Words by Twishaa Sharma
I consider myself to be a spiritual person, yet I sparingly use this term to describe my way of life. In recent years, spiritualism has evolved to include a gamut of concepts aimed to elevate one’s soul and achieve a higher frequency of living. You can be spiritual and still be an atheist or a religious fanatic - the choices are many, the term just one. Personally, I find spiritualism to be anything you do that brings you peace and happiness, whether it is a high intensity cardio workout or sitting quietly in a lotus position.. or even both! Recently, in my quest to find a guided meditation on visualisation (more on that another day) I stumbled across a Ted Talk by Dr. Steve Mortenson. In the video he speaks about an unconscious aspect of our personality, known as shadow, which governs our reactions and emotions. Intriguing right?
But first, let’s understand what the shadow is–
The shadow is the Hyde to our Jekyll. It is the “dark side” of our personality and includes all our negative traits and emotions that we don’t want to be associated with. Our ego doesn’t allow us to be associated with. The shadow is a part of us that is unconscious. A part of us that we repress and hide away, and we’ve been doing it for so long that it is impossible for us to see our own shadow (but equally easy to notice the slightest tinge in others).
If the idea of a creepy silhouette that constantly follows you around is making you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. When I first had a glimpse of my evil twin, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the garden.
I got interested in shadow work when I stumbled upon this video by Jordan Peterson. In the video, Peterson states that there is a monstrous element of the human psyche that most of us are unaware of. He was talking about the shadow. By focussing and being aware of his shadow he eventually discovered a split in his personalities - Hyde finally came face to face with Jekyll.
But it’s not as simple as that. (Though the recent TikTok trends sure make it seem that way)
Shadow work is more than uploading a 30 second clip, it requires dedication and resilience. Take Jimmy Dore for example. The American stand-up comedian opened up about his childhood and the impact it has had on his spiritual journey in this video. He states an effective way to deal with the shadow. He says, “See yourself in the person who’s pissing you off and it’ll help diminish your piss off-ness”
Hello darkness my old friend: My approach to shadow work
It took me a week of research to understand how exactly I can identify my shadow trait. I think I have finally figured it out.
Let me share an example: I strongly identify myself as a humble person. Over the years, I have repressed the opposite of humbleness which is assertiveness. This repressed trait has now become part of my shadow. I struggle to be assertive in professional or difficult situations. However, if a colleague is displaying assertive behaviour in the workplace, I end up resenting his behaviour.
That makes no sense right? Hang on just a few more minutes
Now will be a good time to check out the Ted Talk I mentioned at the beginning of the article. In under 15-mins Dr. Mortenson sums up how we project our own traits or lack thereof on to others.
In case you want to skip watching the video, here are the key takeaways:
- When we become critical of people for being themselves, it may point to something about ourselves that we need to own up to. My lack of assertiveness in the above scenario is the perfect example
- When we find ourselves both disapproving and envying another’s behaviour, it may point to an unmet need within ourselves that we need to meet in a healthy conscious way. If I learn to speak up more, I wouldn’t resent the friend who tends to hog the limelight
- When we feel judged by others, it may point to judgement we may actually have about ourselves
It had finally started to make sense to me. When someone else’s behaviour affects me, it has very little to do with that person, and everything to do with me.
Are you still not convinced?
Here’s an exercise for you
Step 1: Think of a person in your life that you absolutely cannot stand. This could be a family member, a colleague or even your best friend.
Step 2: Write down that one thing about them that puts you off. For e.g. I know someone who pretends to be too goody goody in a social setting. Her behaviour seems fake and put-on.
Step 3: Take a moment and ask yourself ‘why does this behaviour puts me off?’
There is a high chance that you will not have a logical explanation. Because there isn’t one. Instead, there is a possibility that this person is showing us something that we have trained ourselves to disapprove. But secretly our shadow envies it.
This was an uncomfortable revelation that I was not ready for! My ego tried hard to reject this crazy notion but eventually I had to admit that it was a possibility. This acquaintance might be fake and sweet but she has fantastic networking skills - perhaps something I wish I too had?
Told you, this is heavy duty stuff!
What is the next step in shadow work?
Once you have identified a shadow emotion, it is advisable to tackle it with time and patience. You can’t rush something that has been lying unattended for so many years. Begin slow and find your own rhythm. At this stage it is important to remember some key commandments.
- Complete self-acceptance and forgiveness for the shadow: Whenever I feel overwhelmed and inadequate in this journey, I remind myself that the shadow is a part of me and it is so important that I treat it with compassion. See your shadow as an unruly child, give it love and acceptance.
- Observe without judgement: Once you come face to face with your shadow emotion, never be harsh on yourself. Otherwise you will only be adding on to your shadow and making it denser.
- On-going process: Like any self-help practice, shadow work too takes time. To avoid frustrations and blank-ends, incorporate shadow work in your life with an on-going practice.
Exploring the shadow
If you’re ready to take a step further, it is now time to explore the shadow. This might sound strange. Why explore the shadow when our focus is to remove it all together? Because through exploration we gain insights into the hidden crooks and corners of our unconscious mind. We can eradicate our shadow emotions only when we are aware of it.
I have experimented and narrowed down ways to explore my shadow. These work well for me and can easily fit around my time.
- Meditation: I have been practicing meditation for a while now and I find it the most liberating 20 mins I can give myself. I love guided meditation videos and if you’re new to this practice I would suggest you check out this quick 10-min video to begin with
- Journaling: Pick up a pen and write whatever that comes to your mind. I prefer typing since my thoughts move too quickly. Some people like the feel of a pen on paper, it makes them feel more connected to their words. But typing works the same.
- Gratitude: You cannot resent something if you’re grateful for it. While I work to accept my shadow emotions, my gratitude affirmations are focussed on my active emotions. For e.g. I am grateful for my humble nature and close-group of friends. The idea is to integrate both aspects of one’s personality.
There are so many other ways you can explore your shadow. Any activity that calms your mind (gardening, hiking, painting) and allows you to introspect will work.
My shadow work journey has just begun and I have a long way to go. I look forward to celebrating the breakthroughs and not be too harsh on myself for the set-backs. Are you interested in shadow work? If yes, do share your experiences with us. Any links, tips or comments are welcome as we learn and evolve to be the best version of our selves. #WIP