If you’re into reading mental health articles, one thing that often talked about is “Shadow Work”. But what does that actually mean?
Your Shadow-self can be interpreted as anything from an alter ego, a devil on your shoulder, or embracing characteristics contrary to your nature (i.e. a talkative person being quiet, and a quiet person being talkative).
For today, we’ll define the Shadow-self as: a part of yourself you had to deny in the past in order to gain acceptance or love.
Whether it was a toxic relationship, abusive parents, or hostile work environment many of us are taught to make parts of us smaller to be more pleasing to people. This hurts us and often happens unconsciously.
It takes shadow work to reverse the process, but first you have to identify your Shadow-self.
For those of you struggling to identify yours, I used meditation to find mine. Spend a few minutes clearing your mind and detaching yourself from your thoughts, then ask “what part of me have I been suppressing?”
If meditation isn’t your thing, you can simply reflect or journal about the subject. Are there situations that come to mind that made you anxious, or resentful without a clear reason?
Often times if we respond to someone in a pleasant way but then suddenly feel anxious or resentful it’s because there is a part of ourselves we’re suppressing.
Maybe you disagree with them, or don’t have time to do what they’re asking, or think something should be different, but instead of voicing your concern you suppress that part of yourself to be pleasing.
In my case, I realized I suppress my anger in an unhealthy amount. Even in situations where I’ve clearly been mistreated and have every right to be angry- as soon as I want to confront someone- my consciousness clamps down tightly and pushes the anger away.
If, like me, you have denied an emotion for a long time (possibly years or decades), suddenly acknowledging this suppressed part of you may be too overwhelming. This is why we sometimes have irrational, emotional outbursts.
The opposite can also be true. You may acknowledge the part you’ve been suppressing, but have no clue how to bring it out and healthily integrate it into your persona.
Denying an emotion is never healthy. Instead, we should find ways to productively express it.
This process of beginning to let yourself express denied parts of you is “shadow work”, and it is an important step to healing.
Here are seven things I do to help me with my anger shadow work that might be able to help you with yours:
- Letting myself scream in the car when I’m driving by myself
- Writing ugly letters that I never intend to send
- Sitting and embracing the emotion while saying “this is okay, I’m allowed to feel this, I have a right to feel this”
- Letting myself say all my angry thoughts out loud, even if no one else hears them.
- punching a pillow and violently throwing it against the ground
- practicing a punch sequence in the air or with a punching bag (jab, punch, left hook, uppercut)
- Running in an anger fueled sprint until I feel the steam running out (pre-knee injury)
For further reading, I’d recommend checking out this article (see “assimilating the shadow”).