Making friends with your shadow

Why it’s important to befriend your dark side, and two techniques to get you started

How substantial are you if you do not cast a shadow? You must have a dark side in order to be whole. I’m paraphrasing Carl Jung here, and he makes an excellent point.

There is no way to transformation that does not include taking a look at your dark side. It’s uncomfortable, but necessary. But all too often, we don’t accept our darkness. We’d rather ignore it, consciously or unconsciously, because we’re unable to accept it. In that way, we stay stuck in patterns that don’t serve us. They might be familiar and comfortable, but their long-term effect is stagnation and pain.

Accepting and exploring your dark side is the one of the foundational steps towards finding balance – this is also true when it comes to health and wellbeing.

We hide our shadow side, from others and ourselves. But know this: your shadow side developed as a survival mechanism to help you deal with trauma, very often in early childhood. At the time, these mechanisms were helpful. They protected you from overwhelming emotions. But in the present, they are no longer helpful.

One of the most obvious ways your shadow side shows up is through negative self-talk and self sabotage. That little voice in your head that you have come to believe is you.

The best way to begin exploring, and challenging, that dark side within, is to journal. Below, you’ll find a few prompts to get your started. You can find more of these prompts here.

So, be brave, grab a journal, a pen, and a cup of your favourite tea, and begin.

#1: Describe yourself objectively. How easy is it for your to do so? Do you feel you know who you are? Do you like who you are?

#2: Do you generally feel inferior to, superior to, or equal to, others? Explore this.
Which traits would you least like to be described as having? Why would this be so terrible?

#3: Do you ever find yourself slipping on a mask or persona? What might happen if you chose to be authentic? How does this make you feel?

#4: When have you been self-destructive or self-sabotaging in your life? What where you feeling at the time? What triggered that behaviour?

Try the 3-2-1 shadow work exercise

This one is great to do if you feel particularly triggered by another person. You can do this as a journaling exercise, or as a meditation practice.

Step 1 is to face it, step 2 is to converse with it, finally step 3 is to be it. This enables you to look at a situation objectively, so that you move away from the purely emotive reactions and gain clarity into yourself. From there, you can access an inner space of deeper compassion and understanding.

First, decide who or what “it” is – it’s usually a person with whom you have a problem with, but also a strong emotional reaction and/or intense relationship – friend, colleague, partner etc. Maybe this person antagonises you, maybe you feel intimidated by them or jealous of them.

#1: Face it
Visualise this person. Tune into the feelings that come up for you in relation to them.
Using the third person (he/she/they), describe the aspects that most trigger you (whether that’s irritation, jealousy, intimidation etc.)
Remember, there’s no need to censor yourself here. Be open and honest, without shame or self judgement.

#2: Talk to it
Speak to this person, as though they were standing in front of you. Use the second person (you). Either journaling or mentally, tell them everything you need to, for example how they make you feel. You can even ask questions such as: What do you want from me? Why do you behave this way towards me? Is there something you want me to understand?

Imagine their answers and write them down. If you feel you have more to say, have a conversation with them.

#3: Be it
Now, become the person you’ve been speaking with. Embody them and their personality. Take on the straights you described earlier. Use the first person (I) and make “I am” statements.

Feel uncomfortable? That’s because these traits are traits that you’ve been denying or repressing in yourself. Acknowledge that you possess these aspects inside you, and notice them when they come up. Accept these parts of you with compassion (no guilt or shame allowed here!).

The theory goes that when you’re able to connect this unconscious shadow side with your conscious self, you can find a sense of harmony and inner peace.

And when you’re in a state of harmony and inner peace, it’s so much easier to start making positive changes.

I support my clients to dive into their shadow side with curiosity and compassion in a safe, non-judgemental space. As a result, you gain a understanding of yourself and can design new habits that take you towards their wellbeing goals.

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