What Is Shadow Work?

Ever wondered why you had an angry outburst or a crying fit that was out of proportion to the situation? Do you often get furious when someone makes an innocuous comment about you? Are you easily triggered by other people’s behavior?
This is your shadow trying to grab your attention; it’s that profound thing inside you that desperately wants to express itself, so it acts out.
The shadow (or shadow self) is the part of yourself that you’ve pushed away or ignored. It’s not necessarily good or bad, but it affects how you live your life.
And this is how shadow work can change your life. Shadow work helps you break the damaging behaviors you do without thinking and the toxic cycles you repeat. It allows you to express yourself and live a whole, fulfilled life truly.

The Shadow – What Is It?

The shadow is the unconscious or unknown side of your personality—the least desirable part of you. It’s a psychological term coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
Your shadow is home to all the traits you don’t want to see in yourself. And these traits don’t go away.
We all act in a predefined way to fit in because of belonging means safety. We hide the dark side of ourselves to be accepted. This is your shadow. And like your conscious self, your shadow self develops throughout your whole life, starting from childhood.
All that you disown in yourself (negative and positive qualities) is relegated to the shadow. Trouble happens when you repress your shadow self and fail to see it. It projects on your life without your awareness, causing a lot of distortions to your experience of reality, and you lose clarity and understanding about the situation you’re interacting with.

Where Does ‘The Shadow’ Come From?

When you’re born, you don’t have a shadow, but it quickly builds up as you grow and start to identify with things (like name, gender, and appearance) as this is me, and that is the rest of the world.
As children, we learn that we need to act in a certain way to be accepted. We see the world as good and evil and must suppress the bad. For example, if you grew up in a home that valued humbleness, you may find it hard to voice your opinions.
Gender roles influence the shadow. For example, men who struggle with expressing emotions appropriately can become aggressive because they were told to be tough. A woman who was taught to be reserved can find it challenging to be assertive at work.
Basically, the shadow is formed by judgment in general. We often label traits, people, and things as right and wrong.
Luckily, as adults, we have the option to embrace our dark aspects and become whole again.

What Is Shadow Work?

Shadow work means exploring your unconscious mind to uncover the hidden and repressed parts of yourself—the traits you subconsciously consider improper or undesirable.
When you do shadow work, you open up to and accept your disowned side and integrate the rejected qualities of yourself to regain clarity, ease of living, and wisdom.
Note: You can do shadow work on your own. Seek a licensed therapist if you feel ill-equipped to handle it, especially if you’ve been through trauma. Licensed therapists will safely guide you and are specifically trained not to re-traumatize you during shadow work.

What Is the Goal of Shadow Work?

Through shadow work, you can:
  • Break self-destructive behaviors.
  • Empower yourself by taking responsibility for your actions.
  • Figure out the root of the patterns that make up your shadow.
  • Deal with and heal from painful emotions.
  • Become your authentic self.
  • Live more deliberately.

Shadow Work – What’s In It For You?

  • You feel whole, integrated, confident, and in control.
  • You have better and stronger relationships.
  • You build constructive habits.
  • You gain a more holistic view of yourself.
  • You show up as your best self and continue to thrive and improve.

What Happens When You Overlook Your Shadow?

You develop a false identity and live in a distorted reality. You lose essential parts of yourself, and those parts can act out for attention. You unconsciously project onto people. Whatever aspects you deny, ignore, or suppress in yourself, you see in others.

How to Do Shadow Work

Keep in mind that shadow work is an individual experience, a growth journey with no finish line, and it takes time. You may experience discomfort when you confront the unflattering parts of yourself.
To start:
  • Create a calm, neutral space to center yourself. Be mindful.
  • Keep a journal of the times you have a strong emotion. Take note of what triggered it and any accompanying feelings.
  • Reflect and sit with those moments with compassion and no judgment. Give yourself grace. Be intentional about noticing your thoughts, feelings, and reactions.


Is shadow work safe? Yes. Not doing it can actually be bad for you.

Still, consider having the support of a licensed therapist.

Can you tell if it worked?

Yes, when your triggers don’t trigger you anymore. For example, when your mother comments on your work/love life/shortcomings, and you remain zen, you’ve made it.


Everybody has a shadow as a form of self-preservation, which develops in early childhood and builds up. To explore this dark side of you, have a brave and honest confrontation with yourself.
Shadow work is a continuous practice of healing and self-growth. It requires surrender, compassion, and acceptance. Self-awareness and self-reflection are crucial to shadow work, which can be overwhelming.
You can do shadow work on your own or in therapy. To start shadow work, keep an eye out for the little things that trigger you. Write them down. This is how you learn more about yourself and evolve.
Carl Jung said, "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."