If you're new to shadow work, here's a quick guide on how to do shadow work for beginners.
Before we get into the three steps, let's go over some key concepts.
What is Shadow Self & Shadow Work?
Your shadow self, or shadow, is the side of yourself you have no awareness of. It holds all the qualities you disowned during your formative years.
Although you learned to repress these qualities and push them outside of your awareness, they still live underneath the surface.
They unconsciously guide your actions and are the unseen cause for many of the troubles in your life.
Shadow work is the intentional practice of becoming aware of your unconscious shadow and integrating these neglected qualities into your being—becoming whole.
This is a process of building self-awareness, self-acceptance, and universal Love.
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."Carl Jung
How to do Shadow Work on Yourself for Beginners
- How to Admit & Find Your Shadow Self
The first step to discovering your shadow self is to admit that something else is acting within you.
You aren't the only one in control. A backseat driver is taking the wheel when you're looking away or nodding off.
Shadow vs Ego
Your ego is who you think you are—or moreso, it thinks that it's you. It can even be what you refer to as your mind.
The mind is what creates stories, whether past, present or completely made up. And much of these stories are entirely made up.
Especially when your psyche is contaminated with unacknowledged, shadow material.
It's decided its own biases (what you prefer and disfavor) and has shaped your values and judgments around this.
Your own biases, when put against anyone else's biases, are what makes perspective so subjective. It's what makes the stories your mind creates just that—stories.
Your stage in life and your formative influences determine how your mind filters and distorts what your eyes see and what your ears hear.
A die-hard religious man, an entrepreneurial woman, a tree-hugging non-binary person, each value completely different things.
They each believe that they know better than the others. And that people who don't align enough with their own views are mistaken about Life.
Each of them is living in a delusion.
Believing that their way of life is the way of life. While judging other ways of living as any more or less important than their own.
But Life is too massive to fit into any framework or theory. Because it's Infinite, and you can't hold infinite in the mind of a finite person.
Their theory of how life works is only practical to their current life situation (until it isn't).
Difference Between Ego and Shadow
Shadow is present in all of these cases. Wherever there is judgment towards another person's way of living, shadow resides.
This is because your ego has determined that they are "other."
They are not you because based on your biases—their existence is somehow beneath your own, and/or yours is above them.
This is called arrogance.
You are confident your limited view of the world is absolute. So your mind is closed off to other ways of living and thinking, to the point that you are proud of your own ignorance.
"I am not the problem with this world!"
*points finger at another*
This is your shadow being projected onto another group of people, or individuals, who hold qualities you don't identify with.
Because you have denied these aspects within yourself (despite still having them), you often antagonize it when you see them on other people—to an exaggerated degree.
In other words, you don't see these people as they are.
Beyond what's objectively observable, you are projecting stories onto this person—
Believing you know what they think, why they are how they are, and whatever painful experiences caused you to disown the qualities you are projecting onto them.
Your lack of self-awareness for the entirety of your being has you lacking an "inner point of reference."
So you demonize or dehumanize "others" because they hold the qualities about yourself that you learned to disown.
You are often attacking the parts of yourself that you don't even realize you hate.
All of this is thanks to your mind building up a delusion of how your life "should" be. While creating stories of how "other" is in your way.
This is what evil is—the clashing between two or more perspectives with opposing ways of life. This antagonizing is instinctive, similar to how an animal fights for its survival.
Understand that there is no "good" or "bad," only selfishness. Moralities are relative. And society has laws that allow all these perspectives to live in tolerance with each other as best it can.
A "higher perspective," or Consciousness, is needed to viscerally understand how everyone is doing the best they can with the cards they've been dealt, who they are, and what they know.
Which leads to acceptance—but that's for later.
You must admit that the unconscious shadow exists.
Everyone starts off being utterly unaware of it. And by admitting its existence, you are giving it permission to rear its head into your life without instinctively attacking it.
Finding your shadow is counter-intuitive because, by its very nature, you can't be conscious of the unconscious.
This is why you must admit that it exists.
By doing so, you are giving it a place where it can be observed, albeit indirectly, with "containment" made of recognition.
Understand that when the concept of "shadow" was introduced, it was poetically intended to explain the evils and devilry in the world.
And in many ways, it does just that.
It's when you neglect your shadow that it contaminates your psyche.
It distorts the way you see yourself, humanity, and the existence of the world.
It uses each of your judgments as a stepping stone to infiltrate your mind in hopes that you will acknowledge it.
Because that's all your shadow self wants.
It wants you to admit that it's a part of who you think you are too. Because it is. You're just in denial of it.
All it wants is Love—being accepted and recognized—as part of your entire being.
In the worst cases, the shadow is willing to inject itself into your ego from your wounded psyche and consume it.
All for the sake of being accepted, but at the risk of overpowering the ego and ending it all.
Your shadow is not evil. It's only different. And it's a part of who you are, whether you like it or not.
By learning to identify and accept the entire spectrum of your being, you will mend your psyche.
And you will realize that everything in here is actually all being put out there.
You will see yourself, humanity, and the world, as it truly is—Perfection—because you've learned to accept your Self as a Whole being, not just what your mind wants you to believe.
- How to Embrace & Identify Your Shadow Self
Since your shadow is unconscious, you will only spot and identify your shadow self indirectly.
Here is a list of ways to identify your shadow self:
- Fleeting daydreams
One exercise you can perform is simple meditation. The act of sitting still, breathing, emptying your mind, and doing nothing.
By sitting still, you manage your body's compulsive need to be "doing"; activity.
After some time, this need to be doing something transmutes into an "inner activity"—
Meaning the mind will bring thoughts into your awareness.
If you are meditating intending to have an empty mind, then know that the fleeting fantasies you witness are being drawn out of the unconscious.
It's very easy to dismiss and even ignore these fleeting daydreams because they can feel like distractions that didn't come from the ego.
Do your best to observe these unintentional thoughts.
What is it precisely that you fantasize about? And be careful that you consider the literal meaning, but also look for a symbolic meaning as well.
These fleeting fantasies can reveal a side of yourself that you aren't aware of.
For example, a random thought about yelling at somebody you dislike reveals an unconscious desire and an observation about the relationship.
If you aren't someone who would yell at anybody, this can be the shadow revealing its desire to integrate with you to tap into your aggression.
And for some reason, your unconscious has chosen to acknowledge something about this person that makes them worth being a target to your untapped aggression.
This underlying motivation can be because this person is an authority figure, or you find them overbearing. Whatever the case is, it's worth self-reflecting what the person means symbolically.
- Shadow in dreams
Your shadow will appear in your dreams as a threatening form, and you instinctively want to avoid it.
The shadow self is typically the same sex as yourself and embodies the qualities you need to integrate into your waking life.
An example is having a dream that you are in a dark parking lot sitting in your car. You hesitate to start the car and start driving.
Suddenly a same-sex person opens your door, pushes you into the next seat over, and commandeers your vehicle, and drives off with you petrified while still in the car.
This is a quick example off the top of my head. But you can perhaps see how this can be interpreted in many ways.
The shadow can be interpreted to have the following qualities: resolve, confidence, direction, aggression, etc.
You can also make a case that your unconscious desires have more drive and will than the ego's resolve for its desires.
Dream analysis, or "dream work," is a practice that requires much more nuance but is worth looking into when you get the chance.
A trigger is a quality you see in another person that emotionally affects you more than it should. The exaggerated affect is what makes it a trigger.
When you disown a part of yourself, it goes into your shadow. Your shadow holds all aspects of your personality that you've rejected and have chosen not to identify with.
The ego uses projection to keep us internally disconnected from qualities we don't identify with.
So if we see somebody who carries a quality of ourselves that we've rejected, we automatically demonize it by getting triggered.
You are antagonizing a quality that is actually a part of who you are.
But since you've rejected this part of yourself, your mind has to see this quality in a negative light.
To stop getting triggered by a specific quality, you must integrate that quality into your own personality.
Integration means becoming aware of your personal trigger, then slowly adopting that quality into your personality.
Know that quality is actually already within you. But now you're deliberately bringing it into your awareness.
An example of this is being triggered by someone who is plainly confident. Because confidence looks like arrogance in the eyes of someone who has disowned their own self-confidence.
(Remember that the triggering quality looks worse than it actually is.)
What everyone else sees as confidence will appear to you as arrogance.
This is why you must take your time and slowly adopt the quality that triggers you.
Over time you will get a more accurate sense of reality and realize that what you thought was arrogance turned out to be confidence.
Positive projection includes admiration.
For example, when you admire and look up to someone, you are actually projecting your unclaimed, positive qualities onto them.
You haven't claimed these positive qualities for yourself because, on a deep level, you don't feel you deserve them yet.
But since these qualities are a part of you—only repressed—you've projected onto someone who may share that quality.
Like mentioned earlier, our shadow projects our repressed qualities through other people because we are not yet ready to accept them as part of ourselves.
So when you aren't ready for your own validation, you give it to others in the form of admiration.
(You can only admire others when your unconscious senses that it's worthy as well.)
In this sense, you aren't creating your admirable qualities—you are discovering them.
This typically happens when you idolize someone or "fall in love."
When the ego and shadow meet, an emergence effect is made.
- Act upon your interests. You enter "flow state."
- Confronted with violence, your instincts kick in.
- You hear a joke that resonates. You laugh hysterically.
This is because all laughter comes from the shadow, and laughter is a form of repressed sadism.
A signal of what you wouldn't do but unconsciously would like to do
You can get a better understanding of your personal shadow by paying particular attention to what makes you laugh uncontrollably.
However, a person who strongly represses their shadow will generally lack a sense of humor.
Instead, she will not find the joke humorous and will instead act judgmental towards the subject.
Who do you think has more issues and can benefit from shadow work?
The person who can laugh along with a joke without malintent? Or the person who takes a joke too seriously and projects malintent onto the person who laughs?
Whether it's a healthy outlet largely depends on both the context and content.
Keep in mind that some types of neuroticism can be related to a mental illness or substance abuse. These topics are outside the scope of this blog.
But the unconscious will create neurotic symptoms to push a person towards inner work.
This is because depression and anxiety can come from not being who you truly are—from playing a role.
This can come from not living up to your own judgments.
For example, you can tell yourself, "Anybody who isn't making more than $100k a year is a loser".
Then one day, you find yourself down on your luck and without an income. You will live in shame due to your past judgments on people based on their financial standing.
Or if you get older and you still haven't achieved your arbitrary standard, so you will believe yourself to be unlovable until you reach your goal... if ever.
A person like this can have a very black and dense shadow because they are so inhibited. Playing a role that they believe is how a person "should" act to achieve their given aspiration.
It can also be the child-like fear of not controlling what's unfamiliar and not by your own design.
Fear is essentially the resistance towards the unknown. That which you feel you have no control over.
Someone who lives their life in fear has yet to learn to "let the chips fall where they may" after having done what is within their power.
A very notable trait of a neurotic person is seeking to blame others for their actions.
And because they are too engulfed by nervous energy, they will misbehave without feeling responsible for their actions.
The standard definition of sadism is that it's an expression of destruction and power. But for our purposes, sadism is the desire to affect others.
Sadistic qualities include bullying others, aggressiveness, competitiveness, passive-aggressiveness, imposing one's will, and so on.
The standard definition of masochism is an expression of pleasure to being humiliated and receiving pain. But for our purposes, masochism is the desire to be affected or to be prodded.
Some examples of masochism include workaholism, high submissiveness, pacifism, and more.
Both of these are their own form of control; a belligerent and a passive approach.
What do I mean by this?
These sado masochistic patterns evolved from unconscious beliefs that you've built up since childhood.
However, these patterns are inherently dysfunctional and dishonest.
For example, a manipulative person has built dysfunctional patterns that get them the validation they seek.
However, they're stuck between not ever letting someone see who they truly are and the reality that they can't force someone to love them.
The same way a bully falls for the illusion that he is in control is the same way a people-pleaser believes being 'nice' is some secret to a good life.
Both people are under a delusion that they're living life correctly. When in actuality, they are both immature and incomplete.
In fact, when you look at the dysfunctional patterns in unconscious relationships, you'll notice that you can't tell which side started manipulating the other first.
- Body language & slips of the tongue
Your body can betray your ego and reveal your unspoken thoughts.
For example, learning that a colleague has found a better job can make you respond with unintentional disgust and a burrowed frown.
Consciously, you tell yourself that you are happy for them—and it can be genuine. But unconsciously, there's something in you that envies that person.
Despite being tucked away from your conscious mind, this quality will still find ways to express itself with the right stimulation.
You can also determine someone's shadow based on how they hold themselves. For example, a person's posture reveals their true feelings and thoughts, despite their persona seeming otherwise.
A slip of the tongue usually happens when (1) there's something you want to say, and it accidentally falls out of your mouth, or (2) you have feelings towards something you haven't become aware of yet.
For example, calling your boyfriend by your father's name. Or unintentionally speaking a racial slur.
- How to Accept & Integrate Your Shadow Self
After you learn to identify your own shadow, it's essential that you accept it, along with its unconscious desires, and integrate your shadow side.
What does it mean to integrate your shadow?
Shadow integration is bringing your shadow qualities into awareness and accepting them as part of your being.
After identifying your shadow, you can honor it by fulfilling your unconscious desires and acting out its qualities.
For example, if you are personally triggered by impulsiveness, you may need to integrate your spontaneity.
Because somehow, during your life, you decided to disown your own spontaneity.
Ideally, through a healthy outlet, integrating your own spontaneous qualities would mean making space to express them in your own life.
You do this because you want your mind to accept this quality as a part of its identity. The best way for your mind to believe it's a "certain way" is to provide it with evidence.
What does shadow work look like? Shadow Work Examples
Shadow work is the intentional practice of becoming aware of your unconscious shadow to integrate your neglected qualities into your being—becoming whole.
This is typically a practice where you self-inquire, observe your inner resources, and reflect on what's underneath the surface.
Shadow work prompts are a popular method of doing shadow work, where you journal and self-reflect on a set of thoughtful questions. By putting your emotions and thoughts into words, you are "feeling" through and processing your inner world.
The purpose of these prompts is to work through your triggers, inner child healing, gain perspective for emotional maturity, and so on.
Active imagination is a meditation technique where you project an emotion, or an archetype (shadow, inner child, anima/animus), onto an inner voice or imaginary image.
It's the most direct way to get the conscious to communicate with the unconscious.
You let your mind create a form for the unconscious to inhabit. Then you mentally let go of control of that form—allowing it to act independently.
Then you consult the form and ask it questions, which the unconscious will respond to.
Understand that the conscious mind is limited, while the unconscious mind is limitless and doesn't lie.
By being genuinely curious, you can demand the shadow to tell you what it wants from you and for you.
Expect this to be physically draining. Maybe even experience emotional catharsis.
Should I do shadow work everyday?
Depends on how badly you need it.
If life is going reasonably well and you don't feel triggered or compelled to demonize anyone on a regular basis, probably not so much.
But if life is not going your way and you have a low opinion of yourself, the world, and humanity—
Then you should consider doing some sort of shadow work every day as a form of "self-therapy."
If you have built an incredibly strong desire for very dark impulses—that is impossible to ignore—consider meeting with a professional.
In the meantime, a very simple affirmation you can use is "I love myself."
This is somewhat of a "cheap" but effective trick to settle your ego and shadow.
By repeating the words "I love myself" to yourself for minutes, hours, or even days, you will develop an appreciation for yourself as a whole—
Mainly since the affirmation implies unconditional love, it will ease any shadow material that usually arises out of you unconsciously.
You can repeat this affirmation aloud or in your head. At least until you find some further guidance.
What happens when you integrate your shadow?
When you integrate your shadow you become whole.
You can tap into the entire spectrum of your personality. Thus, allowing you to access all of your potentials.
Not only this, but you no longer have to rely only on your own willpower.
By giving your shadow the recognition it needs, you satisfy its desire for recognition so it can let go of its hold on your life.
Those things in life you wanted to pursue and accomplish no longer have resistance around them.
Because you have the energy, creativity, and will of your entire being to thank for that.
Understand: Balancing the ego and the shadow is not a contradiction. It's a paradox.
A person who integrates her shadow is a healthy being.
She sees life as her creative canvas, and she immerses feelings of love and oneness with all things.
Loving oneself means loving all of oneself.
This includes the shadow—that which was unacceptable and previously rejected.
At this level of awareness, she can enjoy life and act with spontaneity.
She enjoys true intimacy without the unconscious need to play dysfunctional games.
She has total control of her life, and she's able to pursue what she desires without resistance.
All it took was the journey within.
Here are some resources I recommend:
Shadow Work Course is based on my in-depth research and personal experiences with shadow work, projection, sadomasochism, inner child healing, triggers, and all things shadow. This course is updated every year and gets new content at no additional cost. Learn more here.
A Light Among Shadows is a guide on self-love and being. This short course goes over consciousness, spirituality, philosophy, and makes sense of why people are the way they are. Recommended for people dealing with resentment and self-hate. Learn more here.
Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Shadow Work Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.
Manifestation Manual: The Path of Least Resistance bundle teaches you some holistic and systems thinking along with how to mend your inner child wounds so you can align with your higher self and move forward in life. This includes 20 video clips as a free bonus.
Shadow Play (or “DsR”) is a small sister website that goes over “sensual” shadow work through my BDSM experiences. If you are 18+ and are interested, go here.