Welcome to the Soul Wisdom Therapy newsletter!
The Value of Shadow Work
Last month I introduced the idea of shadow, a psychological concept first explored by pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He discovered in his patients a tendency to repress (i.e., keep hidden from the conscious mind) those personality traits that the ego finds unacceptable. Traits like greed, violence, laziness, egotism and dishonesty are disowned or denied by the individual but manifest themselves through being projected onto others.
Jung believed that individuation -- the maturation of the personality -- required the healing and integration of all conscious and unconscious elements, including the shadow. Such integration results in the actualization of the complete individual, or self, in all its wholeness and uniqueness.
The process of encountering and integrating these hidden, disowned traits is called
, a term coined by
in the 1980s. It challenges us to make "the continuing effort to develop a creative relationship with the shadow" in order "to expand our sense of self by balancing the one-sidedness of our conscious attitudes with our unconscious depths."
Through shadow work you can:
- Achieve greater self-acceptance through a more complete understanding of who you are.
- Defuse negative emotions that erupt unexpectedly while under stress.
- Be freer of the guilt and shame triggered by negative emotions and negative behavior.
- Recognize when you project onto others your disowned traits.
- Improve relationships through more honest self-examination and better communication.
- Improve physical and mental health by freeing the energy spent repressing shadow.
- Be better able to control the cycle of self-destructive thoughts and actions.
- Liberate your creativity as you grow toward wholeness and self-actualization.
According to Zweig, shadow work invites us to "use the creative imagination via dreams, drawing, writing and rituals to own the disowned self." But meeting and making friends with the shadow is really a lifetime effort that can be challenging and painful at times. Here are some suggestions for exploring your shadow:
- Notice any strong reactions you have to other people. Traits in another that you find particularly irksome are clues to projected traits hidden in yourself.
- Compile a list of your good qualities. Then write down their opposites (for example: having discipline/being lazy). Recognize the negative trait in yourself and accept it, for it has a role in your life.
- Record your dreams and especially notice recurring themes. These may reveal unconscious shadow elements.
- Engage in an inner dialogue with uncovered shadow traits. Ask what do they want from you and what can you learn from them.
- Nurture your inner child. Become aware of painful experiences in childhood that are the basis of unhealthy beliefs and behaviors in adulthood.
- Document your self-discoveries in a journal. Writing is a great way to bring to awareness those behaviors and thought patterns you need to recognize and heal.
- Finally, be compassionate with yourself as you explore your shadow. Accept your human vulnerabilities and frailties. If the process becomes overwhelming, seek the help of a mental health professional.
Want to learn more about shadow and shadow work? I recommend
The Shadow Effect
, featuring Debbie Ford, Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson. For an in-depth look at the psychological and cultural aspects of shadow, see the classic anthology
Meeting the Shadow
, edited by Connie Zweig.
|Interview with Connie Zweig, who has been a pioneer in the fields of shadow work and meditation practice for more than 30 years.
Cats don't need to do shadow work -- because we have no shadows! We don't repress or feel shame about any aspect of our lives. We eat, sleep and play without asking ourselves: is what I'm doing "good" or "bad?" We also don't project onto other beings what we can't face in ourselves.
Soul Wisdom Groups
Are you interested in joining a (currently online) spiritual community of people who come together once a month in Davis to talk about living life to the fullest, finding meaning, working with mindfulness, and practicing meditation? You may find the
Awakening to Spirit
Group a fit. Please visit the website at awakening2spirit.org for more details. Group meets the third Saturday of each month from 10:00 AM to noon.
Do you know someone who could benefit from support? Please share this newsletter as a source of inspiration and guidance.
Soul Wisdom Therapy
Deborah Cohen, M.A., M.P.H., LMFT
707-301-0252 (for texting)
621 Fourth St., Suite 6
Davis, CA 95616