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Shadow self: what is it and how can it help you?

By Julian Lewis July 29, 2023

Shadow self - hero shadow

Your shadow self is the part of you that you hide from others. It's the part of you that you're ashamed of and you don't want anyone to see. But what if I told you that your shadow self could actually help you become a better person? That it can help you achieve your goals and dreams?

The truth is, your collective shadow contains all of your hidden talents and abilities. It's the part of you that's capable of great things, but because you're afraid to embrace it, those talents are going to waste. So how can you learn to embrace your shadow self?

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What is your shadow self?

Shadow self - hero shadow

The shadow self is a part of the human psyche that is often repressed and contains aspects of the individual that are not usually acknowledged. The shadow side is often seen as dark, dangerous, and evil. Some of these characteristics might include our deepest desires, unfavorable emotions like anger and sadness, or qualities that we feel make us "unacceptable" in society.

While many facets of our personal shadow boil down to human nature, other aspects of it can be influenced by outside factors, such as past trauma, hurtful childhood experiences, or societal expectations.

The shadow self was first popularized in the early 1900s by Carl Jung, a renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who described it as "the darker side of the personality". Jung believed that the collective shadow was important to acknowledge and embrace, as it contains aspects of the individual that are essential for growth and development. His theory was that we must learn to accept and integrate these shadow qualities into our conscious and unconscious minds in order to fully embrace our true selves.

Before you can begin to work with your shadow self, it's important to understand the source of these negative qualities.

The unconscious mind: how the shadow is born

The shadow self originates from the unconscious mind. It is created as a result of the repression of our unacceptable thoughts, feelings, and desires. For example, if you are a perfectionist and have a lot of self-criticisms, you may repress your anger and frustration. This will create a shadow side that is angry and aggressive. Another example could be someone who is secretly struggling with sexual desire and may repress those thoughts or feelings. As a result, their shadow may be associated with lust or sexual immorality.

Over time, the shadow grows and develops in our unconscious, affecting our thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. In order to embrace the shadow and come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, it is important to work through these repressed emotions.

The power of the dark side: how your inner shadow affects you

Our personal shadow can be both a curse and a blessing. The dark, hidden side of our personality that we keep hidden from the world can be a source of great power, but it can also consume us if we're not careful. To illustrate this point, let's take a look at an example of someone who embraced their shadow self and how it led to their downfall.

One example of someone who embraced their shadow self is Darth Vader, the iconic villain from the Star Wars franchise. As we all know, Vader was once a Jedi Knight and a hero of the Rebellion, but his shadow side consumed him and led him to embrace evil instead of good.

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As Vader became more consumed by his shadow side and his quest for power, he became more and more ruthless, killing anyone who got in his way or posed a threat to him. Ultimately, this shadow side ended up destroying everything Vader cared about, including his family and the Rebellion he once fought so hard to protect.

While this villain is just a fictional example, it illustrates the dangers of embracing the shadow self. However, it is possible to learn how to embrace the shadow and use its power for good.

Why do I need to know my shadow self?

Shadow self - asian man thinking

You may be wondering why it is important to learn about your shadow self. Understanding this part of yourself is crucial to embracing your whole being and accepting all aspects of who you are.

The reason that being familiar with your collective shadow is so important is that it can help you understand why you are drawn to certain behaviors or experiences in your life. For example, if you have a habit of brushing aside compliments and becoming defensive when others praise your work, it may be because of feelings of unworthiness or insecurity that reside in your shadow self. By connecting with this part of yourself and exploring the reasons behind these behaviors, you can begin to address and overcome the negative patterns that are holding you back from achieving your full potential.

Another important reason to understand your shadow side is that it can help you face your fears and vulnerabilities in a more constructive way. Often, we try to avoid our feelings of discomfort or insecurity by withdrawing from certain relationships or situations. However, this can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness that are ultimately detrimental to our well-being.

What happens when you accept your shadow self?

One of the core beliefs of embracing your shadow self is that it allows you to be more authentic in your interactions with others. When you acknowledge and accept all parts of yourself, even those that you may not like or that may make you feel uncomfortable, you are better able to be true to yourself in every situation. This can help relieve feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt that may be holding you back in your life.

Additionally, embracing your personal shadow can help you tap into hidden strengths and resources that are waiting to be discovered. By facing your shadow self head-on and embracing all parts of yourself, you can begin to uncover new insights and develop meaningful connections with others. Ultimately, this opens up the possibility for greater personal power and fulfillment in your life.

What happens when you suppress your shadows?

While suppressing our shadow selves can seem like a quick and easy way to deal with uncomfortable feelings or difficult emotions, in reality, it only serves to reinforce negative patterns and behaviors. Over time, this can lead to:

  • Increased feelings of anxiety and depression
  • A loss of dignity and self-confidence
  • Problems in relationships with others
  • Reduced ability to cope with stress or change

If you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, it may be helpful to explore the root causes of your suppressed shadow self. This might involve talking to a therapist or other mental health professional, as well as engaging in activities like journaling or mindfulness meditation that can help you reconnect with your authentic emotions and experiences. If you feel you might be going through a midlife crisis, please see our blog post on the topic: "Male midlife crisis stages: what are they and how to deal with each?"

How do I find my shadow self?

Shadow self - man looking at the mirror

Finding your shadow self can be a difficult process, especially when you've experienced severe trauma, but it is worth it in the end. The first step is to increase your nonjudgmental awareness of your shadow. This may be easier said than done, as your shadow may be hidden from you. It is important to be honest with yourself and to look at yourself objectively. A good way to jumpstart the process is with self-reflection on your behaviors and actions and make a list of qualities you admire and the ones that you are not so fond of.

Once you have a better understanding of your personal shadow, it is important to practice self-compassion and acceptance. This may involve working with a therapist or other mental health professional to explore your shadow and any underlying emotions that may be driving it. You can also try practicing mindfulness and meditation, which will help you to embrace your shadow self as part of who you are instead of rejecting it.

Ultimately, finding your shadow self is a process that requires This can be challenging, as your shadow may hold many negative beliefs and emotions that you may find difficult to acknowledge or come to terms with. However, it is crucial that you do not try to suppress or ignore your shadow, but rather learn to accept and embrace it with compassion and understanding. By doing so, you can tap into the full potential of your being and experience a greater sense of self-acceptance and wholeness.

Once you've identified your shadow self, you can start to work on integrating it into your conscious personality. This can be a challenging process, but it's essential for personal growth. One way to integrate your shadow self is to use self-reflection questions.

Once you've started your journey, consider reading these top 10 shadow work books for further insight and guidance. Also, here are 45 self-reflection questions to get you started.

What Are the Jungian Archetypes?

Archetypes are a part of the collective unconscious. Carl Jung believed that all humans share certain universal experiences and feelings because our brains are wired in a similar way. And as such, we see these shared experiences and feelings in stories and myths from all cultures.

The shadow archetype is well known because it is often represented in literature, films, and religion. In many stories and myths, this dark side of our psyche is personified as a monster, a villain, or an evil sorcerer. These characters represent our fears and unpleasant emotions, such as anger, jealousy, shame, and greed.

One classic example of this was portrayed in the hit HBO series, "Game of Thrones". In this series, we see the Jungian shadow archetypes represented by the murderous characters in Westeros. These include The Night King, who embodies our fear of death and the unknown, and Cersei Lannister, with her ruthless drive for power and vengeance.

Left unexplored, the shadow can have a negative influence on our lives, causing us to act out in destructive ways, or live with constant feelings of anxiety and guilt. However, by learning to be aware of and accept our shadow self, we can gain more awareness of ourselves, as well as greater peace and happiness.

Additionally, you might find our post on "How to stop being jealous: Expert advice for a healthier relationship" helpful in handling emotions such as jealousy that may be part of your shadow self.

How do negative emotions affect my shadow self?

Shadow self - angry latin woman

As human beings, we are constantly battling negative emotions (anger, sadness, jealousy, etc.) that arise from our unconscious. These unpleasant emotions have the effect of strengthening our shadow selves and making them more powerful.

This can be seen in how our shadows tend to feed off of our negative energy, growing bigger and stronger the more we give into them. As our shadows become stronger, they also become harder to control, leading to more problems and conflicts in our lives. In order to keep our shadow selves in check, it is important to learn to deal with our unwanted emotions in a healthy way.

What is shadow work?

Shadow work is the process of exploring your dark side- the parts of yourself that you don't show to others. It's a way of getting to know yourself better, and it can be a very healing experience.

When you do shadow work, you may find that some of the things you've been hiding from yourself are actually quite painful. But as the old saying goes, you can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. By facing your shadow and embracing the uncomfortable emotions it contains, you can become more aware of yourself, heal old wounds, and ultimately find greater peace and happiness in your life. You may also find that there are aspects of your dark side that you really like- after all, they make up a part of who you are too.

What is the purpose of shadow work?

Shadow self - Magnifier glass focus to target

The whole point of shadow work is exploring the darker aspects of our psyche. It can be used to gain a greater understanding of ourselves and to confront our fears and demons. This can be a powerful tool for personal growth and can help us to become more whole and integrated individuals. Some people do shadow work as a spiritual practice, while others use it simply to become better at self-awareness.

Regardless of why you approach your shadow work journey, the process can be transformative and empowering. And ultimately, this will lead to greater peace and fulfillment in your life.

Let's take a look a some of the countless benefits of doing shadow work.

Improve your creativity

There's no doubt that exploring the darker aspects of our psyche can unleash hidden creativity. When we confront our fears and demons, we open up new possibilities and allow ourselves to explore new horizons. We can become more creative in our thinking, and see the world in a new light.

This can be particularly helpful for artists and creatives, who often need to tap into their inner darkness to create truly powerful work. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and David Bowie have spoken openly about the role their shadow selves played in their creative evolution.

By doing shadow work, they can access a wealth of creative energy and inspiration that would otherwise be hidden from them. So if you're looking to boost your creativity, consider doing some shadow work – it could be just what you need!

Discover your hidden talents

One of the primary benefits of shadow work is that it can help you to uncover your hidden talents and strengths. Often, we don't allow ourselves to explore certain parts of our personality because we are afraid of what we might discover about ourselves.

By doing this shadow work, however, you can gain a greater understanding of who you are as a person, and what you can contribute to the world. This can offer an invaluable boost to your confidence, and lead to the discovery of new passions and abilities that you might never have known existed.

Improve your overall wellness

Shadow self - black man smiling, overall wellness

Shadow work can also be a powerful way to improve our overall well-being and can help us to become more whole and balanced individuals. By facing and working through our shadow aspects, we can become more accepting of ourselves and others. And in turn, this can lead to greater self-confidence, inner peace, and a more positive outlook on life.

Additionally, did you know that improving your emotional and mental health can have a direct impact on your physical well-being? For example, journaling regularly can help you to process and release your negative, shadow emotions, which in turn can reduce stress and improve overall physical health. Likewise, engaging in activities that bring you joy and happiness can also boost your mood and energy levels, as well as enhance feelings of contentment and well-being.

If you are looking for ways to improve your overall wellness, consider incorporating a little bit of shadow work into your routine. Whether you do it on your own or with the help of a therapist or coach, this powerful practice can be tremendously transformative and can help you to become the best version of yourself. And who doesn't want that?

Gain more confidence and self-esteem

Another common advantage of engaging in shadow work is that it can help you to develop greater confidence and combat low self-esteem. By facing your demons, fears, and insecurities head-on, you will likely experience a sense of empowerment. You will no longer be hiding from those parts of yourself that you fear or judge, but rather, embracing them with compassion and understanding.

This can be a transformative experience that can have a huge impact on your self-confidence. With time, you may find yourself becoming more assertive, less afraid of speaking your mind, and able to push through fears that once held you back. And this level of inner strength will eventually shine through in your outer life as well – helping you to feel more confident and secure in the world.

Increase your compassion towards others

As you take the time to do the inner work and face your personal shadow, you may notice that you become more compassionate toward others. You may start to view the world and its inhabitants in a new light, recognizing that everyone has their own demons and struggles, even if they are not always visible from the outside.

Acknowledging your own shortcomings leads to having more grace and empathy for others. And understanding that we all have a shadow side can be a powerful reminder to treat others with patience, understanding, and compassion.

Build better relationships with others

Shadow self - group of people build relationships

By embracing your shadow side, you will begin to see people without judgment – but rather, with compassion, understanding, and a sense of connection. And this can have a profound effect on your relationships, as you begin to view the people in your life through a more compassionate lens.

When you are willing to embrace your shadow side, you also begin to see other people's strengths more clearly as well. Instead of focusing on someone's flaws or difficulties, you can recognize their unique gifts and talents, and appreciate those qualities for what they are. This sense of openness and acceptance can lead to stronger connections with others, helping you build better relationships that go beyond superficial judgments or assumptions.

At the end of the day, embracing your shadow side is a choice – one that can really pay off in terms of how you relate to the people in your life. Whether you are actively trying to work through your personal challenges or simply making an effort to be more accepting and open-minded, the benefits of embracing your shadow side can have a meaningful impact on your relationships with others.

Have better clarity

Clarity is a cornerstone of our existence. Without clarity, we can't exist in this world because it's too hard to figure out what to do when to do it, where to go, and how things fit together. As another one of the benefits that show up almost immediately, you will experience greater clarity in your life after engaging in shadow work.

One example of this is the clarity that you gain in your relationships. When we are not clear about who we really are and what our true needs and desires are, it can be difficult to create healthy, meaningful connections with others. In fact, many of the struggles and difficulties that people experience in their romantic relationships can often be traced back to a lack of clarity around these important aspects of themselves.

But by engaging in shadow work, you can gain a deeper understanding of your true needs and desires and learn how to communicate these more effectively with others. As a result, you experience more fulfilling relationships that are based on shared values and mutual trust, rather than simply trying to fulfill an idealized version of what romance "should" look like.

In addition to relationships, shadow work can also help you gain more clarity in other areas of your life, such as your career, your personal growth and development, and even the way that you interact with yourself. When we are able to see more clearly what is going on inside of us and around us, we have a greater opportunity to make the changes that we need in order to live more fulfilling meaningful lives.

How to start shadow work?

Shadow self - quick tips

Now that you are familiar with the concepts and numerous benefits associated with shadow work, it's time to get started with it. It's important to keep in mind that shadow work can take time and effort, so you must be patient and motivated. Here are some tips you could use to start shadowing in a positive way:

Think back to your childhood

Childhood is often a time that we associate with happiness, carefree exploration, and the freedom to experience the world without judgment. As adults, it can be easy to forget the joys of our youth; we become busy with work and family responsibilities and get caught up in our daily routines. Shadow work can help you reconnect with your inner child and rediscover the joy and wonder you experienced in those early years.

Start by reflecting on your earliest memories of childhood - what were some of your favorite activities or things to do? Perhaps you enjoyed playing outside with friends, drawing pictures, or collecting wildflowers. Try to recall as many details as possible from these memories, including the sights, smells, and sounds you experienced.

Set aside sometime each day to engage in your favorite childhood activities, either by yourself or with close friends or family members. You can also try incorporating shadow work into your daily routine, such as taking a walk through the park or listening to music while working on your hobbies. Whatever method you choose, be sure to take it slow and savor the experience.

Practice spotting your inner shadow

In order to practice spotting your inner shadow, the first step embrace more conscious awareness with regard to your own thoughts and behavior. Pay attention to how you act when no one is watching. Notice the things you say and do when no one else is around. And most importantly, be honest with yourself about your own shortcomings and flaws.

One useful technique for spotting your inner shadow is to keep a journal. Write down what you are thinking and feeling at different points throughout the day. Pay close attention to patterns or themes that emerge, and try to identify any negative thoughts or feelings that may be lurking beneath the surface.

Additionally, it can be helpful to talk with a trusted friend or therapist about your inner shadow and how you are struggling to overcome it. Those around us can provide objective feedback without having to contend with a self-loathing, inner dialogue.

Finally, try to be kind and compassionate towards yourself as you work through this challenging process. Remember that self-awareness is a lifelong journey, and there will always be room for growth and improvement.

As you learn how to spot your inner shadow, the key is to remain self-aware of your own thoughts and actions in the present moment and work on developing greater self-compassion and self-acceptance. With time, patience, and dedication, you will be able to recognize your inner shadow for what it truly is: a natural part of being human.

Once you've embraced your shadow self, you can start to use it to your advantage. One way to do this is to express your gratitude for the things that your shadow self has helped you achieve.

Avoid shaming (or being ashamed of) your shadow

Shadow self - latin man smiling

Many people go through life feeling ashamed of their "shadow self." The shadow self is the part of us that we try to hide from others- it's the part of us that we're afraid will be rejected if it's ever exposed. We often think of our shadow side as being dirty, sinful, or immoral.

But the truth is, our shadow self is just a part of who we are. It's not good or bad- it's just different. And there's nothing wrong with being different. In fact, many of the qualities we think are "bad" about ourselves- such as our anger, jealousy, impulsiveness, or assertiveness- can actually be strengths rather than flaws.

The key is to learn how to embrace and accept all parts of ourselves. When we do this, it becomes much easier to let go of negative judgments and self-doubt, and instead focus on the things that really matter. So the next time you feel ashamed of your shadow side, remember that it's perfectly normal- and perfectly OK. After all, we are all human, and our flaws make us who we are.

Decide if you'll seek therapy or do shadow work on your own

Depending on your personal circumstances and level of comfort, you may decide to seek therapy or do shadow work on your own. Therapy can be a great tool for anyone who wants help overcoming their inner shadow, as it provides a supportive environment where you can safely explore the root causes of your struggles. While traditional methods of therapy are very beneficial, other forms like art therapy, energy work, or visualization are also effective.

However, therapy is not right for everyone, especially if you're looking for a more self-directed approach to shadow work. If this is the case, you may want to consider doing some research on different techniques and exercises that can help you better understand the hidden parts of your inner shadow.

Some good resources for learning about shadow work include online articles and videos, books by psychologists or spiritual teachers, and workshops or retreats focused on the topic. Ultimately, the choice of how to pursue shadow work is up to you- just be sure to take things at your own pace and honor your own needs along the way.


Shadow self - hero shadow

As you can see, the benefits of understanding and embracing your inner shadow are numerous. Not only will you be able to better manage your own emotions and behaviors, but you will also learn to accept yourself as a whole and unique person. With time, dedication, and self-compassion, you can overcome the challenges of your inner shadow once and for all.

Additionally, there are many ways to approach the process of overcoming your inner shadow. It's important to remember that there is no one "right" way to do this- everyone will have their own unique path to follow. The key is to be patient, compassionate, and accepting of yourself as you work through this challenging process.

So if you're feeling ready to face your inner shadow, we encourage you to explore some of the resources we've listed in this article. Remember that it's OK to take things slow, and don't hesitate to reach out for help if needed. With time, patience, and dedication, you will be able to overcome the challenges posed by your inner shadow, finally embrace all aspects of who you are, and reap the overwhelming benefits.

Psychological and social development are crucial components of personal growth, dive deep into this by checking Erikson's stages of psychosocial development.

If you're interested in exploring the deeper aspects of your shadow self, you might also want to delve into the various stages of spiritual awakening. Learn more about the stages of spiritual awakening.

Read more about: Shadow Work, Healthy Relationships

About Julian Lewis

Julian Lewis is a driven and accomplished professional with a passion for driving positive change in the business world. He is the co-founder and COO at Zella Life.

His own experience as a professional of color in a Fortune 500 company led him to discover the limitations for advancement that many professionals like himself face. Determined to reach his full potential, Julian became an established business coach and entrepreneur, committed to supporting others in their pursuit of personal and professional growth.

Today, Julian is a recognized corporate trainer, coach, and leader, known for his ability to leverage real-life experiences and evidence-based methodologies to affect positive change within individuals and organizations. As the leader of Zella Life's coaching division, he is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.

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