Shadow Work can be defined as a deep process of psycho-emotional healing. The purpose of Shadow Work is to help us evolve through cultivating our awareness of as many physical, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects as possible. In bringing these aspects to our focused awareness and embracing them, they can be aligned and integrated in the course of our spiritual and psychological growth. Jessica Cross writes in Shadow Work Journal (2016): “Shadow work is a way to rewrite the story you tell yourself about yourself.” Shadow Work as a healing modality, as well as some approaches to the work it engenders, will be presented here. It is a path that we can choose to undertake when we feel ready.
The term “Shadow” is metaphoric, and is best understood in the context of the study of the human psyche or mind, as opposed to the brain as an organ. An extensive analysis of the psyche was developed in the writings and practice of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. He was a student of the practicing psychiatrist Sigmund Freud early in the 20th Century. The revolutionary Freud had made a significant impact on European thinking with his theories that the mind consists of a limited conscious awareness, which he termed the “ego,” and a much vaster component known as the “unconscious.” Jung expanded on this concept, albeit with a different twist than Freud. He ultimately broke ties with Freud, becoming famous in his own right.
Although there is no scientific evidence for the existence of the ego and the unconscious, Jung’s theories regarding the role of the unconscious in human behavior are invaluable for understanding our complex natures. Jungian analysis has become well established over the years as a form of psychotherapy and philosophical study, and also crosses over into spiritual modalities. In fact, Jung himself treated and helped many patients with his beliefs that dreams are the primary language of the unconscious, and this language makes the unconscious accessible to us. There are many people who classify Jung as “mystic philosopher” rather than scientific researcher.
According to Jung, the unconscious is a repository of human experience normally hidden to our conscious awareness. It is mainly propelled by the ego/personality. This vast repository—at its source—is actually in touch with, and continually sharing, the experience of all present and past forms of life. This shared life experience is what Jung calls the Collective Unconscious, or the Universal Mind, as we would call it in spiritual circles.
Jung endeavored to categorize the common themes of human experience by means of certain imaginal constructs. He defined these constructs as Archetypes that dwell in our unconscious. Archetypes are regarded as the sources of potential spiritual and psycho-emotional expression throughout all of humanity. Archetypes personify human values in the guise of such characters as The Hero, The Villain, The Tyrant, The Warrior, etc. Although the list of Jungian archetypes can be arbitrary, among the ones Jung suggested is one that is labeled “The Shadow.” In his 1917 book “On the Psychology of the Unconscious,” Jung described the Shadow as “the sum total of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the content of the personal unconscious.” The influence of the Shadow, then, can best be understood by the role that the unconscious plays in the psyche. In this respect, our spiritual path is mainly concerned with coming to terms with the Shadow in ourselves, and learning how to understand and deal with the Shadow in others.