Have you ever heard of shadow work? Well, over the past few months I started hearing about it in personal growth and mindfulness circles. So I dug deeper and came to learn it’s a therapeutic self-help process that can radically transform our mental and emotional states. And in so doing, it can change our lives for the better.
In this guide, discover ways that shadow work can help your inner child (and subconscious mind) heal from emotional trauma or pain. Plus, learn how to use empowering activities to overcome the past, so you can enjoy life more.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is the process of working through and integrating shadow parts of our psyche, shadow injuries. It can be difficult to understand or accept that these are even happening in the first place. For one, shadow injuries are often positioned in our subconscious. And two, it’s not easy to see the profound implications shadow parts have on us when integrated into our consciousness.
Imagine carrying mental and emotional baggage throughout your entire life. Now that you’re an adult, you hope to live a joyful and progressive life, but something keeps holding you back or causing you to experience more of what you don’t want. Well, it’s more than likely that shadow work will help to lighten your load.
What is a shadow injury?
A shadow injury happens when we’ve experienced an event that has inflicted pain and suffering onto ourselves or others. This can mean anything – from something seemingly minor (like a mean comment from a kid in school) or something that’s considered more traumatic (like abuse). Generally, most of our shadow injuries form during childhood, when we’re less conscious of what’s happening and why.
No matter how serious the incident, any negative incident we experience in life can have an impact on our mental health and emotional well-being. That’s why, for us to live our best (and happiest) lives, we have to do shadow work.
Where does shadow work come into play?
If you’re going through something difficult, shadow work can be a way to process thoughts, feelings, and emotions – especially pertaining to situations you experienced in the past that had a negative impact. It’s the mental equivalent of crying or talking about what happened with someone (like a therapist). But, instead of hiring someone, you can do shadow work on your own.
How does shadow work help with mental healing?
One of the main ways shadow work helps is by allowing for catharsis – or a release of pent-up emotions. This can allow people to heal their emotional trauma and pain, which in turn may lead to improvement in other areas of life such as relationships and careers.
What does the shadow work process feel like?
In my experience, shadow work not only helps you feel lighter, freer, and more joyful, but it also leads to greater abilities to manifest what you want in life. But, I’ll be honest – going through the process isn’t so easy.
Allow Old Memories To Surface
In a meditative state, allow your mind to regress to past moments where painful memories got buried within your psyche. As you mentally relive those difficult moments or negative stories, painful emotions will bubble up. Be prepared for a cathartic crying episode or two – it’s natural and a great way to release the deep-seated emotions from your body.
Then do self-care activities that make you feel good. It’s like an emotional reward for all the hard work.
After you’ve come face-to-face with your shadows (and essentially “shine a light” on them), they no longer hold power over you. Instead of holding you back and making you feel like a victim, you now feel empowered like never before.
Reframe Mental Stories
At that point in the shadow work process, you can then reframe any mental narratives surrounding that story or experience. Start to see a situation from a higher perspective or a more enlightened point of view.
As an example, if you felt abandoned as a kid because your parent worked a lot, you might still deal with those old abandonment issues now. Perhaps you form codependent adult relationships or feel anxious when your significant other spends extra hours at the office. Well, the goods news is – you can shift that perspective now, as an adult, so that these feelings no longer influence you.
A good way to reframe your mental story (for your inner child to heal) is to tell yourself that your parent worked hard so that you could be taken care of. Imagine what it might have felt like to be your parent – perhaps they worried that they wouldn’t make enough money for your family? Or maybe they were raised by a workaholic, so they were conditioned to believe this is how responsible parents act.
Do you see how choosing alternative perspectives can help shift your personal narrative on that experience?
Choose a Positive Outlook on Negative Experiences
You can change your view of any past experience. By doing so, it enables you to have an empowering outlook. It’s like the sunshine peeking out from beyond the dark clouds – it helps you get past negative experiences by helping you choose a positive outlook instead. As many survivors of traumatic experiences will tell you, those dark moments were valuable lessons that helped them find their strength.
The reason why being mindful about our mental narratives is a key part of healing is that thought patterns influence emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. If any parts of your life aren’t working now, your shadow self needs help.
Always remember – the one person whose voice you always hear is your own. So, be mindful of your outlook.
Why does shadow work feel good afterward?
While the shadow work process isn’t easy, the good news is – you’ll feel great afterward! And yes, you can heal inner pain and emotional baggage from past experiences. It’s truly possible, you just have to focus on the healing (not the pain), if that makes sense.
Imagine you’re a hot air balloon, ready to soar, but tethered by giant sandbags. While you’d love to fly through the sky, you’re still stuck on the ground because something is holding you back. On the one hand, you’re built to fly, but because you still have baggage weighing you down, you can’t go anywhere.
Now, after healing your inner pain (through integrating your shadow self with your consciousness), you can simply let go of the sandbags and float up towards the clouds. That’s how liberating shadow work feels when it’s done!
Shadow work activities you can do
Shadow work can be anything from self-reflection to journaling, or writing down the things you say out loud in a conversation with yourself. It could also involve stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking part in activities that feel foreign (like dancing). I also find that reframing mental stories and talking to my “inner child” in a kind and comforting manner are both helpful in healing shadow injuries.
Why is shadow work so therapeutic?
If you have emotional baggage that is preventing you from living your best life, shadow work could help. That’s why doing shadow work (including learning to accept parts of yourself that have felt unloved and learning to reframe negative, disempowering stories in your mind) is such a therapeutic and beneficial process.
To learn more about shadow work, watch this video by Christina Lopes, a popular spiritual teacher & energy alchemist.