Embodying Your Shadow: What It Means and How To Do It

By Jasmine Goodman, Wisdom Pills, October 24, 2015

We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them except possibly by a nervous breakdown. What is so difficult for the layman to grasp is the fact that in most cases the patients themselves have no suspicion whatever of the internecine war raging in their unconscious. If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts. ~ Carl Jung, New Paths in Psychology (1912)

Have you ever done or said something that you weren’t proud of? Perhaps there’s been a time where someone or something brought out a side of you that you’d be afraid to show most people? Or maybe you’ve yet to recognize few, if any faults in yourself, still thinking it’s the world and other people that need to change…

Most of us have an idea of which attributes we carry and which we don’t. Those we leave out might look something like bitterness, rage, manipulation, or projecting old wounds onto others. Yet whether you’re aware of these things or not, they are just a few of the many traits most of us struggle with owning.

But the truth is — no matter what our ego likes to say — we all have darkness inside. And it is in our best interests to fully accept it. Less desirable or negative attributes are a part of us regardless of our awareness — or level of acceptance — of them. Not realizing that they’re there, or worse, not looking at them, does not mean they don’t exist, or make them go away. If this is news to you, welcome to the dark side. It’s exactly what it sounds like: the inability to see the light.

According to Carl Jung, your “shadow” is “a part of your self that your ego doesn’t identify with.” These are often similar to the traits listed above. They’re what most of us try to shut out of our awareness because our egos don’t like recognizing them as anything that could potentially be a part of us.

But these are not always bad traits, per say. For those who suffer from low self esteem, your shadow could be home to honorable attributes that you just fail to recognize in yourself. The key point here is that your shadow is the side of your character that you fail to include in your conscious self-identity.

What is your ego?

Each of us develops our sense of self based off of a combination of factors: biology, environment, personality traits, preferences, and every experience we’ve ever had. All of the information we’ve gathered through our lives interprets and influences how we view the world– including how we view ourselves.

When filling out a bio or an application, we’ll most likely strive to put our best foot forward. We may even exaggerate sometimes, to amp ourselves up and look more desirable. This is where ego comes into play. Your ego is essentially your self esteem, or the side of you that forms strong opinions around your self importance.

Who are you? Whatever you think of in response to that is your self concept, or self identity, which is heavily influenced by your ego. Depending on your relationship with your ego, you could either be dominated by your self worth, blind to it, or fluctuating somewhere in-between.

Why don’t we see our shadows and what happens as a result? 

The human mind has found a way to compartmentalize everything it experiences into categories for easier comprehension. Hundreds of complex categories are born as a result, often under the perception that the different groups are mutually exclusive. Meaning, good vs evil and light vs dark are opposite and opposing energies. Our minds like to distinguish them as two separate entities, and that’s just the first tier of analysis. We then like to compare the two categories and choose a side as a winner. Hence, good over evil and light over dark.

As a culture we have become heavily dependent upon this system of separation. We’ve gotten so caught up in this way of thinking that we’ve learned to see ourselves under the same scrutiny.

One by one, we sift through ideas of our character traits, picking up the good ones we’d like identity with and disposing of those that don’t live up to the “acceptable” conception we’ve selectively built for ourselves.

And even though the intentions may be good, attempting to better ourselves through self concepts that fail to recognize our own faults only propels us towards a perpetual cycle of denial. Ironically, the more we seek perfection, the less we become it. It’s all in the mindset, and yours could very well shatter that perfect little self concept if you don’t own up to your shadow side.

A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour. ~ The Philosophical Tree (1945)

When we fail to see our shadow side, the character traits left in our darkness will likely show up sooner or later. They’re “prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.” When we’re unaware of this, Jung suggests that this “shadow archetype” subconsciously gains power. So as your shadow is continually denied, it projects itself out even more, thus becoming a “thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.”

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. ~ The Philosophical Tree (1945)

How to see our shadows 

Our egos and shadows are both very complex on their own. Jung points out multiple layers that make up the shadow self. His theory interprets the outermost layers as containing “meaningful flow and manifestations of direct experiences.” These layers unconsciously embed themselves in your memory and are either repressed or forgotten. Underneath our personal experiences lies all the archetypes of human experience. These deeper levels make up the “collective unconscious” that psychically unite all of our potential personas.

All of these layers are combined within our shadows that represent everything that we refuse to accept in ourselves. Recognizing this can become very painful — especially when it starts to unconsciously manifest itself. When we first encounter our shadows, we often deny those qualities because we are so ashamed of them. This is why we see them so easily in other people.

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. ~ Psychology and Religion (1938)

The more we can bring our awareness to this, the more we will start to shed light on our inner darkness and become whole.

Consciously Integrating your Shadow to become Whole

As long as your shadow remains in darkness, it will remain in control of you. In order to gain control we have to consciously integrate our shadow side into what we accept as a part of us. By accepting the shadow, you dissolve ego and create a balance of personas.

Look for you shadow

Now that you have a good idea of what your shadow is made of, start keeping an eye out for it. Be mindful of your mannerisms and notice your behaviors. Do this without judgement and try be as objective as possible.

Find meaning in your shadow 

Once you start to become conscious of your shadow, look for meaning in its manifestation. Underneath all afflictions lie deeper values that have been violated and are being projected negatively as a result. Seek meaning in your shadow and see what lessons it has for you to learn. Your shadow side and your ego both have lessons for you. Take what you need from them and discard what no longer serves you.

Practice non-attachment

Bringing things into your awareness does not mean that you have to fully identify with them. Practicing non-attachment helps you from falling into traps of low self esteem when you’ve seen something dark inside you. This also helps you avoid arrogance when you’ve encountered desirability within as well. Every aspect of you should be accounted for and honored, but not to the point to where you’re consumed by your identity.

If you fall, get back up

Owning your shadow is a lifelong process. And just because you’re learning to accept it does’t mean that inheriting those less desirable qualities diminishes your desirable ones. When you encounter your shadow next, remember what its purpose is. Find its lessons and use the light to fuel the evolution of you.

Be humbled & honored. You are the Universe.  

Conscious awareness of your shadow and ego will balance out your character into a persona that fully accepts themselves — the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. The stronger this wholesome relationship is, the more veils are lifted between the illusion of the ego and the repression of the shadow.

If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. ~ Psychology and Religion (1938)

We all have shadows and we all have egos. Each are uniquely formed from our own life experiences yet united by simply being projections of archetypes we’re all capable of. What lives inside us, lives insides us all. And by owning all that is within us, we’ll grow toward freeing ourselves from ourselves.

Only then, will we truly be able to love ourselves.


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