Although the phrase “shadow work” sounds ominous, it’s probably some of the best personal development work you can do- whether you’re a witch or not. Shadow work is healing in action. It’s a way to face your own implicit biases head-on, and it can also be a way to improve your life experience by shining a light on your inner darkness.
Shadow work is one of the cornerstones of modern witchcraft as it helps the individual grow on a personal level, while also being beneficial for society at large.
What is the Shadow?
The concept of the shadow is associated with psychologist Carl Jung. It refers to those parts of ourselves we try to deny or keep hidden. It also includes deep traumas and wounds that live within us. The shadow is a necessary part of the self, however, it must be in balance for us to live harmoniously.
The world is full of duality, and the self is no exception. Through socialization and a lifetime of being steeped in our cultures and social circles, we learn what’s “acceptable”. From birth, we learn by watching, by being scolded or praised, and by which actions are reinforced by those around us. From this we create our “Self”- the person who we think we are, and the person we show the world. A collection of our values and morals in action.
The shadow self is the one we learned to repress. This can include implicit biases we have, impulses toward socially unacceptable behavior, anxieties, neuroses, and limiting beliefs we have. The thing is, the shadow is not only made up of our “ugliness”. Trauma and deep wounds in our psyche may also create a scenario where your confidence and esteem are also housed there.
The Importance of Shadow Work
As a modern witch, you’ve probably heard of shadow work and wondered- why bother getting in touch with those repressed parts of ourselves?
If your shadow is preventing your from believing in yourself and seeing your worth, then it’s easy to spot the benefits of shadow work. However, facing your shadow can seem a little more daunting when it comes to extending your hand to the parts of ourselves we’d rather pretend don’t exist.
Well, it’s important because in order to develop as a person (the aim of many witches, secular or otherwise) you must integrate those shadow parts of yourself into the whole of your identity. Shadow work aims to help us make an integration of who we think we are and who we actually are. If you’re a science-seeking witch with a skeptical worldview, this fits perfectly into the psychological model of witchcraft as a personal development practice.
In doing this, we attempt to repair some of the maladaptive habits we’ve picked up as a result of repressing the shadow. Things like projecting our baggage onto others, making rationalizations, and presenting a false persona to the world.
This is an incredibly relevant topic in the current backdrop of racial injustice. People who hold racist belief systems are the problem, sure, but so are the many people who truly believe they are not that also refuse to stare into their shadow at their own implicit biases. Denying your shadow doesn’t make it not exist, it simply prevents you from doing the work to challenge that part of the self.
Implications of Repressing the Shadow
A repressed shadow has immense power. It can make you behave in ways that don’t jive with your belief system, and it can make you resist challenging yourself to do better. If your shadow holds a lot of trauma, it can also manifest as limiting beliefs which infect your worldview and prevent you from living up to your full potential.
A divided self is rife with limitations, so delving into your shadow is necessary in order to truly step into your higher self. If you are constantly being held back by your shadow, your actions won’t be aligned in your own best interests, and you won’t be able to contribute to the world in a way that’s fully what you’re capable of.
How to Do Shadow Work
Shadow work can look different for different people but there are some common threads.
First off- sit with your emotions even when they’re uncomfortable. Don’t pass judgement or try and gloss over bad feelings. Allow yourself to feel them, and allow yourself to sit in silence with your own thoughts.
Secondly- examine your impulses. If you think or react in a way which doesn’t feel representative of who you think you are, examine it with grace and try to find the root. You cannot fix that which you chase away.
Thirdly- Get to writing. Journaling is a wonderful practice for reaching your shadow.
And above all, affirm to yourself that all parts of you are valid. Even the parts you might not like deserve to be seen so that they can be corrected. Ultimately, you’re doing yourself a service in this. You deserve to become the highest version of yourself.