker” side of our personality, the one that we are taught is unacceptable in polite society. This exists within the collective unconscious but develops its own personality through our childhood and formative years. (More on this below!)
The idealized, overtly divine feminine. She would be represented throughout history as beautiful, alluring, and romanticized. She is sensitive, nurturing, and compassionate. The Anima exists within the masculine body and is often not fully explored due to societal pressures.
Much like above, the Animus is the aggressive, direct, and powerful divine masculine energy within the feminine body. Women are often encouraged to act submissive and to repress the energy within us that would fully explore the Animus.
This archetype is our mask. It’s what we don in order to feel safe interacting with others and while it has its uses and benefits, many will shy away from the work of interacting with and integrating the other archetypes.
This is our Ego-typical archetype. The side of us that views our journey through the eyes of one against a monster. We are constantly striving to overcome, no matter what our circumstances may be.
Wise Old (wo)Man
The sage within us that seems to know all. Our voice of reason.
Trickster- This would in many ways be the Inner Child. Jung often describes this archetype as naughty by nature, but today we also recognize that this childlike energy is often hurt and can act out in various ways to seek attention. It is the innocent.
So, now that we know and understand these different archetypes that exist within us as described by Carl Jung, we need to understand more about the individual unconscious. As we’ve already explored, there is a set of expectations that not only exists within our current society, but that has also been passed down genetically. We are naturally predisposed to fall into certain categories and this is exacerbated during our childhood.
What we learn as a child molds our subconscious; it can triggers our nervous system in a trauma response. When our fight or flight response is triggered, our minds record everything that happens. If we feel shame, or anger, or sadness, or guilt… our minds compound the information so that in the future we can avoid feeling this way ever again. This is born from the teaching that feelings like shame, anger, sadness, and guilt are inherently bad or morally corrupt. That we should only experience the lighter emotions of compassion, joy, and elation in order to be considered a good person.
When we attach our morality to our emotions, we begin the work of forming our Shadow Self. When we attach our worth to how we are perceived in the world by current gender trends, we stifle the exploration of the Anima/Animus. When we allow ourselves to feel weak, tired, and afraid, we torture the Hero.
Shadow Work, though it is named after the Shadow archetype, is the work of integrating and exploring all the various aspects of the collective unconscious. Integrating is an often overused word for acceptance. It is the relinquishing of power that our subconscious holds over us because as Carl Jung stated “What we resist, persists.”
In the avoidance of confronting ourselves and accepting the ‘darker’ aspects of our personality, we actually allow those feelings to run free. We turn a blind eye and ignore the emotion and in doing so we trick ourselves into believing that we are winning.
Still with me? Let’s talk about how this work in our real, everyday life:
For example, as a child I not only talked a lot but I enjoyed being center stage. (Leo Rising, I can’t help it!) If there was a camera, I wanted to be in front of it. If there was a crowd, I was ready to perform. I still remember this home video where I was singing at Christmas from a small book of carols. Everyone laughed and the camera moved onto my younger sister who was far more shy and actually tried to hide. I noticed this and, once again, stepped in front of the camera. From behind the lens, you can hear everyone start groaning and telling me to sit down. Telling me that I had been on camera enough, and I was being an attention hog. I grew up hearing that I was cocky and vain and a primadonna... I was taught to feel shameful about those parts of my personality. Each one of these interactions triggered my nervous system and over time, my Shadow Self was refined to not ask for too much, to not take up too much space– to be quiet.
As an adult, I sometimes wear these personality traits like armor. I will joke around with my family if only to poke fun at myself, so they can’t do it first.
But how does this affect the Shadow? When I don’t work on accepting this part of myself, the part that adores attention– when I actively shame myself for even wanting attention, I unintentionally play small. I miss opportunities. I make myself unhappy. I repress a part of myself that wants to be expressed.
This has been an ongoing work for me to this day in allowing myself the space and grace to be as big as I want to be. I have to work consistently with my Ego to say “there is nothing wrong with me wanting X.”
It is not our fault that we have Shadow Selves… but it is our responsibility to integrate, to heal, and to break these patterns for future generations. As we allow our children to exist in all their forms, we help their individual unconscious by never creating the tears and cracks that they will need to heal as adults.
Shadow work begins, at its heart, by simply getting to know your subconscious. From there, loving self acceptance and the freedom to explore life as an integrated human ultimately leads to us acting from our Highest Self.
Now that we know these archetypes and what Shadow Work truly is, it’s time to choose one and start exploring! Let me know below which of your archetypes needs the most attention.