shadow work woman trying on masks

Shadow Work: The What, Where, When and Why

by Karen Joy Fritz

The call to shadow work always seems to come at the most and  least opportune time. The least opportune in that we generally become aware of our shadows and a possible need for shadow work because we find ourselves in the throes of a reaction that perhaps feels inappropriate to the circumstance we find ourselves in. It’s also the most opportune time because when you find yourself drawn to shadow work it means that you are ready to explore the depths of yourself – and your Soul.

Our shadows are created by the way we think of ourselves. We may think we can’t be this, don’t want to be that, or aren’t allowed to be another thing. Every time we claim who we are, or want to be, we create the definition of who we are not, or never want to be. (Let’s hold this conversation to moderately healthy expressions, nothing in the DSM, ok?)

“Hey, I’m a good person. I’m nice to people, tip servers, drive the speed limit, keep my word, live within my means, and dogs love me.” Consider that if I am a Good Girl, then I can’t be the Rebel. If I am the Generous Giver, then I am not being the Taker. (As if life were always either-or… but it is in our 3 year old subconscious.)

Here’s a quick way to identify a shadow… 

Say you miss a meeting. What is the worst thing someone could think that means about you? That you didn’t care? That you are lazy? Stupid? Foolish? Weak? Now give that a name, like the Bad Friend or the Foolish Idiot or… You’d never want people to think you were that, would you?

In fact, you’d go to a lot of trouble to make sure you never show up that way. Maybe even to the point of making excuses or not setting boundaries. And when those self-forgetting coping mechanisms can’t hold up any longer, the shadow can start to seep out even when we don’t want them to. It’s natural and normal.

Let’s normalize having Shadows. So we can get better at shadow work and create a kinder world – starting with ourselves.

What is the meaning of Shadow work

The meaning of shadow work is to intentionally and skillfully engage a shadow self in an endeavor to allow all parts of ourselves to integrate and express all parts of our true self. We’ve all had that feeling that “part of me wants to do this and part of me wants to do that.” Imagine our “self” as more of a committee than a singular function. (Remember the movie, Inside Out?) 

Some of these parts (or shadows) are generated by people and society around us. Others are our own. Created in reaction or protection. Most of these parts have opinions about the others. They even get together and vote particular ones off the island; Survivor style. Of course, there’s really nowhere else to “go” so those outcast parts retreat to the corners of our minds – into the shadows.

A Shadow self is an attribute of our psyche (not Soul) that limits our expression. It is a way of thinking and acting that we have disowned or denied. Oh, it’s still there… curled up in the back corner whimpering or grumbling to itself. Lashing out when it gets a chance.

What is the purpose of Shadow work?

The purpose of Shadow work is to free ourselves to be more at choice in how we see the world  – and ourselves in it – in order to respond more consciously. We all have shadows. The purpose of shadow work is not to “get rid of” our shadows, but to learn to befriend them and enroll them in evolving their expression in service to the life we want to create.

Having been beaten down enough times, ignored, denied, dismissed, all a shadow self can do is whisper from the back of our mind until it sees a chance to leap into the front seat and grab the steering wheel. And we’re left wondering what the hell just happened.

The problem isn’t having shadows. The problem arises when we don’t recognize them and they hijack our thinking and actions. These unconscious expressions mess with what we want to manifest and more importantly who we are meant to be. Here are a few examples…

  • Our inner Protector can get a little too rough so we put it in a corner 
  • Our Generous Giver gives to the point of depleting ourselves.
  •  Our Inner Nurturer can take care of other people to the point of ignoring our own needs.
  • Our inner Achiever may think we’re only worthy based on what we produce and lead us to burn-out.
  • Our Inner Scholar can get so wrapped up in research we never take action.
  • Our Inner Peace Maker may silence themselves in order to keep or restore harmony – albeit a false sense of harmony.

Recognizing these Shadow selves, allows us to bring them to the table before they need a 2×4 to get our attention. We learn to consciously listen to the best in them and integrate their wisdom in our choices. As we recognize and re-integrate these disowned parts of ourselves, we discover ways to bring their gifts into the mix. And we free up all the energy we were using to suppress them.

How to do shadow work

When it comes to how to do shadow work the first thing to keep in mind is these parts have been disowned by us, possibly for years. They aren’t going to simply come into view when called, just to be berated some more.

In the beginning, it is wise to find a mentor who knows how to support you in your shadow work process. This can be delicate work. Our shadows can be slippery and a skilled mentor has experience recognizing when shadows try to conceal themselves  and knows how to coax them back into the conversation.

Key in how to do shadow work includes identifying and naming your shadows so that you can remain aware of them. This way when they show up in your daily life you can catch them on the spot. Learning their common tricks and strategies will help you recognize them in your experience.

Be patient and accepting as these Unconscious Expressions reveal themselves. If you jump into judgment, you’ll send it back into hiding. It’s important to acknowledge that shadows don’t just come out of nowhere. Their intentions may have even initially been good. Perhaps they were even trying to influence or protect you. Consider the list above and what the “light” side of these examples of shadows might be.  

How to work with the shadow

Knowing how to work with the shadow in an integrated way is as important as doing shadow work itself. Just like anyone, your shadow wants to be seen, understood and witnessed. It is in our acceptance – rather than judgment – of our shadows that we can transform our experience of our shadow and ourselves. 

What makes these parts “shadow” is disowning them, resisting them, suppressing them. When you do the shadow work to un-resist them, integrate them and even invite their perspective sometimes, you’ve both freed up the energy that was locked in doing the suppressing and gained new perspectives in manifesting your purpose.

As with any new skill, it takes practice. You’ll improve over time. If you slip, simply start again. Have a conversation with that part and recommit to supporting yourself and your shadow to express in ways that best serve you and your Soul.

At Divine Navigation we work with five primary shadows or Universal Shadows. The identification of each allows for a reconciliation of our unevolved, unresolved, hidden barriers to all we deserve and desire and ultimately a journey to full soul expression. 

Since 2011, courageous men and women around the world have chosen Divine Navigation and committed to the extraordinary and transformative experience of Aligning with their Soul-through their Divine Coordinates. We invite you to also explore the journey of Understanding Divine Alignment & Its Life Changing Benefits