What you resist, persists. – Carl Gustav Jung
For most of my life I’ve grown up firmly believing that the only thing worthy of guiding me was “light” and “love.” Whether through the family environment I was raised in, or the cultural myths I was brought up clinging to, I once believed that all you really needed to do in life to be happy was to focus on everything beautiful, positive and spiritually “righteous.” I’m sure you were raised believing a similar story as well; a sort of “Recipe for Well-Being.”
But in the past year or so I’ve realized something shocking:
I was wrong.
Not just wrong, but completely and utterly off the mark. I’ve learnt through some heavy inner work, that not only is focusing solely on “holiness” in life one side of the equation, but it is actually a form of spiritually bypassing your deeper, darker problems that, let me assure you, almost definitely exist.
The truth is that to genuinely become a whole and healed person, you must integrate your Shadow into your being. In other words, you must 100% OWN your Shadow, rather than avoiding or repressing it.
This might seem like a daunting, even terrifying task, and by now you might be asking, “How on earth can my ‘demons’ possibly guide me in a non-satanic way?” or “WHERE do I start?”
Relax. This article will give you one of many places to start on your Shadow Work journey.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is the process of exploring your inner darkness, hell, or “Shadow Self.” Your Shadow Self – a concept created by renowned psychologist Carl Jung – forms a part of your unconscious mind and is built up of everything you feel ashamed of thinking and feeling, as well as every impulse, repressed idea, desire, fear and perversion that for one reason or another, you have “locked away” consciously or unconsciously. Often this is done as a way of keeping yourself tame, likeable and “civilized” in the eyes of others.
Shadow work, therefore, is basically the attempt to uncover everything that we have hidden and every part of us that has been disowned and rejected. Why? Because without revealing to ourselves what we have hidden, we remain burdened with problems such as anger, guilt, shame, disgust and grief. This article describes the types of repressed feelings and thoughts that compose our Shadow Selves more in depth.
What You Give Power to Has Power Over You
Recently I have taken up the practice of paying attention to everything that shocks, disturbs and secretly thrills me. I’m doing this because, like you, I have a pretty dark and intimidating Shadow Self that has interfered with my life way too much. Essentially, what I want to do is to find out what I’ve given power to in my life unconsciously, because:
what we place importance in – whether good or bad – says a lot about us.
I thank Sol for inspiring me with this thought, because the reality is that what we react to, or what makes us angry and distressed, reveals extremely important information to us about ourselves.
For example, by following where my “demons” have taken me – whether in social media, family circles, work spaces and public places – I have discovered two important things about myself. The first one is that I’m a control freak; I hate feeling vulnerable, powerless and weak . . . it quite simply scares the living hell out of me. How did I discover this? Through my intense dislike of witnessing rape scenes in movies and TV shows, my negative reaction to novel experiences (e.g. roller coaster rides, public speaking, etc.), as well as my discomfort in sharing information about my life with others in conversations. Also, by following where my “demons” have guided me I’ve discovered that I’m being burdened by an exasperating guilt complex that I developed through my religious upbringing. A part of me wants to feel unworthy because that is what I’ve developed a habit of feeling since childhood (e.g. “You’re a sinner,” “It’s your fault Jesus was crucified”), and therefore, that is what I secretly feel comfortable with feeling: unworthy. So my mind nit-picks anything I might have done “wrong,” and I’m left with the feeling of being “bad” – which I’m used to, but nevertheless, this is destructive for my well-being.
Thanks to this practice, I have welcomed more compassion, mindfulness and forgiveness into my life, discovering how exactly my core wounds are affecting me on a daily basis, and how to heal them.
Letting your inner demons guide you is a powerful experience, let me tell you.
How to Let Your Demons Guide You
The prospect is formidable: descending into the depths of the smoky haze that is your own personal hell and looking at the demon within you squarely in the face. However scary this is, the truth is that your demon inside, your disowned darkness, is incredibly alone. No wonder it makes so much mischief and chaos trying to get your attention!
Sometimes when we awaken to the presence of our Shadows we feel a deep sense of remorse, even revulsion for the finely-tuned, squeaky clean facades we’ve been showing off to the world for so long . . . and so we rebel. We jump to the other end of the spectrum, and almost worship or “idolize” the darkness within us. But this is merely another form of craziness and distraction from the main goal: healing and wholeness. Be careful of this.
But how do you let your demons “guide” you?
To effectively follow the trail of your demon and to conscientiously begin your journey of Shadow Work, you first need to cultivate self-awareness. Without being conscious of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling and saying, you won’t progress very far.
If, however, you are fairly certain that you’re self-aware (or enough to start the process), you will then need to adopt an open mindset. You will need to have the courage and willingness to observe EVERYTHING uncomfortable you place importance in, and ask “why?”.
What do I mean by the phrase “placing importance in”? By this I mean that, whatever riles, shocks, infuriates, disturbs and terrifies you, you must pay attention to. Closely.
Likely, you will discover patterns constantly emerging in your life. For example, you might be outraged or embarrassed every time sex appears in a TV show or movie you like (possibly revealing sexual repression, or mistaken beliefs about sex that you’ve adopted throughout life). Or you might be terrified of seeing death or dead people (possibly revealing your resistance to the nature of life, or a childhood trauma). Or you might be disgusted by alternative political, sexual and spiritual lifestyles (possibly revealing your hidden desire to do the same).
There are so many possibilities out there, and I encourage you to go slowly, take your time, and one by one pick through what you place importance in.
“But I don’t place importance in gross, bad or disturbing things in life, how could I? I don’t care for them,” you might be asking.
Well, think for a moment. If you didn’t place so much importance in what makes you angry, disgusted or upset . . . why would you be reacting to it so much? The moment you emotionally react to something is the moment you have given that thing power over you. Only that which doesn’t stir up emotions in us is not important to us.
See what you respond to and listen to what your Shadow is trying to teach you.
If you are looking for some serious, authentic and long-lived healing in your life, the Shadow Work practice of letting your demons guide you is the perfect way to experience profound inner transformation.
Remember that what you internalize is almost always externalized in one form or another.
Own your shadow and you will own your life.
What are your experiences with Shadow Work?