Shadow Work: Dealing with Your Dark Side


Most of us learn from a young age that there two sides to everything.


We have yes and no, good and bad and light and dark. We see the “yes, good and light,” as the states we desire to achieve and the “no, bad and dark” as that which we should strive to avoid.


As children, we live for the “good girl/boy” moments, the good grades and the things that make us smile: candy, cartoons and summer vacations. We avoid the green vegetables, books and the discipline of the learning environment.


While the lighter things in life are certainly blessings, it is our darkness that enables us to grow.


The test that we breezed through may quickly fade in our memory,  but the one that we failed, and had to look up again, find the right answers and discard the incorrect information will stick with us much longer.


Our spiritual lessons work in the same way.


Too often, we rest  in our lighter moments. We focus on the things that come easy for us. We stuff our jealousy, grief and pain, deep down inside as if it will somehow disappear. We stand in the middle of a burning house, giving thanks for the warmth.


If we refuse to look inward, then our inner fears and pain will do what they have to do to get noticed. When we can’t see our own issues, we will project them onto other people.


Do you ever notice that you tend to bring the same type of challenging people into your life? They might be bullies, or victims, prejudiced, or lazy. You think, “I could never be like that!”


Never is a very long time. Chances are, you could be.


You may hate bullies, but when backed into a corner, you display the same cowardly, aggressive behavior.


You may be offended by the behavior of certain judgmental religious groups. You judge them to be wrong and bad.


You point out all the “stupid” people on the road and then carelessly lock your keys in your car.


You need look no farther that the people who annoy and offend you the most to find out where your shadow lurks.


Finding your shadow is usually not that hard. Owning and healing it is where we run away screaming.


When you find your shadow, not only do you have to deal with your own pain, but see, understand and acknowledge the pain you have caused in others.


That can be the hardest part of all. When you project your unhealed shadow onto friends, co-workers and romantic partners, you can destroy loving and supportive relationships and become all that you despise.


Is it our fault or weakness that we have a shadow? No. Our shadow may have come from a childhood wound that we had no control over. A trusted companion may betray or hurt us and we lose our ability to trust and see that same tendency in others.


Having a shadow makes us human. Dealing with it makes us powerful. Not dealing with it doesn’t make it go away.


When you find yourself feeling stressed outraged or offended by another’s behavior, dig deeper.


Why does this bother me? What does it remind me of? Do I engage in some form of this behavior?


A bully may justify their behavior as a teaching tool or “character builder” but hide a secret of past abuse for which they had to “toughen up.” A victim will see bullies everywhere and in true victim form, “can’t do anything about it.” A person insecure about their intelligence may see “stupid” people everywhere and feel that it is their duty to point out that stupidity, because it makes them appear smarter and set apart from the “stupid” people.


When we point the fingers “out there” it takes the focus off of ourselves and we lose a valuable opportunity to heal and grow. We destroy friendships and relationships because we see the “bad” in others that we refuse to see in ourselves.


Here are some ways you can identify your shadow:


  1. Look at the people in your life who you don’t get along with. What is it about them that bothers you? In what ways do you exhibit those qualities?
  2. What types of behaviors do you find the most annoying and inexcusable? What past or childhood memories do they bring up?
  3. Which of the worlds problems bothers you the most? Does it have any personal meaning for you?
  4. What period in history makes you the most emotional? Are you angry about slavery? The genocide of indigenous cultures? The Holocaust? The burning of alleged witches?

Meditate, journal or discuss it with a friend. When you discover where your shadow is hiding, shine some light on it. You may feel resistance because the ego doesn’t like when we do this type of work.


What you will find out is that in some form, you are expressing this shadow in your present life. While you don’t need to be afraid of it, if you ignore it for too long, it will sabotage your success as well as destroy relationships.


Your shadow is not the enemy. It is like an inner child who acts out because we ignore it.


Your shadow can become a valuable ally assisting you to grow stronger and heal wounds that have festered for far too long. The biggest fear you may ever have to face, is the one that you lock inside of yourself. If you can face that, then nothing can stand in the way of your success, growth and healing.



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