What “shadow work” really is. (Calling all wounded warriors.)
I struggled with the concept of the "shadow self” for so long. The term made me recoil. My interpretation of it: My shadow self was my dark side—my manipulative, arrogant, endlessly needy seductress. Menacing. And she deserved a good talking to.
My beloved psychotherapists and energy workers would point me toward it. “Shadow work. Shadow self.” I wanted to sob and run. Because I felt like I was constantly doing shadow work—intentionally confronting unworthiness and worth, stain and beauty. I had shadow fatigue. En français, that would be “fatigue de l’ombre.” A beautiful way of crying out, “When does the self-critical analysis ever fucking end?”
I can tell you when: When you love your wounds.
And that’s shadow work.
Your shadow is where your wounds hide, waiting for the light of your attention. It’s the stuff beneath the distractions of workaholism and comparison and bravado.
Your deepest pain is the entry point to your authentic power.
Things commonly found in the shadow are as follows: Fear—all kinds of fear, you name it. There’s an excellent assortment of shame—some of which is conscience that gets twisted, some of which are lies that external forces have fed you. Keep rummaging around and you will also find the terror of the unknown.
Our shadow self is not an evil twin personality that we have to berate and mollify. Our shadow self is our most wounded self. And criticizing her or dragging him to motivational workshops to crush fear… well, I hope that sounds less appealing than it used to.
THE WOMAN’S SHADOW
Anne Davin, a brilliant psychotherapist and creator of Feminosity, has been a light beam for my shadow work. In her poetic, Jungian way, Anne identifies a woman’s shadow as the archetype of the Handless Maiden. She is "the wounded woman inside of you,” but she’s not untethered and hopeless. Your wounded self is the twin sister of your Heroine Self. That’s a very powerful sisterhood.
"She is stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflict and loss,” explains Anne. “In psychological language she represents our attachment wounds or traumatic emotional injuries buried deep in the unconscious [the shadow]. She will steer you in the direction of negative erotic charge (negative pleasure) in your romantic relationships, professional industry, all the way down to your unhealthy food choices. She is what stands between you and your ability to experience yourself as a sentient being, fully embodying your spiritual humanity.” Davin knows what lies beneath—our greatest opportunity to become whole.
Manipulation, arrogance, hostility, addictions—these are not irreversible soul defects. They are behaviours that override our inborn integrity. These negative actions are expressions of the wounds we haven’t healed. Shitty behaviour is our unhealed self acting out, screaming for any kind of attention it can get.
. . . . . .
YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO GO DEEPER
Personal development is the nouveau religion and, like all that came before, it’s based primarily on behaviour modification—the dominant focus is on fixing character flaws. Meritorious, for sure. But stay with me…
I've meditated for years and done countless types of therapy. I polished my manifestation techniques and called in a lot of goodness. I have transmuted pain into strength. I modified my behaviour for the betterment of myself and the people around me. Healing progress, yes. But still, a topical treatment.
What I didn’t fully understand was that I was building up my outer strength so that I could bear the inward journey. I was creating a container—an eco-system of friends and teammates, introspection tools, and a roof over my head that was going to support me when I needed to descend into the deep darkness to retrieve the rest of myself.
Underneath all of the life skills I’ve honed, behind my accomplishments, and beside my overly sturdy boundaries, I found a bruised little girl that needed more love and care. I was neglecting her anxiety and pain on the way to enlightenment. So she made herself known in ways that brought my life to a halt.
And then she became my lifeline. Loving my most wounded self was my ultimate restoration.
Oh, there you are in the shadows, sweet wounds… fear, shame, terror. I see you. I’m not judging, I’m embracing. I’m listening to everything you need to say, as hard as it is to hear. Let my attention calm your nervous system. I promise that I have the strength to take care of you. I’m a grown up. I have skills. So, you need me to stop overworking, so we can rest and be well? Okay. You need me to get into nature more to feel nourished? Okay. You need me to break up with situations that are insensitive to your deep sensitivity? Okay. Let me value your life with my compassion and love. I get it now. I’ve got you.
Self compassion is your brightest light source. Shine it on your deepest pain. Keep giving love to what you find in the dark. Keep looking, listening, and loving. Your radiance will astound you.
And that’s shadow work.
Anne Davin is offering her Feminosity Course this month, a home-study of your archetypical selves. It’s wise and healing—made me cry and want to fly all at once. You can learn about it here.
One of the most healing practices I’ve found for shadow work is the Love + Radiance Meditation. I used this intensely during difficult times. It focuses on Inner Child healing, going where the wound originates. So many blessings in this.
One Luminous Love,
PS: Please help a friend shine a light on themselves. Press forward. xo
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Photo credit: Anastasia Chomlack