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The Beauty and Brilliance of Shadow Work

What are the benefits of embracing your shadow?

Key points

  • Everybody has a shadow but not everybody is willing to accept their "shadow self."
  • Shadow work involves being honest about the unpleasant and unwanted parts of our personality.
  • Embracing the shadow self is an important step towards living authentically.

Dancing in the shadows

I, myself am only a girl

In my imperfect beauty watch me swirl

For there to be immense light in my life

I must embrace and soothe my woe and strife

For that to happen acceptance must reign

And with that knowledge my shadow I will not shame

I will show it the stars and sit it by the fire

I will flood it with love and greatly admire

I will take it by the hand and guide it to the floor

And dance with it until our feet are sore

I am complete when my love knows no measure

That will lead me to my best self which I will treasure.


Shadowy Lou

Louise Taylor
Me and my shadow.
Source: Louise Taylor

This is a poem that I wrote in 2017 about my shadow and the arduous and wondrous journey to self-acceptance, self-awareness, and deep psychological and emotional healing. I am often mistaken for a Jungian analyst or a depth psychologist as I am a fan of Carl Jung and talk about him all the time. My autistic tendencies mean that I hone in on special interests and the work of Carl Jung would be something I find fascinating. I am definitely interested in these approaches but I prefer the integrative approach and I am committed to ecotherapy. Nonetheless, shadow work is something that I would recommend to anyone, particularly those who want to help others in whatever line of work they do.

“Shadow work is the path of the heart warrior.” -Carl Jung

To learn about the depths and intricacies of our personalities and to do significant, meaningful, progressive work on a personal development level takes strength, courage, time, and, above all else, honesty. I do not know anybody who does not have a shadow side but I also know very few people who are prepared to accept, acknowledge or even discuss their shadow side.

The shadow is in all of us but few are prepared to bring it to the light of day and to share it with the world. To embrace your shadow self is possibly one of the most empowering and enlightening things that you can do in your life. To engage and accept the shadows in us all is to be brave and to sit with our whole, authentic self and not just the parts of us that are palatable to the masses.

“The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.” -Carl Jung

The idea of a 'shadow side' has been around for decades thanks to Carl Jung. He was a student of Sigmund Freud but he was less fatalistic in his attitude towards the human psyche. He was optimistic and hopeful about the essence of individuals and believed that people could improve their lives with self-reflection, analysis, and awareness. Jung describes the shadow as the first layer of our unconscious (and there are many, many layers) and it is the layer that we don’t like, we don’t know, and we don’t want to know. It is the part we want to hide, we don’t want others to see, it is not pleasant. But it is part of us, it is who we are and to deny it is to deny our truth, our essence and to deny our flaws and awesomeness.

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole.” -Carl Jung

If you want to get to know your shadow, there is a very simple exercise you can do. All you will need is a couple of minutes, a pen, and a piece of paper. When you are ready, then follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Think of a person you really dislike.

Step2: Write on a sheet of paper all the things that you dislike, don’t trust, the personality traits you detest, all the negative things about them.

Step 3: Take the piece of paper and write your name at the top.

Step 4: You now know what your shadow side is like.

How does that feel?

“Unless you learn to face your own shadows, you will continue to see them in others, because the world outside you is only a reflection of the world inside us.” -Carl Jung

Believe me, I didn’t enjoy doing that exercise the first time I did it but I know that what we see as flaws in others are also in us. We see the world the way we want to see it, we see the good in people we want and we see the bad in people that we want.

Being self-aware is a massive pain at times. I often run away from people that I do not like and I run away from situations and events where I don’t feel comfortable. I regularly do not want to deal with what I know. Some days I let my shadow take the reins. Some days I dance with it and only it and I let it lead, I let it dictate, I let it engage, I let it rule my life. I often dislike people quickly, I can be incredibly judgemental, and even though I know these responses are telling me something I would rather avoid, they give me the knowledge that I have more work to do on myself.

“There's no coming to consciousness without pain.” -Carl Jung

I believe that there is profound beauty to be found in the shadows, there is refuge to be found in the unattractive aspects of our personalities, there is a comfort in being at ease with the not-so-pleasant parts of ourselves. It is easy to love someone who does everything right and is lovely all the time. But what about the others? What about people like me? People who are already deemed 'other', unacceptable, or difficult for various reasons. I am a good person, I am kind and generous, but I am also complex, I am impulsive, I am confrontational, I am loud, and my condition means I can be unpredictable and there can be a lot of cringing as I am socially awkward. In spite of all of that, I am worthy of love, affection, and respect. Loving the acceptable, likable and pleasant parts of me is easy, but loving all the difficult and unpleasant parts is the tricky part. To me, shadow work is important personal work. For so long, I tried to hide my shadow. Now I love it and am no longer ashamed by who I am and what I stand for because I know who I am and I know that my shadow is there and this knowledge helps me to manage it.

Let your shadow be seen, dance with it, and watch what happens. You may just discover that being imperfect is not just fine, it is brilliant, it is beautiful, it is freedom.

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” -Carl Jung

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