Shadow Work - The Beginnings of Becoming
“I don’t believe my daughters are slipping away from me.
I believe they are slipping more into themselves. And that is beautiful.
That is shadow work.
This is surrender.
- Cheli Njoku
These thoughts came to me as I viewed pictures of my daughters displayed in our dining room. The pictures showed their physical growth and transition from toddlers to high school graduates and college students. My heart was full as I started to acknowledge how much they’ve grown as well as wonder what their adult life could be like...without me. As I continued to view their visual progression I heard a voice within me ask “how much of who they are today is based on my careful directing and curating”?
“What parts of them are more of their own makings and less of mine”?
In that moment I paused. I began to find clarity and believed it was just and necessary that I consciously step aside so they could start their shadow work. I surrendered.
Truth is, I could already see their shadow work happening and winced at the moments I had interfered or fought it. I no longer wanted to be a director in their life. Instead, I gladly take the role of very low key consultant and observer.
Carl Jung, a 20th century psychologist from Switzerland, first conceived the idea of the shadow self. The shadow is interpreted as the hidden parts of ourselves. The shadow is the parts of ourselves we hide from society and repress. It was Carl Jung’s belief to combine the shadow self with our everyday self so that we may be balanced and whole. Shadow work begs for surrender, so that transformation may begin.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”
- Carl Jung
I believe repression and self shaming is a behavior learned from childhood. We hide our most authentic selves because it made someone else uncomfortable. It is from this repression we create our new persona. The socially accepted norm.
Someone thought us to be uncomfortable with some of the characteristics that make up who we genuinely are by being critical, shaming, or judgmental. That someone could have been a parent, a teacher, a relative, a friend, a sibling, and even ourselves.
For example, a child may be told repeatedly to stop crying when they are hurt (physically or emotionally) with words like “nobody likes a cry baby” or “man up!”
Some defeating words I heard growing up were “why don’t you smile”? “You should fix your face”. “You don’t look approachable”. “Wear this, not that”.
Authenticity then becomes repressed and vulnerability is seen as a negative emotion- an emotion not worthy of sharing or making space for. We think we are teaching resilience or even strength of character. But in fact we are doing the opposite.
We are teaching avoidance and shame
We are teaching them to hide the vulnerable and unique parts of themselves that we deem unworthy. To show up as less of themselves and more of a well curated narrative.
“Vulnerability is the center of shame, scarcity, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. But it is also the birthplace of belonging, and love.”
– Brené Brown
So why is shadow work important to me?
“In order for a person to be able to Individuate, the parts of the unconscious self, the persona, the anima, including the unwanted Shadow must be accepted and be assimilated into one’s consciousness, in the inner person. The Shadow though unacceptable must find itself released or assimilated to consciousness in some manner. The more it is repressed, the more it is strengthened and becomes dangerous.” - dawnsnidget1475
A popular example of the danger in repressing the shadow self would be the story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
My conscious memory of observing shadow work before I even knew what it was, would be from viewing the Hulu original series “Chance". Watching Dr. Chance try to balance his shadow self alongside his acceptable persona was messy and even dangerous. At one point it go so disturbing I wanted to stop watching. Instead, I leaned in until the end. I saw conflict and growth as he navigated both sides of his persona to seek balance. I then realized that I have been in shadow work mode for some years myself and was not aware of it. I just never defined it as the term “shadow work” until recently. These are some ways I have supported my shadow work subconsciously until now -
Keeping a Journal:
Journaling magnifies my awareness and brings transparency to my ego. When I journal frequently, I’m able to notice cyclical and repressive behavior as I re-read my past journal entries. I’m made aware of habitual acts that work against me. My triggers are also made transparent. Basically it brings my unconscious self to light - the shadow self - and encourages me to take action and start doing the work to seek transparency and balance.
Practicing Self Mastery:
Self mastery encourages me to respond to life and my environment as opposed to reacting. To be more of myself and less of a manufactured persona. I Inhabit a feeder mentality and understand I have the power of choice. I strive to own my environment as opposed to letting my environment own me.
My daughter would tell me often “you need to address All the elephants in the room”. Basically to stop playing the avoidance game. Do the work. This starts with mastering myself. I must face the shadows I am repressing and create a new narrative. A true narrative. It takes vulnerability and yes it can get messy. I do it anyway.
The work is for me to reach my higher self by uncovering what is hidden. Why settle for basic, when I can tap into extraordinary?
I must sit on my hands and allow my children to begin their own shadow work. I must not rush the process. Whenever I’ve tried to move quickly through a stage, or practiced avoidance, I find myself right back where I started. Growth takes time....and patience. I must put my ego aside and believe that all of their life lessons and character makeup must not necessarily come from me. I do not want them to strive to follow in my own footsteps. I want them to strive to create their own blueprint. This is how they will become more themselves and less of who the world has told them they should be.
This is a necessary leap of faith. This is the beginning of becoming.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified psychoanalyst. I do my own research and soul searching as I continue to progress in self healing.