Hello Hello!

Are you ready to do a deep dive into Shadow Work and where it can miss the mark today?

If so, read on!

But before doing that, make sure you’ve read:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four 

Now on with today!

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What’s Wrong With Shadow Work?

Just as there are negative things that too much ‘Love and Light’ can drive us into, there are equally a lot of negative things that can come from too much shadow work.

First and foremost, one thing that a lot of people - not all but some - who practice shadow work/feeling feelings/acknowledging reality fail to recognize is that we are beings with LIMITED capacity to process our feelings and experiences.

In other words, the reality is we don’t always actually have the ability to safely and effectively look at our pain, look at our emotions, feel our feelings, embody our emotions or otherwise hold ourselves or be held through any kind of process where we are digging INTO what’s happening for us.

In many cases, we’re going to realize that our capacity to work through and be with big emotions is actually FAR MORE limited than we want it to be - and this can be for many reasons.

The first and most important reason is that most of us don’t actually have much PRACTICE doing this processing work.

Feeling our feelings, witnessing our pain without reacting, embodying and even expressing our emotions - this is all stuff that can be SUPER challenging to do - and most of us have spent our ENTIRE LIVES learning how NOT to do these things.

Many of us have deep associations with feeling our feelings and expressing our emotions that tell us that we aren’t going to be safe, aren’t going to be loved and aren’t going to be ok if and when we feel and express.

Many of us have learned how to cope, numb and suppress our emotions to such a degree that allowing ourselves to feel and experience what we’re actually feeling and experiencing is a REALLY overwhelming experience that adds a whole layer of stress and resistance ON TOP OF whatever it is we’re actually feeling in the first place.

Many of us have no actual tools for doing this work, and just because we are handed those tools doesn’t mean we’re automatically in a place where we’re strong enough or capable enough to use them without hurting ourselves.

Which means that when we try to do too much shadow work, when we try to push ourselves into feeling and processing and being with our emotions - all we ACTUALLY do is burn ourselves out, trigger ourselves into a state of fear and end up in a WORSE state than we started in. 

Which can make us feel like we need to do MORE processing and MORE feeling - when in reality we actually need to pull back and do less.

This can also lead us to a place where we believe that processing work is bad and harmful - causing us to abandon the process altogether - and both of these outcomes are not what we want!

Learning to do this work MODERATELY and slowly is KEY - and many proponents of this style of healing promote going WAY too hard WAY too fast and this is a massive problem.


Next, we have to realize and recognize that the more trauma we have in our histories, the more sensitive our systems, the more we generally exist in a state of fear/stress/overwhelm/dysregulation the LOWER our capacity is going to be to feel and process. 


Meaning that a lot of the time those of us who have the MOST we are going to have to work through are going to have to go the SLOWEST in terms of actually working through those feelings.

A lot of the time those with the BIGGEST emotions also have the HARDEST time processing and being with those big emotions again, because generally speaking we have grown up in a world that told us that those big emotions were wrong, bad, scary and something we needed to run from and avoid at all costs.

We have to remember that from the VERY START we aren’t just working with the emotions and feelings that are present - we are working with all the stories and past experiences we have ABOUT those feelings and emotions that are going to dramatically affect our ability to witness them, feel them and allow them to move through us.

So any time we are expected to be able to just ‘sit and be with our feelings’ without any recognition of the fact that we may be reaching or going past our actual capacity to do that safely means that we can be putting ourselves in a situation where we are forcing ourselves to feel too much and this only makes things worse. This adds stress to stress and sometimes trauma to trauma - which is never what we want!

We Aren’t Always READY To Be ‘Real’ About Reality

Second, we aren’t always ready and able to look at the reality that we are living in, and to address it head on.

This can be really hard for those who are all about making change and ‘fixing’ things, and it can be really hard for people who generally feel SAFER when everything's ‘out in the open.’

We have to acknowledge that not everyone is in a place at all times to look at reality for how it is and to deal with it. Sometimes people just aren’t in a place where coming to see things for how they are is going to be something that they can mentally, emotionally and spiritually deal with.

There’s a REASON we delude ourselves, and sometimes that reason is self protection - and that is a totally legitimate and valid thing that we do when we are in a state where the reality of what is would be so overwhelming for us that we wouldn’t be able to be ok.

The idea that we can all ‘look at reality’ right here, right now isn’t true. The idea that people sometimes need TIME to get to a place where they are going to feel stable and empowered enough to look at what actually is and to address what actually is, is oftentimes overlooked in the shadow work community.


We’re not all ready to see things for how they are, and seeing things for how they are can sometimes drive us DEEPER into trauma/freeze/fear and doesn’t help us move forward or make things better. Sometimes we resist reality because right now, we need to. Trying to force people to ‘see’ or ‘get’ what their problem is, what they can do about it and how they can fix it before they're ready is a recipe for pushing people HARDER into what they are currently doing and HARDER into trauma and fear.

Another aspect of this is when we intentionally try to ‘wake others up’ to the fact that they are in denial and using spiritual tools, mindsets, practices, ways of seeing themselves and others or any other ‘tool’ as a means to staying disconnected from real reality. When we are in the business of getting people to see that what they are currently doing and believing isn’t actually true and real - we can sometimes be playing with fire in a way we aren’t aware of.


In reality, to take away someone's capacity to cope, numb and check out, to take away someone's method of self soothing or distracting themselves, to take away someone's world-view - all of this is INCREDIBLY destabilizing, and if someone doesn’t have new, better tools and world views to REPLACE those old ones with - if we are trying to BLAST people into ‘reality’ with no safety-net - chances are we’re only going to add insult to injury - we’re not going to be empowering anyone.

We can’t expect people to look at what they’re not equipped to see, and expect them to be able to process it or do anything constructive with it.

When we attempt to get people to ‘see reality’ we have to be prepared to help them SLOWLY transition out of what they are currently doing/seeing and into something more supportive and constructive - otherwise there’s a good chance they are just going to fall back HARDER into what they were doing before. When we attempt to get someone to see that their worldview is ‘wrong’ we also have to be willing to let people take that in and digest it at their own pace. We have to realize that people have organized their lives around what they currently see and the tools they currently have to cope, to make sense of things and to help them make choices. They aren’t just going to ‘let them go’ and be happy. They aren’t just going to ‘see reality’ and be totally stable. Most people need time and transition and a lot of love and care - and that can be frustrating. Most people are going to waffle back and forth and that can be frustrating to watch. Most people are in what they are in because they were trying to escape something that felt worse - and we need to be really compassionate about that.

We can’t expect people to transition with no transition, or with nothing BETTER to transition to. We must give people time and space - and realize that if they don’t want to and aren’t ready, they can’t be forced - and we have to have this same compassion for OURSELVES knowing WE can’t just ‘change’ the way we want to a lot of the time and that that’s part of life.

We can’t expect that everyone is ready and capable of processing their emotions, thoughts, feelings or fears when we don’t know where they are on their journey of developing tools to support themselves through this kind of work.

We can’t push our nervous systems to a state of overwhelm and expect that to be healing.


We can’t take away coping mechanisms or ideas about reality without replacing them with something equitable.

Projection

Another thing that is very common to see in the shadow work world is projection. 

People assume they know what others are thinking/feeling/experiencing, as well as people expecting others to give validation and make accommodations for all that WE are personally seeing/hearing/expressing and processing.

This is of course not EVERYONE. But we do have to look at the fact that a lot of the time when people get into this kind of work, they do start to get very judgemental towards others who they believe are ‘asleep’ or otherwise living lives they shouldn’t be living because they aren’t really looking at reality.


There again can be a LOT of expectation that is placed on those around us when we are doing our shadow work, to be doing the same work, to be ready for the same work, to be open to the changes we think need to be made and to be willing to support the changes we are making in our lives.

This is especially common when we are first getting into doing our own inner work. When we first start to realize that WE have all this unprocessed emotional baggage, when we realize that we have a bunch of false perceptions, when we realize all the ways that we’re living that are out of sync with what is truly healthy and supportive for us, when we realize how harmful society is and how much we have been made to feel guilty or flawed for not being able to ‘fit in’ - there is a massive tendency to project all of that OUTWARD.

To start looking at all of our friends, families and coworkers as being people who ALSO have pain and are suffering because they aren’t ‘dealing with it’ and to then feel like we need to GET THEM to change, to process and to heal themselves the way we are healing ourselves. There can be a tendency to start seeing ourselves in everyone, and for this to lead us to the assumption that EVERYONE is feeling how we’re feeling and that EVERYONE needs to be doing what we’re doing.

We can start to become the kind of people who heavily judge everyone else as being ‘asleep’ or ‘in denial’ as they go through their lives NOT processing how we are, which can drive us into a state of isolation or deep abrasiveness that then makes socializing infinitely harder. This is often a ‘snap-back’ reaction to having been told that WE were wrong/bad/shameful/not good enough when we weren’t able to be happy/normal within the society we were living in.

We can get into shadow work and all of a sudden feel justified in our struggles not being our fault - and this can sometimes make us turn around and judge others just as we were being judged.


There can be a tendency to make ourselves ‘right’ and others ‘wrong’ - and in this again we will either become judgemental and defensive OR we may watch ourselves go into ‘savior’ mode.

Going into savior mode can look like feeling that we know what everyone else is feeling and what they’re ignoring and not looking at, and essentially proselytizing for the path of shadow work - believing that it’s the right thing for all people at all times. We can start to feel like we have the ‘answer’ to everyone’s struggles and pain and we can start to feel like we are ‘picking up on’ others pain and struggle even when it’s not there. And we can feel like it’s now our job to get everyone to ‘see’ and to ‘heal.’ This is going to be especially true if we are feeling overwhelmed by our own ‘stuff’ and like we don’t have total control over it - we are then going to feel an extra pull to try to manage and control others as a way of trying to gain that sense of autonomy. This is going to be especially true when we grew up feeling overly responsible for others, or like we had to control others in order to create our own sense of safety.

This projection can be hard to see in ourselves, and it can really feel URGENT that we help/fix/save everyone, that we get them to see, that we get them to ‘do the work’ - not realizing that we aren’t really doing it ‘for them’ but rather are doing it to try to make ourselves feel safe, valid and like we’re on the right path, that we’re doing it to give ourselves purpose and meaning and we’re doing it to gain justify our own choices - especially if doing this work is WAY outside of what’s ‘normal’ for those around us to do.


We can get into a state of defensiveness as we start to change the way we interact with our emotions and experiences, and in this feel that if everyone around us isn’t reflecting the choices we’re making to process and look at things differently back to us, that this is an attack on our new way of life. It can be easy to feel like if we don’t get everyone around us ‘on the same page’ that all of a sudden there’s a massive discord in the way we relate to others - and this can make us feel VERY unsafe and like we need to change others to make ourselves safe again.


We can start to get to a place where we feel less and less able to find safety around anyone who isn’t also doing shadow work - like the very existence of others is a threat to us. Especially again when we are in the beginning phases and feeling like being different means that one of us has to be ‘wrong’ - which is common when we make big changes to the way we operate.

Again, many of us may have experienced being and feeling deeply unsafe and uncared for due to the fact that the people around us were in emotional denial and weren’t dealing with reality - so when we come into this work the deep NEED for everyone around us to ‘get it’ can become so intense that we aren’t able to regulate if we feel like people around us are in denial and ignorance. It can start to feel like energetic nails on a chalkboard - as our systems identify this denial and emotional suppression as a threat and the cause of our pain.

This can lead us to feeling like we need to FORCE this on everyone around us in order to feel safe - which is usually a recipe for lots of tension and being misunderstood, rejected and abandoned.

When we start to shift how we are reacting and responding to reality, this is going to upset the balance of the relationships we have - especially the relationships to those closest to us. This may lead to feeling destabilized and it may make us feel isolated and alone a lot of the time. It could make us see threat where threat doesn’t exist, it may lead us to projecting without realizing it, it may lead to us feeling defensive as we figure out this new way of being and it’s going to cause an imbalance in the balance we once had in life - and ALL of this can be REALLY challenging to navigate. 

Learning to see where our shadow work is exposing wounds that then drive us into unhealthy dynamics in our relationships is a BIG part of this work that a lot of people miss because it’s SO close to the chest - and I wanted to highlight that here.

Always Striving Never Arriving


We can get caught in a state of ‘always striving never arriving’ REALLY easily with shadow work. It’s VERY common to see people who get into doing deep processing work move into a state where they are ‘always’ processing something, where EVERYTHING is viewed as a big deal that needs to be processed, where every past incident gets held up under a microscope for how it may have impacted us, where every emotion is taken VERY seriously, where every slight misalignment becomes something that needs to be addressed and where we feel like every negative feeling is a sign that we have ‘more healing work’ to do. 


This work can get VERY heavy and all consuming, and when it isn’t balanced with a pragmatic understanding that life is always going to be hard on some level, there will always be challenges and that we are never going to be ‘fully healed’ or aligned but rather that we will learn to walk the line between addressing what needs addressing when it needs addressing and ENJOYING life the rest of the time.

When this work isn’t balanced with the understanding that not everything needs to be a ‘thing’ and not everything needs to be worked through, we can easily slip into a place where we take everything very, very seriously - leading to us having more and more to ‘process’ all the time - when really what would be helpful is to let go, relax and enjoy.

Finally, this work can drive us into a state of disempowerment if we’re not careful. We can get into a state where we’re convinced that when and where others aren’t able to hold space for us, aren’t able to view us in our pain, aren’t able to validate our experience and humanity, where if others aren’t supporting us and understanding us that this means we can’t be free and happy. We can get to a place where we start to feel that we are being oppressed by those around us who are on a different path and who hold different values from us - when in reality we are just different and there is no reason we can’t live OUR lives how we want, even if others don’t agree/acknowledge/validate. 


This way of thinking can swing wildly in the opposite direction from the ‘Love and Light’ view into believing that NOTHING is possible through individual effort, and that in order for our own lives to be improved, society has to change. People around us have to change. That we need to be on a constant mission to change and fix those around us so that they will create better circumstances for us to exist in.

This way of thinking can give way to much power to the influence and affect of others, and can separate us from the fact that as autonomous adults we ARE capable in a lot of ways of living how we want to live and doing what we want to do, holding to our own values and expressing ourselves in a way that feels authentic to us - with or without the permission of those around us. We can lose the capacity to tell the difference between true antagonism that IS impacting us in a way that we can’t control, and people just not agreeing/being opposing but ultimately not STOPPING us from living our lives and making our choices.

If we aren’t finding our empowerment with this work, if we are starting to get to a place where validating and acknowledging the systems and experiences that have impacted us to the extent that it makes us feel like our own individual life has no impact or like we are perpetually at the whim of what happened to us and what others are doing - we can lose the forest for the trees. Because while it IS important to acknowledge where our pain and suffering isn’t our fault or due to our choices and to acknowledge that the past HAS affected us, it’s equally important to recognize where we DO have power now to make things better even if the world around us doesn’t validate us, acknowledge us or change to match our wants and needs.

This shadow work can be really destabilizing on a LOT of levels if we aren’t aware of what we’re doing, how we’re perceiving things, what we’re projecting and if we feel really insecure or vulnerable in our relationships.

If we force it, if we rush it, if we aren’t careful about it, if we don’t have the tools we need to go SLOW and to actually process, if we get into a mindset that we need to ‘get it all done as quickly as possible’ or into a state where we feel like we can’t be around or interact with others who aren’t also doing this work - this path can become one where we are constantly driven into negativity, negative focus, trying to control and manipulate others and thinking that there’s some way to ‘process all of our stuff’ and then come out the other side fully healed. It can drive us into a sense of helplessness or hopelessness if it leads us to believe we don’t have personal power to make things better in our lives without the validation and change of those around us, and it can leave us feeling like we can’t just LIVE or RELAX ever.

Shadow work can be profoundly healing in the right context, with the proper support, with patience and with kindness - and it can also be something that drives us deeper into despair and hopelessness if we don’t know how to harness its power properly.

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Alright! Let’s take another pause here, and come back next week to explore all the ways in which we can BENEFIT from shadow work.

<3

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