Why do we need to understand shadow work?
We are an emotionally constipated society.
I know. I know. It’s blunt.
But it’s true.
Sorry. Not sorry.
We shove our feelings down, we teach our children to do the same, and we ostracize those who dare to feel their feelings.
And, look around, we’re suffering as a result.
We are taking on far too much, after struggling through traumatic childhoods, and even when we go to therapy, (younger generations are reaching more and more for therapy), that practice just becomes another addiction, another crutch, another excuse to lay our trauma down.
Instead, we retraumatize ourselves to death, or at the very least to serious illness.
Suicide rates are up among men, mass killings are up and are all but completely perpetrated by men.
Nervous conditions and autoimmune disorders are up among women, and for the first time in generations, our children are expected to live shorter lives than their mothers.
Life expectancy is going down.
All because we don’t feel our feelings and let them go.
That’s shadow work.
Feel your feelings, and then let them go.
I sat with my five-year-old this morning as she howled at the sky.
Yes. She literally screamed and howled at the sky.
I told her no, set a boundary, and she did not like it.
Well, that was it for her.
She had apparently been told no too many times, had too many boundaries set, and was all up in her feelings today.
So she screamed and cried and howled and raged. Tears raced down her cheeks, snot bubbled from her nose.
She stomped her feet.
And I sat with her.
I told her I love her.
I stayed calm.
And I drew the line at breaking things in our house.
I asked her if she wanted a pillow to punch, a teddy bear to rip apart.
It took about a half an hour, an hour from start to finish.
And when she was done, she was happy, smiling, laughing and giggling again like her usual joyful self.
This is shadow work in the young.
But we spent our childhoods being told to shut up, not to cry, to control our emotions, to suck it up, or, worse, being yelled at and screamed at for having feelings.
Feelings so big we did not know what to do with them.
So we shoved them down, and our bodies kept the score.
Then we grew up and we did not know how to manage our feelings because no one taught us; no one even allowed us to figure it out for ourselves.
And now it comes out in all sorts of perverted ways.
For men, it typically manifests as rage directed outward, and for women, it typically manifests as pain directed inward.
Men abuse others and women abuse themselves.
But, we women do not get a pass for abusing ourselves.
In abusing ourselves, we also allow others to abuse us, and we teach our children to allow the same.
It is a vicious cycle.
Shadow work allows us to break the cycle.
And it is imperative that we do it.
You have likely heard the saying that every woman who heals herself also heals every generation that came before her?
And every generation of that comes after.
This work is powerful, important work.
What Shadow Work Is
“I don’t want someone to tell me to breathe and count to 10.” My husband told me as we were both looking into therapy.
“I have a wife for that.” He said, only half joking.
It’s funny cuz it’s true.
For 15 years, we have been working on our shadows, on not repeating the cycles that our parents handed down to us, and on not continuing the harmful patterns we had begun as a result of those cycles in our youth.
In the last five years, that work has gotten more intense.
We have begun to recognize just how bad our childhood trauma was and how it has played out in our everyday lives.
How it affects our kids.
How it affects our professional work.
How it affects our physical health.
How it rules over our mental health.
You see, Dr. Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist, tells us that our entire lives, our entire identities, are shaped by the first 7 years of our childhood. Our brains are basically on record.
Then, for the rest of our lives, our brains are on playback.
Our subconscious is replaying those cycles built into us those first 7 years.
That is the shadow.
And most of us are completely unaware of the playback process.
We think we are choosing, we are driving, we are living.
But we are on autopilot, the walking dead, barely conscious.
We fight, we suffer, we find moments of temporary happiness, usually through escapism or addiction, we numb, and then we do it all over again.
And it’s not our fault!
We live in a world determined to keep us medicated, unhealthy, and slowly dying a poisoned death.
The good news is this does not have to be our reality.
You are here, reading this article today because you are at the very least interested in witnessing your shadow and doing the work to integrate it.
When we see our shadow, or as Eckhart Tolle calls it, our pain-body, we can detach from it.
We can bear witness without identifying with it.
We can honor it without becoming victims to it or to the things that happened to us.
Dr. Gabor Mate, addiction expert, notes that trauma is not what happened to us; it is the story we tell about what happened to us.
It is the wound.
Shadow work heals the wound.
What Shadow Work Is Not
So, we’ve done a lot of shadow work in my house. We do it every day sometimes.
We began to think, hey, maybe I could use some help with this work. Maybe there’s an expert out there that can move me through this healing process in ways I have not thought of.
So we began to explore the idea of finding therapy.
And, sadly, we found that most therapists are not well trained in healing and processing trauma, even the so-called trauma therapists, and that quite often they will prescribe medication.
First, we did not want medication.
I was concerned about addiction. I did not want to get onto a medication that would first cause side effects and second make it hard to get off of.
My husband was concerned with how it would affect his energy levels as he is a big fitess guru.
And the data shows that in more than 50% of cases, medication for anxiety and depression does not work.
And even in those for whom it does “work,” it merely makes them “less depressed” or “less anxious.”
It’s not a cure.
It does not make you happy.
You have to do that.
That’s shadow work.
I will say as a disclaimer that I personally know people, and have heard from others, who have said that medication saved their lives.
If this is you, right on. Good for you. You are one of the lucky ones.
But for most people, this is simply not the case.
The shadow work must be done, root causes must be found and rooted out, and trauma must be released from the mind and the body.
I also want to be really clear that shadow work is not navel gazing, as many from previous generations will call it.
This is one of the other reasons I was hesitant to go to therapy or counseling.
A lot of it is talk.
I have my husband. I have a group of other mothers I circle with. I have sisters. I have my mother.
I have plenty of people to talk to, and I do talk.
If you do not, yes, you should seek therapy.
Talk therapy is incredibly effective.
We figure out how we feel about things when we can put them out on the table in discussion.
But I argue that talk therapy is much more effective when you can safely do it with people you know and love.
Find a women’s circle.
Start a women’s circle.
Share with your friends and family.
If you have none of these resources, yes, seek counseling until you do.
Seek counseling that teaches you to love yourself so much that you develop friendships and build family and grow women’s circles that will allow you to open up and share.
The goal, always, is to feel it, heal it, and move on.
And then you will feel more, new things, heal those, and move on again.
You will experience several resets in your life, several breakdowns and breakthroughs, years of shadow work, but always, always with the intention of progressing.
As Carl Jung says, if you look long enough into the abyss, you will see the abyss is looking back into you.
And as Jordan Peterson follows up, you will also see the light.