What is Shadow Work?
Shadow Work is a way of transforming the parts of your character that you’d like to change with compassion and understanding, and offers an effective technology for balancing the diverse parts of yourself.
Shadow Work includes a set of facilitated processes that allow individuals to explore and change their behavioural patterns safely, choicefully and without pressure from the facilitator or anyone else.
Based on Cliff Barry’s unique synthesis of ancient and modern tools, Shadow Work uses a four-directional ‘map of the mind’ to help you identify and process your ‘shadows’. Our ‘shadows’ are those aspects of ourselves, our behaviours and feelings that we have learned are not acceptable, that we must not express or shouldn’t show in everyday life. They become the part of the Self that Carl G. Jung termed ‘the shadow’. One definition is ‘those parts of ourselves that we hide, suppress and deny either consciously or unconsciously’. These parts may be ‘negative’ parts or ‘positive’ parts (often referred to as ‘golden’ shadows). And, quite unconsciously, we can spend so much time just keeping those things at bay that we don’t have enough energy left to live the way we want to.
In Shadow Work we believe that the core of every shadow contains a nugget of power and strength, and the work seeks to support you in bringing your hidden powers out of shadow and into the light. We all have these hidden powers within us, but we don’t always allow ourselves to use them. We have all been hurt, and we have learned to hide parts of ourselves, so we don’t get hurt again.
Your shadows are like a gold mine of buried treasure, filled with forgotten creativity and useful energy. Remember how, as a very small child, you were able to let all your emotions out without holding anything back? Can you also remember how young you were when you began to learn that such uninhibited displays were somehow wrong or unwelcome in some way? As you grew up, it is likely that people around you – parents, teachers, siblings and friends – taught you which behaviours were acceptable in this culture and, even more strongly, which ones were not. Unrepressed displays of big emotions such as anger, fear, grief and even joy, may have been frowned upon. Were you ever shamed for crying, punished for being angry, ridiculed for being frightened, or belittled for being proud of yourself? Maybe you were very young when you began to feel the deep hurt of these things and learned that the best way to protect yourself from such wounding was to hold your feelings back.
Shadow Work is a way to explore our inner landscape and discovering the gold that is hiding in the shadows. It is a way to become more of who we really are. To face the hurt, the fear, the anger and the joy, and learn how to live more fully. Most of all, it is a way to love ourselves for the journeys we have chosen.
What is the Shadow Work Process Like?
The Shadow Work process starts when the Shadow Work facilitator asks the question: “What would you like to have happen?” Whatever you want to have happen then becomes the guiding focus in your process.
- to understand why they behave in a certain way
- to get help or support for unfolding more of themselves
- to work with feelings like fear, grief, anger or shame
- to break through old patterns of behaviour.
Using the Shadow Work tools, the facilitator can help you symbolically reconstruct your issue, so the shadow can be identified and viewed objectively. The facilitator can then help you to use techniques to recapture and harness the energy of the shadow. Options for dealing with the shadow are measured by what you want to have happen. You will not be pressured to go beyond your own level of choice.
A Shadow Work process generally involves the safe exploration of deep emotions. Each human emotion is like a doorway that can open up to an expanse of internal energy:
- Anger opens us up to our ability to set our boundaries. It helps us learn when to say, “Yes” and when to say, “No.” It stops us from getting trapped in unhealthy situations, and it helps us know who we really are.
- Sadness is a doorway to our connection with other people. It opens us up to love, revealing our vulnerability and desire for loving relationship. Sadness helps us connect with the spiritual realities we hold sacred. It helps us stay in tune with our bodies and with nature.
- Fear can help us detach from a situation, and look at it objectively. Fear can be a wonderful advisor, which creates new options for our future and counsels us about the present.
- Joy inspires us to live our dreams. Joy gives us courage and direction when we are lost, and blesses us with the knowledge that our lives have real meaning.
Why Would I Explore My Shadow?
Exposing parts of your shadow can feel risky. To work effectively with your shadows, you need a place where you feel safe — a place where you can trust others. Shadow Work endeavours to provide you with such a place.
We believe that the core of every shadow contains a nugget of strength, power, creativity and energy. However, you may find that when a shadow has been hidden for some time, it becomes ‘rotten and a little smelly’. When you decide to examine what’s hidden, you’ll want to be in a protected place. Your everyday life might not be the best arena for releasing a shadow. For example, you might not want to start expressing your repressed grief when you are at work. You might not want to experiment with your anger in your relationship. Your shadows can mess up your life; that’s why you hid them in the first place. However, Shadow Work creates a place where you can let things out slowly and deliberately, and experiment with the repressed emotion in a protected environment first, an environment where there are no real-life consequences.
You might not want to dive into your shadows alone, either. Trained facilitators can help you keep it safe for yourself and help you break the work down into manageable parts, so you don’t lose your perspective. Shadows can be very seductive and confusing. A trained facilitator can help you remember the overall goals you have chosen for yourself and keep you focused towards what you want to change.
Reasons to do Shadow Work may include wanting:
- to have something change in your life
- to have something happen differently
- to understand why you behave in a certain way
- to work with feelings like fear, grief, anger and shame
- to break through old patterns of behaviour
- to regain your confidence and self-esteem
- to come to terms with a major life transition or crisis
- to become the mature adult you want to be
- to improve your quality of life
- to clarify your deeper purposes and goals.
However, you don’t need to know exactly, before you come to a session or workshop, what it is you want to have happen – just that you want to have something happen if enough.
It was appropriate to put parts of yourself away when you were a child, while you learned about other things, but now you can take them out piece by piece, and use them to mature into the fullness of your whole personality. You won’t ever become a shadow-free person, but by working with it in this way you can learn a great deal about yourself, and exercise more conscious choice over how you live your life.
Click here for an audio or visual introduction to Shadow Work.
The Origins of Shadow Work
Shadow Work® was developed over 20 years ago by Cliff Barry and Mary Ellen Blandford. They integrated and correlated their work with other disciplines such as Gestalt, Voice Dialogue, Accelerated Learning, Metaphor work, Bio-Energetics, Family Systems theory, Addiction Recovery work and other personality systems such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram. They are also indebted to the pioneering work of Robert Bly, Robert Moore and Doug Gillette, David Grove, Ron Hering, and Hal and Sidra Stone.
You can choose to experience Shadow Work in the following ways:
You may choose to attend a Shadow Work Seminar, where you can work in a group with other people who have also come to examine their shadows. Here, you can share the path with others who will help motivate you with acceptance and encouragement. You may choose to learn from watching how others process their shadows. When you see others finding the courage hidden within their fear, or the power in their anger, you may be able to apply that learning directly to your own situation.
Or you may choose to experience Shadow Work in a One-to-one Coaching context, where you can be coached for a number of hours or a whole day with a Certified Shadow Work Coach.