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You may or may not have heard that your friends are doing “shadow work”. You may be doing some of this work yourself. If you are, then go you! Having worked on this myself, I can assure you the result justifies the hard work you will put into yourself.
What is shadow work?
If you haven’t heard of shadow work, it isn’t a new concept. In fact, it goes all the way back to Carl Jung. Jung stated the shadow is the unknown dark side of the personality. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.
So in other words, what is buried in our subconscious will often come out of our mouths as a criticism of someone else. How many times have famous people or politicians talked about the horrors of cheating on a spouse, only to be found to be cheating on their own spouse? The same can be said for drug use or other personal choices.
Before we dive into this, I want to first issue a serious word of warning. Shadow work isn’t to be taken lightly. It can trigger unhealed trauma, challenging thoughts as well as existential crises in some people. It is best explored with a qualified trauma therapist.
There are workbooks in print
Now, that said, there are many books out at the moment that gives you a sort of “workbook” experience with shadow work, so people are clearly working on this from the comforts of their own home. Just promise me that if it gets to be too much, you will seek help. Don’t go it alone.
The doctor weighs in
Women’sHealth printed an article on this subject. “Shadow work is about examining the unconscious parts of yourself, a.k.a. your shadow, according to Gauri Khurana, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist in New York City and a clinical instructor at Yale University School of Medicine. It’s based on the idea that the unconscious has a compensatory relation to the consciousness, meaning what you identify and live with consciously, you will find its opposite in the unconscious. And negative aspects play a bigger role in your shadow than positive traits because they are often repressed.”
That’s deep, huh…
Dr. Khurana continued, “We first meet our shadow when it is projected onto other people, as we cannot identify that these contents are actually within us,” explains Dr. Khurana. “I can often identify it for patients when I notice that they have an explosive overreaction to a facet of someone else’s personality—it generally means that there is something about their own personality structure and development that they have not been aware of.”
What’s the point?
So what’s the goal of shadow work? “The goal of shadow work is integration, which means becoming aware of the hidden parts of yourself so that they can move to your consciousness and be expressed in healthy ways, according to Dr. Khurana.“
How do I get started?
So what do I need to start shadow work? “A curious, open mind and a desire to get along with others in the world are all you need to practice shadow work, per Dr. Khurana. The beauty of shadow work is that it can be done alone and with others, including your therapist,” she says.
Here’s 75 questions, but first, a word from the author
Charlotte Kirsten gives us 75 questions to start us out. She gives this warning, “You might think you’re fully capable of handling what arises from a few simple questions, but before you know it, your answer has affected you all day and you can’t stop thinking about it.
“These moments will happen – it’s normal.
“It’s also normal to feel a sense of detachment with the world and those around you for a little while, at least until you’ve processed what came up for you. Give yourself some space to breathe.
“Shadow work will never be complete, it’s something that follows you (just like your shadow) on the journey that is life. It can wait until you’re ready to pick it up again.”
Are you ready to get to work?
Here are her 75 questions:
- Which emotion makes me feel the most uneasy or uncomfortable to sit with? Which one do I try to avoid the most?
- Think back to a scenario or situation where that emotion played out. What happened? How did I react initially? What other emotions played out alongside the one I tried to avoid?
- What negative emotions am I most comfortable with? Do I cling to certain emotions on a day-to-day basis because they feel ‘normal’?
- Is your inner voice kind or critical? What things does it say to you on a typical day?
- Is your inner voice truly yours? Who’s voice could be influencing your inner voice? (Parents, partners, teachers, friends, etc). Would you say the things that that voice tells you to other people? If not, then those thoughts aren’t your true voice. They’re reflections of other people’s beliefs you’ve internalized.
- ‘I am easily influenced or swayed by the opinions and beliefs of others. I find it hard to assert my own voice and figure out what is them versus me’. Explore this statement.
- I regularly downplay how I feel or what I’m really thinking for the sake of others. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
- Looking at your past, who has or still does regularly downplay how you feel?
- Why do you let people who don’t acknowledge your feelings stay in your life? Do you have the desire to keep their company? Or, do you know that there’s something you could be doing too to make the relationship better?
- Do I value myself and what I bring to the table?
- How can I be kinder to myself? In what ways do I punish or sabotage myself?
- How important am I to myself?
- Have you ever done something just to make someone else feel proud of you? If so, who was it and why?
- Do you fully celebrate your achievements? Or, is there a disconnect between your achievements and who you are as a person? Which one resonates more?
- What is your biggest regret to date?
- Imagine you’re coming to the end of your life, what is the biggest regret you fear having the most? How does that make you feel and where does it sit within the body?
- Imagine your worst fear came true, how does that now make you feel about your life ahead?
- Imagine your most wanted dream came true right now, how does that make you feel about your life ahead? Are there similar feelings and emotions tied to both your fears and successes?
- Do you feel you’re only as ‘good as your last achievement? If yes, why? If not, why not?
- What do you think are your most undesirable traits and characteristics? (This is NOT an opportunity to put yourself down but rather a chance to unearth what you believe to be true about yourself. This doesn’t mean what you write is an accurate reflection of yourself).
- What image do you think other people carry about you?
- How would you like others to describe you? Is there a difference between your answer to this question and the previous one? How does that make you feel?
- ‘If I could be anything in the world, I would be …..’ fill in the blank.
- Why aren’t you already doing the thing you mentioned in the above question? What’s stopping you?
- What is my definition of failure?
- When I think back to a time that I failed, I feel …. Fill in the blank.
- What is my definition of perfection? Is it attainable?
- Do I hold myself to a higher standard than others? If so, why?
- In what areas of my life do I feel inferior to others?
- Have I ever sacrificed a part of myself to fit in with others better?
- Where am I playing small in my life?
- What narrative or stories do I tell myself surrounding wanting more?
- If I could tell my younger self only one thing, it would be …. Fill in the blank.
- When have you ever felt abandoned by those around you? Describe the situation and what it made you feel.
- How do I show up for others in ways that I don’t show up for myself?
- What do you need to forgive yourself for?
- What is the thing you feel most guilty about in your life to date?
- I am overly critical and harsh on myself. Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?
- ‘I feel the need to keep myself hidden and small for the sake of others’ feelings’. Explore this statement.
- ‘I’ve stayed in relationships (either platonic or romantic) that deep down I knew weren’t good for me. Why did I do that?’ Explore this statement and the feelings it brings up.
- ‘I am worthy of good things coming my way’. Do you agree or disagree and why?
- If you were to live the remaining years of your life as an exact repeat of what has gone by, how would you feel and why? Where would you make changes?
- Describe the time when you felt the most alone.
- ‘In the past, I have let people take advantage of me’. Explore this statement.
- Does acknowledging that other people have taken advantage of you bring up any anger, resentment, or uncomfortableness? If you could turn back the clocks, what would you do differently?
- Where do you need to set better boundaries in your life?
- Did your parents always address and meet your needs as a child?
- Did your teachers and school peers treat you with the respect and love you deserved as a child?
- Thinking back to a time in my childhood when I felt different or outcast, do I notice any similarities at that moment to how I go about my daily life now? Are there childhood fears appearing in my adult life?
- What makes you really angry, so angry that you don’t tell anyone or you internalize and bury it?
- What is my inner truth?
- If I had to take a negative experience and reframe it positively, how would I do that? How does the process of reframing make me feel?
- What is my deepest source of rage and anger?
- What can’t I accept about myself?
- What do I hate about others?
- What do I need to stop running away from? What do I struggle to tackle head-on?
- What is the greatest lie I keep feeding myself with? Where has that come from?
- How far have I come in life?
- What does happiness mean to me?
- If you met yourself for the first time, what impression would you have?
- What are your toxic traits? How do these traits affect your life? How do they noticeably affect others?
- What makes you jealous? Why? What does this jealousy tell you about your own needs?
- Do you feel misunderstood by others? Do people have misconceptions about you?
- What lies have you told yourself and why? Where do they come from?
- Do you ask for help? If not, why not? Is that learned behavior?
- Describe a time you self-sabotaged. What happened? Why do you think it happened?
- I love and accept myself exactly as I am. Explore this statement.
- What triggers you?
- Write a letter to your past self. What would you say?
- How much has past trauma defined your personality traits today?
- Is there someone you can’t forgive? What emotions does it bring up when you think about them?
- Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable?
- Are you authentically yourself around others? Do you wear a persona or even separate masks depending on who you are around?
- Are you happy being alone in your own company?
- Who am I?
Give your thoughts a place to land
As you start to process your thoughts, try giving them someplace to go. Journaling, doll making (felting), painting, creating music, running, or just creating, in general, are ways to let go of all the feelings you are uncovering but don’t know where to put.
Self-care is a must
I found that self-care during this process isn’t a want, it’s a need. It must happen. If you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you will start to get stressed, angry, irritable, depressed, and more. Don’t go there. Hit this thing head-on and take care of yourself. You deserve to be cared for, and it doesn’t have to come from other people. You can take care of yourself. Believe it.
As always, this blog is not a replacement for sound medical advice. I am not a doctor. Please make an appointment to see your healthcare provider and put a good plan in place that works for you and the needs of your body.
That’s all I have for you this week, dear reader. I’ll see you back here next Wednesday to share another cup of coffee. Until then, be good to yourself and each other.
Mind, Body, Spirit…Osteopathic Doctors treat the whole person, not just the ailment. Is your PCP a DO? Would you like to learn more about Osteopathic Physicians? Click HERE!