The shadow is the part of our psyche that contains all of our repressed and ignored emotions, habits, tendencies, desires and even gifts. This is an aspect of ourselves that we would rather pretend didn’t exist.
However if we ignore our shadow side completely we end up living lives rules by unconscious compulsions, never really making headway.
We all have a shadow or unconscious side, so we all have to do shadow work at some point. I would say go so far to say that shadow work is a crucial element to any spiritual practice.⠀
Sometimes the shadow is more relevant in our lives, while other times our focus should be on the lighter aspects. There doesn’t have to be a constant focus on the dark or unconscious, instead it’s all about balance.
However a big sign that you need shadow work right now is that specific lessons are repeating over and over, or your relationships are becoming cyclical. This is when the unconscious mind is ruling our lives, and we struggle to make healthy conscious decisions.⠀
1. Cyclical relationships
Our relationship reveal our shadow side because in relationships there is nowhere to hide. It’s difficult to ignore the shadow or your negative traits when you have another person to consider. Therefore relationships can be a great way to bring the shadow to light.
Cyclical relationships are one of the more obvious signs that your shadow needs integrating. Relationships that seem to go in endless circles, have unhealthy back and forth dynamics, and feel more like a battlefield than love.
This can also apply to friendships and familial relations. You may notice that you are constantly arguing with the people in your life, and that clear communication is impossible. This is the shadow obscuring clarity, and projecting outward onto the world around you.
2. Unhealthy escapism
I make the distinction here of unhealthy escapism, because we are able to healthily escape into hobbies, television shows or video games, so long as we are able to come back to our center afterwards.
The problem begins when we are use escapism as a tool to avoid our responsibilities, negative emotions and unhealthy habits. Escapism is a way to keep our conscious mind preoccupied, and keep the unconscious shadow at bay.
We may escape in more subtle ways like procrastinating, ignoring self care, but also in more obvious ways like addiction or complete isolation. We have to identify the patterns and emotions we are trying to avoid in order to understand why we might retreat.
3. Random emotional outbursts
We’ve all experienced moments where our emotions bubble to the surface in the moment and erupt in someone else’s face. This is a natural dynamic in relationships, especially ones where there is little independence or alone time.
However when we observe this happening to us often, it’s a good sign that your shadow needs some work. It’s common to feel as if these emotional outbursts weren’t us or were out of character, when they actually reveal an aspect of ourselves that we weren’t aware of.
Start to take notice of your triggers, as these are a goldmine for unconscious needs and unexamined emotions. One you have identified the unconscious need, you can begin working on it consciously and bring it to light.
4. Lack of direction
When our shadow is unattended it can be as if an actual shadow is looming over our lives. We find it hard to maintain a consistent job or interest in anything specific, and instead entertain ourselves with whatever grabs our attention.
If it feels like your life is currently going in circles then this is a good sign you need shadow work. With shadow work you’ll not only be able to identify the unhealthy patterns that are holding you back, but also uncover those repressed gifts.
When we push our positive talents, gifts and attributes down into the shadow due to guilt, unworthiness or shame, we are stuck doing things that don’t fulfill us on a deeper level. Bringing these gifts to the light allows for ease moving forward, and embracing our passions.
5. Aversion to the negative
Shadow work is all about confronting the not so positive aspects of our psyche, along with the aspects that make us feel uncomfortable or bring us shame even if they could be considered positive.
An aversion to the negative is a clear sign you could do with shadow work. It’s common to see this mindset perpetuated by law of attraction teachings, where the main focus is always the positive.
This can cause people to become avoidant of the negative, in an effort to keep their vibration high or stay away from negative vibes. While keeping a positive mindset is helpful, being conscious of the negative without letting it suck you in can be an overall positive.
The simplified process I use to do shadow work is observe, validate and shift.
Start by observing your triggers, the unconscious traits you project outward, and the aspects of yourself you feel guilt or shame about. Resist putting a positive or negative label on them, and instead see with a neutral eye.
Validate these shadow aspects. Refrain from judging yourself as you observe these behaviors and instead see that they have a root cause, they arise from the necessary coping mechanisms you had to adopt in the past.
Shift these aspects out of the unconscious shadow and into conscious awareness. Start with small steps bringing your energy back inward when you observe yourself projecting. Observe your triggers, give yourself space from others so you aren’t responding unfairly. Bring the positive aspects you haven’t embraced in yourself to the forefront.
Further reading: Shadow Work Guide
Looking to the shadow allows us to see what unconscious aspects need our awareness, so we can break the cycle of returning to what’s comfortable but ultimately holds us back.⠀
It’s with shadow work that we move into a more intuitive space, where we make decisions that push us forward with ease. We manifest and operate from our heart space rather than the shadow.⠀