What Is ‘Shadow Work’ Anyway?


If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend you check out Part One of this post.

Now let’s dive into the Shadow Work perspective to see what this philosophy is all about.


The Path Of Shadow Work

Now, on the flip side of the 'Love and Light' perspective, we have the ‘shadow workers.’ 

We have people who believe that it is only through acknowledging the challenge, pointing out our limitations, being WITH our emotions and validating them, being available for the darkness of life and learning to FACE the sometimes harsh realities of being alive that we are ever going to find happiness.

We have the alternative perspective that tells us that to try to exist in ‘love and light’ all the time means that we’re going to be bypassing - bypassing our true emotions, bypassing true spirituality, bypassing reality itself - and that this keeps us trapped in delusion.

We have a set of beliefs that tell us that NOT facing the hard and harsh stuff means living life wrong.

On the extreme shadow side, we are going to see ideas like the following:

  • The idea that negative emotions must ALWAYS be felt and expressed - that to cover them up, deny them, push them away or not let them out is always a detriment to us.
  • The idea that we are suffering because of systemic injustice and aren’t being given a chance to actually reach our potential because of systems.
  • The idea that always looking for the positive means denying reality and living in delusion.
  • The idea that we don’t have control over our circumstances and all we can do is embrace our feelings about what happens to us.
  • The idea that everything we feel is valid and must be justified - especially by others.
  • The idea that we have unique challenges and issues that must be validated and recognized both by ourselves and by everyone around us.
  • The idea that we can’t be safe unless we are fully seen and understood by the people around us.
  • The idea that life is inherently unfair and we must be acknowledging that constantly.
  • The idea that our past has a huge impact on us and shapes who we are as people.
  • The idea that we must always acknowledge and talk about what we are feeling at all times.
  • The idea that we must be in a state of always doing our shadow work - even when we are overwhelmed, stressed or feeling incapable.
  • The idea that there’s always a reason for our pain that is deep and complex and we must be constantly mining for those reasons.
  • The idea that medical intervention for mental/emotional health issues is a ‘covering up’ of the symptoms and not addressing the ‘root cause.’
  • The idea that there is a spiritual/emotional ‘root cause’ for everything we think and feel and that we must ‘process’ all negative emotions and feelings until we figure out the root cause and heal it.
  • The idea that there’s always something we should be facing/healing.
  • The idea that personal responsibility isn’t as important as collective change.
  • The idea that all of our emotions mean something and need to be analyzed.
  • The idea that it’s through shadow work that we will find our perfect lives/alignment/truth.
  • The idea that we are always being held back by forces outside of our control.
  • The idea that if others don’t see and validate us we can’t be fully free.
  • The idea that you can’t be fully happy until you get to the ‘root’ of all of your issues.
  • The idea that if we don’t get time to process everything that’s happening to us it will get ‘stuck’ in us.
  • The idea that our past dictates what our future will be no matter what we do/don’t do.
  • The idea that if we aren’t processing something we are therefore in denial/suppressing something.
  • The idea that we must be on the constant lookout for things not being good so we can point them out.
  • The idea that EVERYTHING must be brought to the surface at ALL times.
  • The idea that every emotion is REAL and must be fully validated in its realness.

Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and it is again an EXTREME look at this perspective.

This shadow side work also gives us a feeling of power and control over our lives.

It makes us feel that if we just look long and hard enough at our pain, that we will ALWAYS be able to find the cause and therefore will be able to make ourselves feel better by fixing/healing/releasing the cause.

It makes us feel like we aren’t to be BLAMED for any of the bad things that are happening in our lives, because we’re able to say that it’s not our fault - it’s the system, it’s society, it’s the people around us.

This way of thinking can make us feel safe if we experienced a lot of things being ‘swept under the rug’ when we were growing up, and we experienced that this constant pretending that things were fine when they weren’t actually led us to feeling/being unsafe. This way of thinking can help us feel much more empowered and safe in the contrast.

This way of operating can also makes us feel less alone and abandoned because it does cause - and sometimes force - a level of INTIMACY between ourselves and those we’re around due to the heavy nature of processing and looking at our deepest feelings, thoughts, wants, needs and experiences.

This way of operating can make us feel special and like we are ‘higher consciousness’ compared to the rest of the world when it appears that the rest of the world is staying stuck in denial, repression and emotional immaturity. 

This way of thinking can give us a feeling of being ‘let off the hook’ for the challenges and struggles in our lives - giving us permission to say that we aren’t struggling because of ourselves, but again because of our pasts, our caregivers, our trauma, our physical/mental/emotional states or diagnosis and because of society and how it’s functioning in general. 

This way of viewing the world can give us an ultimate sense of control while also making us feel less RESPONSIBLE - there’s a double-edged perspective that on the one hand tells us that we can fix/heal/transcend anything and everything so long as we do enough shadow work/get to the root while at the same time saying that if there is pain in our lives we can’t seem to overcome that we don’t have to feel shame or guilt or like we are the ‘cause’ because we can ‘blame’ the world around us.

This way of living can be incredibly cathartic and give us the space and room to bring to light the pain we are struggling with, the feelings that do exist within us and it can open the door to a lot of validation and safety. It can also lead us to a place where we are constantly seeing the negative and taking everything super seriously - in a way that is actually of detriment to us.

Again, I don’t want to go too deep into the nuance of what is and isn’t supportive about this way of thinking here - I just wanted again to bring LIGHT to this way of operating and what it looks like generally in its most extreme expression so we can recognize it in its less extreme forms.

Why One Without The Other Is Imbalanced

From here, we again want to recognize that *most* people aren’t going to be living in EITHER extreme - *most* people who take on either one of these perspectives as a sort of touch-stone for their lives aren’t going to be FULLY committed nor are they going to be living these ideals to their most extreme. 

Which is a good thing! Again if we were to ACTUALLY take on either of these perspectives FULL ON we would likely run into some big issues - because reality isn’t so black and white.

In real reality, there are VERY good things about the Love and Light philosophy, and there are some VERY good and super healthy things nested in the shadow work teachings.

In REAL reality, most of us are going to find that we will be much better served by creating a sort of ‘hybrid’ of these two life philosophies, rather than by trying to stick to one side of the fence over the other.

We are going to find that there is a time and place for optimism, positivity, hope, belief in ourselves, belief in meaning and purpose, belief in support and guidance and belief in our personal power to change our circumstances. Just as there are times and places where we need to acknowledge that we are being affected by things outside of our control, where we have negative emotions and feelings, to process what’s happening to us and what happened to us and where we need to slow down and validate the tough realities of life without looking for the positive or trying to get ourselves to feel or think differently about how hard life is.

We are going to find that neither of these ways of looking at life are ‘right or wrong’ but must be put in their proper context, must be brought to the forefront at different times and places, and that neither of these ways of seeing the world in their EXTREME are going to serve us in the long run.


Next week we are going to dive into the PROBLEMS we can run into when we take the Love and Light perspective too far so that we can recognize where we may need some balance in our lives. 

For now, let’s settle with this and resume next week!


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