Embracing Your Shadow
The process of working with the shadow takes many different forms and ultimately broadens our range of available responses to the world. In my experience, there have been times I was called to put on boxing gloves to stand up to an inner bully, or I was dancing with a new found inner lover, or I bowed in reverence and awe to my soul. Your shadow process is unique to you; however, there are many common gateways to this profound process:
- Turn towards your shame: You can either brace against shame or you can recognize that when shame presents itself you have access to deeper relationship with yourself. We want to reframe our relationship to shame as the invitation to enter the hero’s or heroine’s journey. When shame arises work to build tolerance for this highly uncomfortable emotional with the goal to accept and embrace the experience yourself just as you are.
- Get into your body: Listening to your body and feeling your experience from the inside out provides ample opportunity to work with the shadow. If pain presents itself, explore asking “what are you here to teach me?” and “What do you need from me?” Perhaps experiment dancing with your shadow by turning out the lights and move knowing no one is looking. Afterwards take time to notice how you feel.
- Express yourself: Paint your emotions, become a poet, make music. Don’t worry that it looks or sounds good for anyone else; It is the process not the product that is important. Getting out of the linear left brain is a great way to get in touch with your shadow. Write or paint from the non-dominant side of the brain.
- Dream work: Dreams have long been understood to be a valuable access to shadow material. Approach your dream with the assumption that all characters and symbols of your dream are parts of you. Bring these images to life through re-imagining them, writing them down, or acting them out and examine the feelings and associations that you have.
- Free the Fantasy: Jung wrote in his autobiography, “[I] had to try to gain power over [my fantasies]; for I realized that if I did not do so, I ran the risk of their gaining power over me.” Obsessive fantasies can rule our lives. Perhaps the obsession is about an ex-partner, a fascination with the stranger across the room, or the idea that one more piece of piece of chocolate will do the trick. One trick to freeing up the shadow that is bound in fantasies is to reclaim what this object or person represents for you. Try saying, “you are the part of me that…” Maybe you find your unexpressed rebel, your playful self, or your longing for sweetness. Recognize that reclaiming your obsession may feel scary or sad at first because we often project our shadow on another person when we don’t know yet how to hold it yet on our own.
- Invite your shadow off the pedestal. One unexpected place to find your shadow is in the people we deem can do no wrong. When someone is on the pedestal it is sign that there may be valuable shadow material for you. Perhaps by keeping someone in a position of greater wisdom or power this is a way of avoiding stepping into our own. What messages did you get about staying small? What will really happen if you were to step your of your “lesser-than” box? Seeing your heroes as human may also allow your human experience to be heroic!
- Embrace Your Enemy: Extend loving kindness towards the people in your life who challenge you the most. We spend a lot of time avoiding or feeling hatred towards those who have hurt us. One of most powerful and transformational shadow integration moments I have experienced was practicing loving kindness for a person in my life that I struggled with. I breathed into my own hard-heartedness and found that the more compassion I felt towards this person the softer my heart became. The tears flowed and I felt love that softened the boundaries between us. In our next interaction I felt that the pain that had once left me feeling trapped and hopeless had shifted. I had more choice in how I acted rather than feeling stuck in reaction. In the words of Carl Jung “when an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of your as fate.”
Support for Shadow Integration
While there are many ways to integrate shadow material on your own; there are times when we need professional support to process those parts of us that are split off, hidden, or denied. There are vulnerable and uncomfortable edges in all of us that benefit from the compassionate presence of another. It is an honor to support you. Click here to read more about the work of Dr. Arielle Schwartz, PhD.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.