Over the last year, I’ve done a lot of shadow work – going through cancer means you are basically forced to confront many different elements of yourself as you are literally put in many challenging situations – so I saw it as a growth opportunity, but over a year later, I’m still reeling from it.
I do know that avoiding this work doesn’t help… as this shows:
Basically it’s the parts of you that you reject- that for whatever reason you have decided are not acceptable or not a part of yourself you want to embrace. The concept was first developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He proposed that we can even be blinded to these parts of ourselves because we block it out consciously.
As we are growing up- mainly up to age 7, we take on board any feedback we receive from the outside world and our caregivers. It may be fairly innocuous or it may be traumatic, but we take it all in like sponges. It might be an experience like going to a dance class as a child and being told that you are clumsy. So you reject all parts of you that you consider ‘clumsy’. It may be that you were made to feel embarrassed for asking a question at school and so you repress the urge to speak up in the future because of the fear of being embarrassed again. So everyone’s shadow self is unique to them, though in our modern culture there can be a lot of similarities as the cultural ‘ideals’ mean we can want to repress anything that doesn’t match up.
In the cyclical approach, we have 4 phases like the moon – so let’s use that as an example- though it can also be applied to larger cycles as well such as the 7-year Saturn cycle. So with the moon cycle, the first 2 weeks are the building up, ‘yang’ externally focused energy. The second 2 weeks are the releasing, ‘yin’ internally focused energy. This is like the Autumn/Winter of the cycle.
So just as the leaves shed their leaves, as cyclical beings, we are also called to shed what is no longer serving us and to bring things that have been hidden up to the surface. Basically there is always a phase within each cycle where the focus is on dealing with our shadows. If we ignore the call and bury our heads, it’s like a ticking time bomb. Meanwhile we don’t feel completely authentic and aligned if we don’t integrate ALL parts of ourselves.
The best way I have found is working with the Moon and my own cycle. As my bleed pretty much always aligns to the full moon, I find that I’m called to shadow work in my pre-menstrual phase so the week before the full moon. So I set aside time and journal according to which house the full moon is in in my chart. For example we have the full moon in Aries tomorrow which falls in my 4th house in astrology which is connected to the home and family. The Moon cycle also works in 6 month cycles- so the FULL Moon in Aries in September this year is the completion of the cycle that began in late March this year. So a chance to reflect on the themes that have come up specifically in those time frames as well.
Similar to the Moon Cycle, the planet Venus also has a regular cycle, though much longer at 19 months long. Within this cycle, there is a well-known mythological journey with Goddess Inanana into the underworld. We are working with this ancient wisdom to embrace the idea of shedding parts of ourselves we no longer need and facing parts of ourselves that we have developed as a defensive mechanism. Read more about it here.
Asking yourself these kinds of questions and going deep- when you write an answer that feels surface level ask yourself ‘for what purpose’ until you get to the real reason underneath. Some people recommend you do this 7 times to go 7 levels deep… it depends on you how many layers there are!
What we resist persists! If we don’t deal with this shadow ‘stuff’ it will find a way of showing itself to you. I also believe that through hard experiences, we can become stronger but only when we fully integrate all parts of ourselves / all elements of what happened.
I’ve been on self-development retreats which involved shadow work, and found that whilst it was hard at the time, the sense of relief and ability to actually move forward with things afterwards was huge. Sometimes we don’t realise how much our shadow selves are holding us back.
And if you are feeling stuck yourself. but aren’t quite up for shadow work right now, my free download – a guide to getting unstuck might help. Download here