Shadow Work For Beginners!


The path to your unique, inspired, and authentic life is through your shadow work. The parts of us that are hidden in the shadows need to come to light in order for us to grow, evolve, and create lives that feel inspiring and exciting. 

But looking at your shadow can be scary! Your shadow is the part of yourself that you’ve disowned or cast away out of shame or fear. This part of you is born from the grief, guilt, shame, and pain that has accumulated throughout your life. Over time, it surfaces through your traits and patterns.

Shadow work is the less fun, less glamorous side of personal and spiritual growth and transformation. Diving into your shadow work isn’t always easy or enjoyable, but on the other side of it is a life where we get to be our true, unique selves. 

In this Ultimate Guide to Shadow Work for Beginners, I’m going to give you a taste of how to start shadow work – including why you might decide to explore shadow work on your spiritual journey, what’s in it for you, and a few ways you can dip your toes into the shadow work process. 

So let’s dive in! 

What is shadow work?

Shadow work is a form of contemplative work where you are confronting, exploring, and discovering who you really are based on traits that you have disowned. At its core, shadow work is about self-reflection and self-examination. It’s really getting to know yourself – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

The traits and patterns that form your shadow self usually stem from traumas you’ve experienced or ideas you’ve had about yourself that are challenging or untrue. Some of these may be conscious, but many won’t even be in your conscious awareness until you begin to get curious and explore them. 

The shadow is essentially the part of ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge. It’s the dark side of our personality that is based in envy, greed, compulsion, shame, fear, or other negative qualities. The reason we’re often blind to these parts of ourselves is that we learn from a young age to reject them.

No matter how scary and icky it feels to look at, you have to remember that your shadow isn’t your fault!

We all have one, and it makes us human. Some of our shadow traits may have been inherited, and they all come from our innate human impulse to self-protect and survive in the environment we find ourselves in. But if we want to live full, happy, and inspired lives, we need to look at this aspect of our makeup in order to grow, develop, and ultimately attract more of what we want. 

Shadow work in the spiritual journey… 

When I was in recovery getting clean and sober from drug and alcohol addiction 35 years ago, my work with my shadow self began. I saw early in my healing journey that in order to move beyond the destructive patterns that had defined so much of my life up until that point, I had to be willing to take an honest look at my role in those patterns. The ways I had actually perpetuated and created my own challenging experiences and circumstances. 

I’ve long been a student and follower of Jungian psychology,  and there’s a quote from Carl Jung I love that says, “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” 

This is to say that as long as our shadow goes unexamined, we will continue repeating the same patterns and experiencing the same triggers over and over again in our lives.

If you’re on a spiritual journey and craving awakening, shadow work will inevitably be part of your path. The sooner you turn inward and look at your shadow intentionally, the sooner you can overcome the patterns and triggers that keep you in unprocessed and distorted pain or at the very least keep you feeling stuck. 

How do I know if I need shadow work? 

Here’s the simplest test to know if you need shadow work… Do you ever get triggered in your life? 

If you answered, “yes,” you can benefit from shadow work! So in other words, we ALL need it. 

We are human and as humans, we have a shadow side. If things, situations, and people in your life trigger you, these are all clues to the parts of yourself that need more love, illumination, and acceptance.

Another sign you could benefit from shadow work is repeating patterns in your life – if you find yourself in the same situations over and over again that you’re unhappy with, there’s information for you from your shadow. 

A great example of this is someone who has been victimized in a relationship and keeps finding themselves in the same situation again and again. Maybe they leave the relationship and always end up going back, or perhaps they find someone new but somehow play out the same story again with their new lover. 

When this happens, the person has the choice to keep living their life and wondering why this keeps happening to them, or to step back and ask the difficult question – What is my role in this? In what way am I contributing to this pattern? 

Illuminating the fact that we are unconsciously contributing to our own suffering and challenges doesn’t mean we WANT those things, it means there is a part of us that needs compassion, love, and healing. 

Again, the shadow comes from our wounding. So if we were raised in an environment where we were taught to be seen and not heard as children, we might develop ways to manipulate situations so we can be heard. Unconsciously, we will have developed patterns and traits that help us get our needs met, but that might not be serving us anymore in our quest for transformation and a life we love. 

How will I benefit from doing shadow work? 

I get it, looking at the dark, rejected, shameful parts of yourself isn’t exactly exciting. But part of the spiritual healing journey to becoming your highest self is to look at the stories you tell yourself about yourself, life, and other people and be willing to move beyond them.

When you do the work of deep self-exploration and reflection, you’ll begin to see all of the challenging areas of your life become easier. You’ll have an easier time setting healthy boundaries and making healthy choices, you’ll love yourself and see yourself more holistically, and you’ll stop repeating old patterns that have potentially held you back for years. 

Often in life, we know on some level that something feels off, we just don’t know exactly what it is or where to begin the journey of exploration. If you feel this nudge, it’s a great opportunity to dive in and see what kind of growth is available to you through examining your shadow. 

The benefit of doing shadow work is that by looking honestly at these difficult truths, we gain the freedom to change the trajectory of our future. 

How to start shadow work…

This all might sound fine and dandy when you read it, but the question is, how do you begin the process of identifying and healing the shadow parts of yourself? 

Well, the first thing I’ll say about diving into shadow work is that I’m a huge proponent of getting professional support. When I was on my journey to recovery and exploring my shadow, I worked closely with a therapist. The support of a professional can be the difference between our new awareness sending us down into a hole of negativity, despair, and self-hate and us claiming, healing, and loving the parts of us that have been cast away. 

Over the years, I’ve worked with therapists, support groups, and even shadow coaches to move through the patterns, stories, triggers, and traits I discovered and I highly recommend anyone who is curious about shadow work for beginners do the same. 

Remember that the purpose of shadow work is to have greater self-compassion and grace, not to feel worse about ourselves! The support of a professional can help us frame and process what we discover and channel it into greater love for ourselves. 

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