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Shadow Work For Beginners: What It Is & How To Do it

  • Post last modified:31. August 2021
  • Reading time:19 mins read

We all have a “shadow” – usually, we hide it somewhere deep inside our subconscious, where others and we ourselves can’t see it. This post is for the shadow work beginners among us. It shows you what a shadow is, where it comes from, what effects it has, and how you can integrate it.

Integrating our shadows through shadow work has many benefits:
better emotional, mental, and physical health, improved relationships, and self-awareness.
In addition, increased energy, creativity, and life quality.

The term “shadow” is used to describe personality aspects that we have repressed in the course of our lives – mostly in childhood – and which we have split off from our lives.

They are the unresolved conflicts and problems; the unlived desires, the cravings, and passions. They are our repressed needs and wishes.

As a psychology student (and double Scorpio) I have always been fascinated by the dark facets and the transformation of myself. I hope I inspire you through my blog posts to get to know and understand yourself better.

Please note: This blog post may contain affiliate links to products I can 100% recommend! Affiliate links help me create free content for you. 🙂

What Is A Shadow?

Shadow parts are repressed personal qualities that, along with our conscious parts, make us human.

These can be concrete needs for movement or physical contact, sexual desires, unfulfilled longings, but also demands for appreciation and recognition.

Our shadows can be identified by projection, among other things.

Projection is an important word in the context of psychology and shadow work.

Let’s assume, for example, that you have problems with your self-confidence and that’s why you are often invisible and shy in social situations.

And then you meet a person who is obviously convinced of their abilities. He or she is loud, confident, likes to attract attention, and seems to make friends with everyone.

Then it can quickly happen that you find this person boastful, stupid, and unlikable. You may even react with anger and resentment.

You think that you are reacting this way because you really don’t like this person’s behavior, but inside you, there is a part that wants to be just like them.

So when we get upset with others, we primarily see ourselves and our characteristics, our goals, and especially our values – and often the ones, that we hide in our subconscious.

What we see, perceive, notice in the world out there usually says more about ourselves than about the world itself.

3 Signs That Shadows Are Active Inside You

1) You show strong emotional, irrational, negative reactions to people, which often relate to their behavior and activities.

2) Or on the contrary, you worship people excessively for what they are, what they have achieved, and how they look like.

3) You do things unintentionally and feel that you can’t control or change your behavior.

For instance, our shadow components can hide themselves as greed, misery, anger, hate, revenge, resentment, selfishness, envy, jealousy, and manipulation.

Keeping your shadows hidden can result in the following problems, among others:

-> Obsessive-compulsive disorders
-> Abnormal addictions
-> Sexual dissatisfaction
-> Anger
-> Social fears and social withdrawal
-> Extreme mood swings and states of depression

The Origin Of The Shadow

Shadows arise when a quality, a preference, or a behavior is rejected in our environment and we can’t bear the pain caused by this rejection.

In our shadows are rejected and therefore separated experiences, rejected urges, fixations, early childhood imprints, and unrealized personality traits.

As kids, we quickly learn for which qualities we don’t get loved, maybe even punished, and repress them into the shadow – into our subconscious.

Let’s look at an example:

Lisa grew up in a strict, authoritarian family.

She was taught by her parents that her opinion had no value and that she was not allowed to participate in decisions. Now as an adult, Lisa is extremely shy.

She is afraid to express her opinion, even when she knows she has something valuable to contribute.

This creates psychological pressure whenever she is with her friends, but also at work when interacting with her boss and colleagues.

By splitting off the assumed shadow parts from our personality, we become quiet, adapted people who dutifully take their place in society.

Why Do I Need Shadow Work?

Shadow work means bringing the repressed personality parts back into consciousness, learning to accept and love them.

Thereby we can heal and release an enormous power and energy within us. Uncovering, accepting, and integrating shadows leads to emotional balance and inner freedom.

By integrating our shadows, we learn to love ourselves unconditionally, with all our supposed flaws and weaknesses.

When we accept ourselves completely, we can also love other people unconditionally. We experience oneness with other people and everything that is.

The hidden personality parts are always good for surprises during shadow work.

People who are ready to face their dark side encounter their alter ego, which they have hidden for years.

People who think of themselves as generous and warm may discover a cold and small-minded side of themselves.

Shadow work confronts us with a side of ourselves that we don’t want to know about.

The confrontation with our shadow challenges us to be honest. The times when we lied to ourselves are over.

Are we really only loving and kind, or do we also have thoughts of revenge? Do we suppress our envy, jealousy, anger, and sadness?

The goal of shadow work is to become aware of these repressed personality parts and to integrate them into one’s life.

Just because we do not consciously live these parts of our personality it doesn’t mean that they don’t influence us – actually quite the opposite.

Our shadows have become part of our subconscious, and it costs us energy to “keep them out” of our lives permanently.

Those who only want to live the positive sides and don’t want to know about their negative qualities will be confronted with the consequences one day.

At some point, when the strength to suppress this dark side weakens, the shadow makes itself noticeable in all its severity: in the form of illness, burn-out, or a life crisis.

The solution is not the permanent suppression of the dark parts of the soul, but the acceptance and integration.

Shadow Work For Beginners: How To Start

As with so many other things, there are different approaches to shadow work, and beginners in particular need to find out which method works best for them.

I will introduce you to 3 methods here, and you can choose which one you would like to try first.

Shadow work for beginners exercise #1:

As already mentioned above: what we notice in the world and what we react to emotionally usually says more about us than about the world itself.

You could say that the world reflects our inner self.

As Carl Jung said:

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

Carl Jung

Therefore, consciously pay attention to your emotional reactions, such as hate, anger, feelings of revenge, envy, greed, but also feelings of excessive adoration and admiration.

For example, you may react negatively to other women out of envy, because you have the same qualities inside you, but can’t live them out for various reasons.

Another example would be people who are strongly hostile to a certain sexual orientation, even though they secretly belong to that orientation.

What bothers you about others is usually a quality within you that you suppress.

Ask yourself: why do I really have this strong reaction towards this person and why do I give this emotion so much power over me?

Try to understand what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Then slowly begin to accept and integrate that part of yourself. The emotional reactions will subside over time.

Shadow work for beginners exercise #2:

Imagine your shadow as a person.

What does he or she look like?
What behavior does this person show?
How does this person express himself or herself?
What is the body language of this person?
How does this person’s voice sound like?
How does this person relate to you?

Begin to ask your shadow self questions:

Why are you here?
What is your gift to me?
What do I learn from you?
What is your task?
How can I accept you?

Ask these questions internally or use a journal! Let yourself be guided intuitively and see which answers come up.

An active imagination often provides easier access to our subconscious.

Shadow work for beginners exercise #3:
 The 3-2-1 Shadow Process

The 3-2-1 shadow process by Ken Wilber is a simple but effective guide for beginners on how to confront, work on, and then integrate your shadow.

3) Face it

Decide with which aspect of your shadow you want to work.

If this still seems too difficult, you are welcome to choose a person (e.g. friend, family, boss, colleague) to whom you have a strong emotional reaction.

The emotional reaction can be strongly negative (rejection, hate, anger) or strongly positive (idolization, obsession).

Describe this person in detail.

Be specific about what bothers you so much about this person and how you are feeling.

You can say your thoughts out loud or write them down in a journal.

2) Talk to it

Start a dialogue with this person.

Begin to explain to this person what bothers you so much about them and what triggers the emotional reaction in you. Tell them about this emotional reaction.

Start asking this person questions like:

Why are you here?
What do you want from me?
What do you teach me?

How would this person answer? Wait for their answer and write it down. Be surprised what emerges in the dialogue.

1) Be it

Now adopt the attitudes and perspectives of this person.

How does he or she perceive the world and you included? Discover the similarities between you and try to understand that you have the same qualities.

Then, use 1st-person language and transfer the attributes of this person to yourself.
Use statements like:
“I am ____” or “___ is me”.

Potential impacts of the 3-2-1 Shadow Process:

-> Reintegration of separated parts of the self
-> Release of energetic boundaries
-> Developing compassion or empathy
-> New insights such as identification of the original source of the projection
-> Emotional reactions to triggers will subside over time

You can read more in Ken Wilber’s fantastic read “Integral Life Practice”:

I hope you enjoyed this post about shadow work for beginners!

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My name is Elsa and I have been the face behind Spirithandbook for 3 years now. I hold a master's degree in psychology and combine the essence of the human mind with deeply rooted spirituality on my blog. Being Greek and German, whenever I'm not drinking coffee, I'm cuddling with my 3 cats Atlas, Cronos, and Gaia.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Christina

    Interesting. I have a split personality. I wonder if it’s my shadow?

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