Welcome to this in-depth guide on shadow work for women.
The terms shadow self and shadow work are loaded with misconceptions and mystery. That’s why I’ll be breaking those myths down in this article and showing you how to embrace and work with your shadow and the many benefits of doing so.
Consistently confronting my shadow self and engaging in regular shadow work hasn’t always been easy or comfortable. However, I very much believe that when we stay within our comfort zone, we remain stagnant and miss out on growth.
Engaging in regular shadow work has forced me to confront all the things that lurk deep inside me—all of the fears, shame, and trauma I’ve buried and repressed since childhood. Through shining a light on those dark places, I have stripped those thoughts and memories of their power. In knowing what is holding me back, I have created a more authentic and fulfilling life.
This is the beauty of shadow work.
Is it uncomfortable?
Is it scary?
Sometimes. But don’t be afraid of it. Your shadow is not bad.
Is it easier to ignore your shadow self and pretend it doesn’t exist?
Yes, and no.
More on that later.
If you’re looking for a simple yet clear explanation of what the shadow self is and how to start your own shadow work today, you’re in the right place. All you’ll need is an open mind and heart.
What is the shadow self?
The concept of the shadow self was first coined by psychologist Carl Jung, whose work is often referred to as Jungian psychology.
Our shadow is the hidden parts of our being. It’s the dark side of our personality. The parts we consciously repress or aren’t aware of. We walk out into the world wearing a mask because we believe bearing who we truly are feels too painful or daunting, and we fear being judged or outcast by society.
The shadow is also known as our subconscious mind—we cannot see it clearly, which means we are not fully aware of it. In contrast, our conscious mind is the light—we can see it and are aware of it.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”—Carl Jung.
Although negative emotions like rage, envy, desire, and greed reside in our shadow, many positive emotions can be found in the darkness. But anything we have deemed bad, inferior, or unacceptable becomes a part of our shadow. We edit, tame, and disown this part of ourselves because we don’t believe these emotions align with the image we want to portray to the outside world.
And so, we disown these parts of who we are. We push them as far down as we possibly can, out of sight and out of mind. Except, they don’t go anywhere, and we never get rid of them. They become a part of our unconscious, which remains with us wherever we go, whatever we do. Each time you repress your shadow, it grows.
Welcome to your shadow self.
Where your shadow comes from
When a baby is first born, she has a beautifully clean slate. Opinions, judgments, and self-awareness are yet to find her, and so she is unapologetically herself in every moment.
But as she grows up, she learns to view certain behaviors and thoughts as good and bad. When she does something “good,” she will often be met with praise and appreciation. But when she does something “bad,” she will be scolded or made to feel judged or rejected.
Most children want nothing more than to make their parents proud and feel like they belong. Plus, they fear that any disapproval may threaten their safety and basic human needs. So, she adjusts her behavior. Those unaccepted or discouraged parts of herself are gathered into a bag and sealed tightly at the top, out of view. Except, this child carries this ever-growing bag around with her, often unknowingly, for the rest of her life.
We’ve all experienced negative cues from society when we expressed certain parts of ourselves.
For example, maybe as a little girl, you were playing in the garden with friends in the summer, and you lifted your dress up because you were warm, having fun, and feeling free in the moment. All of a sudden, your mother came over and shouted,” pull your dress down, and don’t do that again, that’s a very bad thing to do! And so, you learned to think your body was bad or something that should be hidden.
Maybe you were messing around and being silly at school one day, and your teacher made you stand up and shouted at you in front of the whole class. You felt shame and embarrassment, and perhaps you tamed your personality down from that day forwards.
Maybe your brother was teasing you one day, and it finally got too much, so you shouted at him to stop and threw a tantrum. Your dad told you to “stop shouting! Be quiet. Good girls are quiet.” You learned that it’s bad to raise your voice or be angry, so you began to repress or hide your anger.
These are all examples of how our shadow forms and grows. As much as we try and repress our unwanted dark crevices, they remain very much alive and influence us every day.
What happens when you ignore your shadow self and shadow work?
When we repress or disown our shadow self, it grows in power. It can eventually turn on us by undermining and sabotaging every aspect of our lives: our relationships, work, family lives, friendships, sex, money, soul path, and spirituality.
This is because the shadow can operate fully without our awareness. We find ourselves thinking and feeling certain things, and we don’t know why. We say and do things we wouldn’t usually say or do and later regret our actions.
Here are some of the common issues that arise when your shadow takes the reigns and becomes out of control:
- Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem
- Weak personal boundaries
- Lies and self-deceit
- Uncontrollable rage/anger
- Emotional and mental manipulation of others
- Blaming others
- Obsessive compulsions
- Racist, sexist, homophobic, and other offensive behavior
- Intense anxiety
- Chronic psychosomatic illness
- Suicidal tendencies
- Sexual perversion
- Chaotic relationships
- Anxious or avoidant attachment styles
- Fear of judgment
- Scarcity mindset
These negative qualities and emotions will often show up as a projection—what we deny in ourselves, we see in others.
Perhaps bold, confident people irritate you. You find them too much, too loud. You wonder, “can’t they just be a bit quieter?”
If this is the case, there’s a strong possibility that you are struggling with your own self-confidence and finding your voice. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t even notice their confidence and loud nature so much.
But we are unaware of such projections. There’s a deep contrast between how we see ourselves and how we truly show up. Everything we learned growing up about what it means to be “good” keeps us from acknowledging and connecting to our shadow self.
Yet, there is no escaping the truth that we all have a dark side, a shadow, and a light side. This is the nature of our human experience on earth. One will always be contrasted and balanced by the other to form a whole.
We learn to believe it’s wrong to have struggles, insecurities, and battles, and so we hide them. We think we must only focus on the light and the good. But these challenges and struggles are the experiences that help us evolve and move forward on our soul journey here.
Our greatest obstacles usually give way to our greatest successes. It is only by knowing our darkness that we can truly know our light. By journeying to and exploring the depths of our being, we can experience real transformation on a soul level.
This is the inner work that too many of us avoid because it’s not cozy or warm or inviting here. But when we only stay in the light, we bypass those darker issues and feelings that most certainly exist in all of us.
Contrary to what you might think, your shadow craves your awareness and your attention. It wants to be known, to be understood, and to be explored. Every day you ignore it, it finds new ways to grab your attention and make you aware of its existence.
Like a child desperately seeking love, it will not stop until you take notice.
What is shadow work?
Now that you understand the importance of meeting and exploring your shadow self, it makes sense there would be a term for what this looks like: shadow work.
Shadow work used to be the work of the Shamans, Medicine Women, Witches, and Priestesses. Today, shadow work is often used by psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, and coaches.
Shadow work is the practice of bringing awareness to your darkest shadows and meeting all of the fear, shame, and trauma you’ve repressed over the years. This can be daunting because you are forced to face your pain instead of running from it or pretending it doesn’t exist. It can be deeply uncomfortable and unnerving. But this is how we make peace with our whole self. This is how we liberate ourselves from what binds us and begin to heal. And this is how we develop and grow.
But it requires us to completely own our shadow. This requires openness, courage, and commitment.
Is shadow work evil or dangerous?
No, shadow work is not evil or dangerous or “the work of the devil.” Unfortunately, some modern religions suggest this is the case and encourage you to only focus on love and light within their prescribed rules of what’s good and bad. Personally, I have no time for modern religions as they do nothing but reinforce the broken, patriarchal society we find ourselves in today.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, there is no light without darkness. And although solely focusing on the light may feel safe and comforting, the dark will still be there.
As a coach and mentor myself, I love shadow work. I regularly meet my shadow self, engage in personal shadow work, and always encourage my clients to do the same. Women usually come to me with a concern or issue holding them back from living a truly joyful and fulfilling life. More often than not, there is something important residing in their shadow waiting to be uncovered. I have experienced powerful shifts and breakthroughs from meeting my own darkness and bringing it to the light.
Jung said, “the shadow is ninety percent pure gold.” What he meant is there are so many gifts and talents waiting for you in your shadow self if you’re willing to meet her. This includes your creativity, competitiveness, intuition, and your sexual nature.
Shadow work is vital if you want to be at peace, live an authentic life, and continue to evolve each day as a person. And no one can do this work apart from you.
What you may have believed to be dangerous or evil actually holds the key to your greatest potential. No wonder certain people are trying to keep you off this path—because an empowered, untamed, wild and free woman cannot be controlled or manipulated.
The benefits of doing deep shadow work
There are many benefits of doing shadow work regularly, either on your own or with a coach or therapist.
1. Deeper self-love & acceptance
By confronting all your fears, shame, and trauma, those experiences and memories will no longer hold any power over you. You will begin to heal and free and liberate yourself from whatever is weighing you down. Plus, the act of embracing every part of yourself encourages self-love and compassion for your whole self—both the light and the dark.
2. Discovery of hidden gifts and talents
If you’re a person who struggles with confidence and self-esteem, you may be keeping your gifts and talents hidden in your shadow, either because you don’t feel worthy of them or you are failing to recognize them.
If this is the case, shadow work offers the chance to find and reclaim those gifts and talents, begin to nurture them and reach your true potential. Maybe you’ll uncover a passion from your childhood or something completely new.
3. Tuning into your intuition
We live in a society that places logic above everything else, including our own wisdom and intuition. But for women, our intuition is a powerful sixth sense that can offer us much guidance in our lives if we’re in the practice of tuning into it and honoring what comes through.
Shadow work is a tool that can help you reconnect with your intuition, strengthen this muscle, and start using it as your internal compass.
4. Personal growth
If you’re curious about shadow work, there’s a strong chance you’re interested in pursuing personal development and continuing to grow as a person every day. Shadow work helps you understand those negative emotions that are currently holding you back in life so that you can then work through them, release them, and become the best version of yourself.
5. Enhanced creativity
Too many of us learn that we are not good at art when we’re younger, simply because our interpretation of something is judged as incorrect by others, even though we know that all art is subjective. So we stifle our creativity and tell ourselves this limiting story that we can’t draw, or we’re not creative. But this is simply not true. Every human being has access to the same amount of creative energy as anyone else.
Shadow work will help unlock your full creative potential by encouraging you to embrace your wild nature and release old, limiting beliefs.
6. Better relationships
As you begin to become aware of and embrace your shadow self, it becomes easier for you to accept the shadow in those around you. This includes family, friends, colleagues, total strangers, as well as people you dislike.
The more you engage in shadow work, the less you’ll find yourself triggered by other people’s behavior and actions. You’ll also find communication becomes clearer and simpler.
7. Confidence to be your authentic self
There may be parts of yourself you’ve shunned to your shadow self because you learned early on in life that it wasn’t okay to be who you truly are. Perhaps from family members, peers at school, teachers, or others.
Shadow work will help you reclaim these lost parts. You will learn that while it may be scary to remove the mask you’ve been wearing, it is safe to do so, and this is the path to living your most authentic life.
8. Improved health
We spend a lot of energy repressing and suppressing all the things we don’t want to face, and over time, this can manifest in fatigue, physical pain, and disease. Shadow work can help you feel lighter, more energized, and even relieve you of certain illnesses like depression and chronic pain. All areas of your health will improve—physical, mental, and emotional.
9. Access to your Soul or Higher Self
Another failing of modern religion is it teaches us that Source or the Divine is outside of us, above us, and that we are less than it. This is not the case. Source energy can be found within us all. And as women, we have a direct connection to the Divine through our womb space.
Engaging in shadow work helps you connect with your higher self and gives you greater spiritual clarity, and helps you follow your soul path here on earth.
How to recognize the shadow within you
As I mentioned earlier in this article, your shadow will often show up in a dislike for something in some else. So pay attention next time you find yourself complaining about or criticizing someone else. This is often how we project our repressed shadows onto others. We unconsciously lash out at others for exercising behaviors and actions that we don’t like within ourselves. But the people in the firing line act as a mirror for us, reflecting our shadow back to us.
There will be moments when something in the present reminds you of past trauma and will impact how you feel. Often, this will result in you acting on those emotions and perhaps doing or saying something you later regret. This is what’s known as a trigger. It’s bringing attention to something you haven’t fully dealt with or healed from—your deepest, darkest shadows.
If you find yourself repeating certain actions or behaviors even though you know they aren’t good for you, this is likely pointing you to aspects of your shadow. For example, if you continually pursue emotionally unavailable men or end up in toxic relationships. There is a lesson to be learned in this pattern, which can be learned and resolved through shadow work, and it will keep occurring until you address it head-on.
Shadow work exercises for beginners
There are many ways to do shadow work on your own, without the help of a therapist or coach. All shadow work centers on bringing your unconscious thoughts into conscious awareness and examining and questioning old stories, feelings, and beliefs you’re clinging to.
Starting shadow work can feel a little daunting at first because you don’t know what to expect, and you have no idea what you might uncover. But trust that no matter what arises, you can handle it. You cannot run from your darkness. In the long run, it’s much better to face it so that you can let go of this weight.
Here’s a shadow work guide to exercises for beginners and beyond. Remember to trust your intuition and begin with the exercises you feel most drawn to. Take and leave what you want.
Shadow work ritual #1: Practice awareness
Awareness is the most important step in any form of shadow work. You cannot become aware of something that you cannot see or choose not to see.
So one way to practice shadow work is to practice being aware of your inner thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. And when you see those aspects, avoid judging yourself. Sit with them and reflect on them.
If it’s a positive aspect, can you reunite with it?
And if it’s a negative aspect, can you make peace with it today and let it go?
Shadow work ritual #2: Think about someone who triggers you
Next time you find yourself triggered by someone, bring awareness to it.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What has this person done to trigger me?
- Why is it so difficult for me to be around this person?
- Are there any traits within this person that may also be within me?
- What feelings, memories, and aspects are triggered in me by this person?
Shadow work ritual #3: Clear out your trauma & shame
A few years ago, I had a “Truth of the Soul” reading done by a mystic and spiritual teacher in Bali. One of the exercises he recommended I do afterward was to write a list of my fears and insecurities that I had not yet faced. All the memories, trauma, and shame lurking deep in my shadow and needed to be exposed to the light.
So I wrote until there was nothing left to write. I left no stone unturned. And it felt very cathartic and liberating to release all those pent-up fears, worries, and memories.
This is a simple yet highly effective shadow work exercise to do. Find a quiet place to sit in stillness, with a pen and notebook. Keep writing until you feel empty.
Shadow work ritual #4: Emotional inquiry
When you find yourself feeling bad in any way (negative, anxious, moody, sad, angry, fearful, etc.), presence how you’re feeling.
- What is the emotion?
- Why am I feeling this way?
- What belief is attached to this emotion (e.g., I’m not worthy enough, I am not loved, etc.)
- Does this feeling remind you of anything in your past?
- Feel your emotion in your body and connect to it.
Shadow work ritual #5: Keep a shadow journal
Writing is such a powerful tool for us, particularly as women. It enables us to connect with our intuition and womb wisdom, and also with the Divine.
Find yourself a blank journal or some loose sheets of paper, and designate this as your shadow journal. Start recording all your thoughts and feelings each time you become aware of them. This might include any moment you feel triggered or find yourself projecting or repeating patterns. You may also want to journal on your reactions and emotions in certain situations, as well as your everyday struggles.
Writing all these things down will help you notice patterns and themes occurring in your world. You can clarify which patterns and behaviors support you and which ones disempower you and need to be released. This will heighten your awareness and support inner transformation and growth.
Here are some shadow work journal prompts to get started with:
- What are my current struggles and challenges?
- How do I judge myself?
- What do I dislike in others?
- What do I not love about myself, and why?
- Are there common things I complain about?
- What makes me feel envious?
- What inspires me about others?
Shadow work ritual #6: Write a letter
Writing a letter to yourself or another person can be a powerful way to release all your pent-up emotions onto paper and share how you feel. Don’t censor yourself, but articulate how you feel and why. This is a beautiful way to remind yourself that your feelings are valid, especially if someone at some point told you they’re not.
You can send the letter if you want to, or you can burn it as a way of releasing that pain.
Shadow work ritual #7: Nurture your inner child
Inner child shadow work is another brilliant way to explore your shadow and face issues from your past.
Think about a moment from your childhood where the younger you felt helpless, alone, or afraid. Picture the younger you, and hold those feelings. Visualize your present self meeting your younger self, and hugging her. Remind her that she is loved and offer her compassion. Tell her it is not her fault and that there is a wonderful future mapped out ahead of her.
Loving your younger self like this can be such a beautiful experience that creates real change.
Shadow work ritual #8: Make art
Some of us struggle to put our emotions into words. If this resonates with you, I’d recommend exploring art as a way to express yourself.
Choose any medium you feel drawn to, or a mixture of a few: pencils, markers, crayons, chalk, watercolor, acrylics, spray paint, scrapbooking, sculpting, etc. Allow yourself to feel whatever negative emotion you’re currently feeling, or focus on a recent one, and simply draw how you feel. Don’t overthink it and forget about the finished result. Allow yourself to be creative, spontaneous, and playful here.
Shadow work ritual #9: Meditate on your shadow
Meditation is another tool you can use to meet your shadow self. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and confront aspects of your shadow you’re aware of. Practice releasing them by repeating positive affirmations like, “I release this fear,” or “I let go of this shame.”
You may also want to visualize a weight falling off your shoulders, or a cord being cut between you and this shadow, or a bright white light obliterating the darkness.
Shadow work ritual #10: Visualize & connect with your shadow
Another simple shadow work exercise is to use visualization to connect with your shadow. Focus on images representing the subconscious, like dark forests, the ocean, the night sky, and deep caves.
As you make your journey, think of any questions you want to ask your shadow and speak them in your mind. Wait and see if you receive any messages or symbols. Be open to what comes.
When you’ve completed your visualization, be sure to record anything that came up and make time to journal on your experience.
Shadow work ritual #11: Start a new project
If you’ve ever created anything from nothing before, you’ll know what a crazy journey this can be. It’s both wildly fulfilling and intensely frustrating. It will certainly push you to your limits and uncover some of your darker aspects like anger, judgment, self-doubt, impatience, jealousy, and competitiveness.
So think about a new personal project you want to start. It can be something you’ve always wanted to do or something you’ve never thought of doing, but it feels right. For example, planting a vegetable patch in your garden, writing a book, taking an online course, starting a business, or volunteering somewhere.
Practice awareness during the entire process. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, and explore why.
Shadow work ritual #12: Record your dreams
Our dreams are a direct portal into our subconscious minds. They offer us insights and patterns into our shadow because our dreams are essentially our subconscious attempting to communicate with us.
If you’re anything like me, the biggest challenge with dream analysis is remembering your dreams in the morning! I find it helpful to keep a journal and pen in my bedside cabinet just in case I wake up in the night and want to record a dream, or so I can quickly jot things down in the morning before they seep out of my mind.
Record what happened in your dream but also how you felt. Pay particular attention to recurring dreams because this means your shadow is seeking your attention, and there is likely a lot waiting for you to uncover.
Shadow work ritual #13: Analyze your favorite stories, myths & movies
The final shadow work exercise I’d like to offer you is looking for messages, symbols, and archetypes in the stories you find yourself drawn to. This includes fictional books, TV shows, movies, and myths.
Make a list of your favorite stories and characters. Look for patterns in the ones you find yourself resonating with most deeply. Think about how they might relate to you.
Are they displaying qualities or behaviors you haven’t yet fully embodied?
Are they pursuing goals and dreams that you would also like to achieve?
You can repeat this exercise as often as you like, anytime you find a new story or movie you connect with.
When doing inner shadow work, remember to:
1. Focus on self-love first
If you struggle with a lack of self-love or self-confidence, I would highly recommend learning to love yourself more before exploring shadow work. This is because if you’re not ready for it and don’t have a strong sense of self, confronting your darkness may make you feel even worse.
Be sure to have a healthy, stable relationship with yourself first.
2. Get ready for the truth
As I’m sure you know by now, shadow work isn’t a feel-good exercise. It will likely be uncomfortable, confronting, and sometimes even painful. One thing is for certain though, if you go looking for the truth and you’re ready for it, you will find it.
One of my spiritual teachers always used to say, “people come to me asking for the truth, but when I share it with them, they push it away and aren’t ready for it.”
So make sure you’re ready for what awaits you.
3. Remind yourself you are not your thoughts
It’s important to be mindful throughout shadow work that whatever thoughts arise, they are not you. Our thoughts constantly change and evolve, which means they cannot define you. Realizing this can be incredibly liberating.
4. Be compassionate with yourself
Show yourself love and compassion any time you do shadow work. This work is not easy. You may struggle to gain answers and clarity straight away, and what arises may be difficult to accept. But compassion will help you through any discomfort, which is vital if you want to experience real transformation.
5. Observe without judgment
If you allow your inner mean girl to judge your shadow self, this will only give it more power and fuel its growth. So as difficult as it may be, avoid shaming or blaming your shadow. It exists in the first place because that part of you was not accepted and experienced rejection.
Observe your shadow, try and understand it from a place of love, and recognize that it is a part of you.
6. Embrace who you are (including your “dark” side)
Through accepting and embracing both your light and dark sides, you will gain a sense of wholeness. You will feel confident and at peace with who you truly are and give yourself permission to show up authentically. This is vital if you want to follow your soul path and manifest your wildest dreams and desires.
7. Ask for help if you need it
Although shadow work can be explored on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you need it. This is especially important if you’ve been through severe trauma like child abuse, partner abuse, sexual assault or rape, or extreme violence. Working with a professional therapist, counselor or coach will likely be hugely beneficial because they can be more objective and non-judgemental.
8. Record everything you find
Keep a record of all your shadow work in one place where you can constantly refer back to it, learn, make connections, and grow. This includes any journaling, drawings, dreams, observations, meditations, and visualizations.
Embrace the light & dark within, and make peace with your shadow today
If you seek more inner peace, clarity, healing, and transformation, shadow work offers all this and more. All it asks is you find the courage to show up, practice awareness, and commit to doing the inner work that so many of us avoid.
We all have our own shadows, no exceptions. And we’ve all been through our own struggles and traumas. But the more you practice awareness and acceptance of your darkness, the more you will own your life.
“To confront a person with his own shadow is to show him his own light.”—Carl Jung.
Have you immersed yourself in any shadow work before? I’d love to know what you discovered and how your life has changed. Tell me all in the comments below!