The Shadow, Shadow Work, and Reclaiming Energy From Shadow

What Is The Psychological Shadow?

The concept of Shadow is explained by a metaphor created by Robert Bly: a child born with a natural “360 degree personality” will gradually hide, repress and deny the bits of himself that the world  around him does not want or does not approve of, into his unconscious, to gain acceptance or approval. This is what Robert Bly called “stuffing parts of himself into his Shadow Bag”.

This bag grows heavier and longer over the years until it’s a great big weight to carry around. Tucked away, out of sight, into the Shadow Bag, this archetypal energy does not lose its power. Instead, it grows and may emerge years or even decades later in a distorted form – what we call “inflated” or “deflated” as described on the page of this site which describes the archetypes.

Amazingly, a large proportion of our shadow is made up of golden energy. This is helpful to remember if you believe that what’s tucked into your Shadow Bag has gone in there because it is somehow “dark energy” that is unwanted. Much of your golden power, your  magnificence and wonderful vitality, may be in shadow too.

But Just What Is The Shadow?

Carl Jung’s concept of the “shadow” refers to the unconscious, darker aspects of the human psyche that are typically repressed or denied. Jung believed that it was essential to confront and integrate the shadow in order to achieve psychological wholeness and individuation.

Jung’s connection to shadow work is through his development and promotion of analytical psychology, which emphasizes the exploration of the unconscious mind through dream analysis, active imagination, and other methods of self-exploration. Jung believed that the shadow contains both negative and positive aspects of the self, and that it was important to acknowledge and integrate both in order to achieve balance and wholeness.

Jungian analysts often work with clients to help them identify and integrate their shadow, often through exploring their dreams, fantasies, and other unconscious material. This process can be difficult and painful, as it often involves facing and confronting aspects of oneself that are difficult to accept. However, Jung believed that the process of shadow work was essential for personal growth and transformation.

And Just What Is Shadow Work?

Shadow work is a process of exploring and understanding the unconscious or repressed aspects of oneself, such as fears, negative beliefs, and past traumas. A shadow work session can involve various practices and techniques depending on the individual’s needs and preferences, but here are some common elements that may occur during a session:

  • Setting the intention: The first step is to establish the purpose and intention of the session. This involves identifying the issue or challenge that needs to be addressed and committing to facing and working through it.
  • Journaling: Many people find it helpful to write down their thoughts and feelings before and during the session. This can help to clarify the issues and bring them to the surface.
  • Guided meditation or visualization: This technique involves relaxing the mind and body and visualizing oneself in a safe and supportive environment. The individual may be guided to explore and confront their shadow self or aspects of their personality that they have repressed.
  • Inner dialogue: This involves engaging in a conversation with the shadow self or aspects of oneself that have been repressed. The goal is to understand their perspective and the reasons for their existence. This may be done with parts of the self represente din the therapy session by objects, written expressions of what those parts say, and other techniques.
  • Expressive arts therapy: This technique involves using art, music, or other forms of creative expression to explore and release emotions and feelings that may be difficult to express verbally.
  • Integration: After the session, the individual will typically work on integrating the insights and experiences gained into their daily life. This may involve setting new goals, changing behaviors, or seeking additional support.

Overall, a shadow work session can be a transformative and healing experience that helps individuals to understand and integrate their shadow self into their whole being. This is actually all about exploring and addressing the parts of ourselves that we tend to repress or deny, often because they are seen as negative or unacceptable. These parts can include our fears, insecurities, anger, jealousy, and other uncomfortable emotions and traits.

In a shadow work session, the individual is typically guided by a shadow work facilitator or coach to explore their inner world and uncover the aspects of themselves that they may have been avoiding or suppressing. This can involve various techniques, such as journaling, guided meditations, visualization exercises, and somatic practices.

The goal of a shadow work session is to bring these repressed aspects of ourselves into awareness, acknowledge and accept them without judgment, and integrate them into our conscious selves. This process can be challenging and emotional, but it can also be incredibly liberating and transformative, helping individuals to live more fully and authentically.

Integration of these repressed parts will always lead to a higher level of energy available to the individual who is doing the work. This is because when repressed, archetypal energy is not available for conscious action. In addition, the energy required to repress unconscious material can be considerable. When repressed material is brought back into awareness by means of shadow work, this energy is no longer expended on represssion.

Video on shadow work

Some common processes that may happen in a shadow work session include:

  • Exploring past traumas or experiences that may have contributed to the development of shadow aspects.
  • Identifying and naming the shadow traits or emotions that the individual is struggling with.
  • Challenging the negative beliefs or narratives that the individual may hold about these shadow aspects.
  • Practicing self-compassion and self-forgiveness as a means of accepting and integrating these aspects.
  • Developing new coping strategies and tools to manage these aspects in a healthy way.

Ultimately, the specific processes and techniques used in a shadow work session will depend on the individual’s unique needs and wants.

It’s worth mentioning in passing that shadow work has a lot in common with Family Systems Therapy. This is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the family as a whole, rather than on individuals. It is based on the belief that the problems experienced by an individual within a family are often rooted in the family’s structure and communication patterns. Shadow work is similar in that it is concerned with the dynamics between individuals, although the dynamics that may be examined during a session are not limited to those between family members.

One common goal of both shadow work and family systems therapy is to help people understand and change their patterns of interaction in order to improve the overall functioning of the group or family. The family systems therapist works with the family as a group, and may also work with individual family members as needed. The shadow work therapist will work with representations of the fmaily members with whom the client is in an unhealthy (or a positive) dynamic.

Some key principles of both therapies:

  • The group is viewed as a system, with each member playing a specific role that contributes to the overall dynamics within the group.
  • Problems within the group are viewed as arising from patterns of communication and interaction between group members.
  • Change in one group member can lead to changes in the entire group system.
  • The therapist’s role is to help group members identify and change dysfunctional patterns of communication and interaction.

Shadow work and family systems therapy are effective in treating a wide range of issues, including marital conflict, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. These approaches can also be helpful in addressing issues related to dysfunctional behaviour problems, and in improving group relationships in general.


Discover Your Archetypes and Explore the Shadow In You!