How To Do Shadow Work + Why It Matters

By Geordie Bull

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate” -  Carl Jung 

My kids used to have one of those pounding hammer toys where they’d hammer a peg down causing another to pop up. I had a go once. It was kind of annoying.  

Shadow work is like a pounding hammer toy. We pound the unloved aspects of ourselves down only to find they pop back up when we least expect it, embarrassing and surprising us. And if we keep ignoring them, they continue to pop up in ever stranger and louder ways – begging to be acknowledged. 

I believe that bringing these lost parts of ourselves into the light of consciousness and reclaiming them is part of our work as evolving humans.  

This work begins with a willingness to listen to what our shadows are trying to communicate, to treat these unloved parts of ourselves with kindness and learn how to integrate them, creating wholeness within. 

Here are a few ideas for beginning shadow work:

Recognising your shadow at play 

Have you ever lost it at a friend over something trivial or force-fed yourself cake at midnight? If you’re experiencing unexplainable negative feelings or perpetuating habits that frustrate you, chances are, your shadow is at play.  Any negative emotion is an invitation to look at your shadow.  

Develop the habit of acknowledging and naming what you feel can buy you a little freedom from reacting out of your shadow and causing more negativity in your life.

Begin by acknowledging that you are feeling emotional pain, name the feeling and then sit with it.  

Notice the sensations in your body 

It’s easy to block out negative emotions by distracting yourself but it’s much more rewarding to cultivate awareness of them.  

Begin by noticing where you feel the emotion in your body. Perhaps it comes as a dull ache in your belly or a sharp pain in your neck? Or it might be an all-over sense of bodily tension.  

Embodying the emotion makes it easy to step outside the story your mind is telling you. As you practise feeling emotions as physical sensations, you may notice that the feelings in your body change, or even pass. 

Become emotionally literate 

When your shadow visits, it often comes in the form of a bad mood. Before you know it, you’re yelling at your sister or making unwise decisions without knowing why.  

The trick is to become aware of these negative emotions earlier and earlier, so you can name them and stop them from directing your life.  

Become emotionally literate by practising naming subtle feelings as they visit you, for example, “This is fear, this is overwhelm, this is anxiety, this is dread.”  

Linking your emotions with how they feel in your body will help you manage them.  

Make friends with your shadow 

When you’re visited by negative feelings out of the blue, it can be helpful to ask them what message they’re trying to deliver. This is where your intuition can be honed and strengthened.  

Remember, your shadow side is like a little child who needs to be heard and understood. Even if it sounds silly, try to listen (without judgement) to what this inner child has to tell you.  

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