Learning to Work with Your Shadow

Geordie Bull

Everyone has a shadow side – even the most successful and inspiring people. Your shadow includes all the unloved aspects of yourself that have been pushed into the unconscious, where they silently wreak havoc on your life. 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. Some of the most seemingly fearless and successful people are those who are brave enough to develop an awareness of their shadow and integrate its messages into their lives. Learning to become aware of your shadow, and to love and accept the deeply hurt parts of yourself is the key to changing behaviours that no longer serve you. Here’s how:

  1. Feel it.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. At this point you may notice that the feelings in your body change, or even pass – a sign of the medicine of awareness in action.
  2. Name it.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 bad 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 practicing 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. Knowledge is power!
  3. Empathise with it. When you’re visited by negative feelings out of the blue, it can be helpful to ask them what their message is. 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. Write down the messages in your journal and highlight any truths that are revealed. Maybe your shadow is telling you that it’s time to stop putting yourself down in front of your friends or that you need some time alone on the weekend? Make some space to start a dialogue with your shadow. Once it feels heard and acknowledged it won’t run riot in your life.
  4. Move it. Sometimes all that’s needed to shift shadow emotions is to move through them. Yoga and dance are both great ways to allow your negative feelings to dissolve because they encourage acceptance of the emotions whilst also encouraging them to move on. Think about a type of movement that is fun for you. It could bet blasting your favourite song and dancing around the living room or surfing with a friend. Fun movement is a sure-fire way to allow your body to process negative feelings in a healthy way – a great reason to motivate yourself to get off the couch!
  1. Shower it with kindness. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true – kindness begins with self-compassion. Next time you find yourself in a foul mood or overwhelmed with anxiety or shame, try showering yourself with deep kindness. Notice your self-talk. Is it judgemental or loving? Once you’ve learned to accept your shadow side as a necessary part of you (that comes with the benefit of intuitive insight), you can begin to soothe the hurt feelings in the same way you would speak to a wounded child. Even if it feels weird at first, practice saying to yourself, “I see that you’re scared/hurt/anxious and I’m here for you. This too, shall pass.” Kindness is a habit that can be learned, and treating yourself with compassion when you’re at your lowest is the best way to practice it.