Where Does Shadow Work Get It Right? Putting The Two Perspectives Together

Hello Again!

This week we are going to be exploring all the ways in which shadow work can truly SUPPORT us on our path of life and spiritual evolution.

The truth is, Shadow Work has a LOT of amazing tools and techniques strung throughout its overall philosophy, and when used correctly these tools can REALLY go a long way in making our lives better, richer and more fulfilling. 

We are also going to wrap up the series today with an exploration of how we can put BOTH of the philosophies we’ve been exploring TOGETHER for the ULTIMATE tool-box when it comes to personal growth and spiritual development.

When these two philosophies meet, when they balance one another out, we have a very profound map for processing life!

Now, before we get in to deep here, please make sure you’ve read:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Now, let’s see how Shadow Work can support us, and how we can use it to its fullest advantage!


Where Does Shadow Work Get It RIGHT?

With everything we explored in the last post regarding the potential pit-falls of shadow work, we have to also acknowledged just how profoundly healing this work can be as well.

When used in the right way, shadow work has SO much potential to free us from the bonds of shame, blame and guilt, to take us out of toxic relationships with ourselves and the world around us, to connect us to our true nature, to help us understand our emotions and feelings and to give us the power to figure out what we want in life and how to create it.

Shadow work is all about acknowledging our very real humanity - it’s about NOT trying to be something other than what we are, not trying to feel something other than what we feel and it’s about learning how to hold SPACE for our humanity so that we can actually integrate our experiences and make our way through this life with the capacity to GROW from what we go through.

When done right, the biggest thing that shadow work gets right is that it invites us to learn how to VALIDATE ourselves and others.

It invites us to learn the skill of WITNESSING what is actually coming up for us at any given time, to FEEL our feelings, to THINK our thoughts, to FEEL our emotions - and rather than telling ourselves that there’s something wrong with us, that we shouldn’t be thinking/feeling/responding how we are, rather than blaming ourselves or going into stories of guilt and shame - we are given tools to help us EMBRACE what’s coming up, to help us INVESTIGATE into what’s coming up and to help us NAVIGATE the messages being delivered to us through our thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Shadow work is all about bringing into the light that which we have been trained to hide away - and for most of us this is going to be profoundly liberating.

We are going to be able to use this work to help us shift out of the constant navel gazing and self policing that comes with the idea that we ‘shouldn’t’ feel or think in certain ways, to help us come out of the mindset that there can be something ‘wrong’ with us for how we are responding to life, to help us get out of the loops of self denial and looking for how we are messed up and need to be ‘fixed’ so that we can ‘get along’ with life - and it can help us start to have true compassion and then true understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Learning how to hold space for and validate our thoughts, feelings and emotions is the first step to being able to understand ourselves. It’s the first step in FINALLY being able to witness the shame and guilt stories we have piled ON TOP OF what we are actually thinking/feeling/experiencing, so that we can get UNDER those stories to the TRUTH of what’s happening with us.

When we are able to witness our thoughts, feelings and emotions with compassion, when we are able to VALIDATE ourselves, we are likely to see all the places where we thought we were weak, lazy, too emotional, wrong, bad and shameful are ACTUALLY all places in us where we have needs that aren’t being met, where we were trained to abandon ourselves in favor of the status quo, where we are hurting due to living in ways that are ‘normal’ but that don’t work for us, where we weren’t supported where we needed to be, where we were indoctrinated into thinking in ways that are out of sync with reality and where we actually need to listen to ourselves and our own inner wisdom instead of defaulting to others and what they think is right/best.

Then we are going to be able to become people who can do this for OTHERS as well - and truly, this learning to validate, be with our humanity and compassionately witness our humanity and the humanity of others is one of the most PROFOUNDLY HEALING things any of can ever learn to do.

Shadow work helps us to FINALLY see that we are not broken, we are responding. That we have needs that we may not be aware of or that have been shamed. That we have traits that are natural and healthy but that were judged as wrong by those around us. It helps us see where we need SUPPORT and LOVE vs. shame and guilt.

This work also gives us the CAPACITY to witness thoughts, feelings and emotions without RESPONDING right away. It gives us the tools we need to work WITH our thoughts, feelings and emotions instead of fearing them, judging them or thinking that if we don’t fix/change them right away we are going to doom ourselves to negative experiences. This work helps us not to panic when we experience a big emotion or feeling, but rather to just feel and let it move through - getting whatever information we need from it and letting the rest go.

Shadow Work Helps Us QUESTION The Waters We’re Swimming In

This work helps us to see systems. It helps us to acknowledge that we aren’t in sole control over our lives and that not everything that is happening in our world is because of us or even directed at us. It helps us step out of the idea that if we just control and nit-pick ourselves enough that we can finally find perfection, and it helps us broaden our view of reality to see that we do in fact exist within a context, and that that context is not always within our control. This can be PROFOUND when we are learning to stop blaming ourselves for everything that happens in our lives, and when we are growing out of that childhood viewpoint that says that everything is happening to us, because of us.

Shadow work can help us connect to our human empathy, giving us the ability to really SEE others, to hold space for them, to open to THEIR thoughts and emotions and to be able to just witness and validate without feeling like we have to fix/save/rush away. This kind of work can make us deeply humble and human - something that this world DESPERATELY needs. It can, if we don’t get caught up in trying to fix/save/change everyone to validate our worldview, give us the ability to be truly good community members - to be ones who are able to be there for others in a way that most humans are too ‘turned off’ emotionally to be able to be, and this again is something the world is in desperate need of.

A lot of us don’t need a therapist or coach - we need friends and the reciprocal support of loving individuals in our lives - and this shadow work can teach us how to become those kinds of people.

Shadow work can help us question our thoughts and perceptions which can lead to all sorts of new freedom.

Shadow work encourages us to actually challenge the perceptions and perspectives we’ve been handed by our caregivers, friends, family and culture at large. It encourages us to witness what is ACTUALLY working and what ISN’T working about what we are currently doing instead of continually trying to force some sort of ideal outcome. It encourages us to look for where our perceptions came from, how they are serving us, who they are serving and it gives us tools to challenge those mindsets that aren’t working.

This work is some of the most liberating work most of us will ever do - as a lot of the pain we experience in this life DOES come from our thoughts and perceptions of the world, that then lead to our actions and a lot of our outcomes. Shadow work helps us create space between ourselves and our thoughts and it helps to illuminate the perceptions we likely don’t even realize are perceptions (as most of us think we are viewing reality objectively most of the time). 

Shadow work gives us tools for delving into our histories, so that we can again come out of the shame and guilt stories that tell us that we are broken, shameful, coping, numbing and self sabotaging for no reason, that tells us that who and what we are is wrong and needs to be changed - and it helps us start to understand what we needed in our pasts and what we can give to ourselves now to create lives that are more supportive for us that what we’ve had in the past. Shadow work teaches us that we aren’t broken - that again we are RESPONDING and it helps us connect the dots between our pasts and our current life ‘manifestations’ if you will.

It helps us realize that we didn’t ‘choose’ our perceptions, that we haven’t ‘chosen’ to self sabotage, suppress, deny reality or cope and numb for no reason - that ALL of what we are doing is our attempt at keeping ourselves safe and at getting our needs met - and it can help us develop much clearer understanding around what we need now to be truly safe and nourished and it can help us learn to communicate those things to those around us where required, and how to give these things to ourselves when and where we have the power to do so.

This work allows us to work through the FEELING stage of trauma/painful situations. It teaches us how to create that safe space to allow what we TRULY feel about what happened to us or what is happening to us to come to the surface to be VALIDATED. SO much of the time we get stuck in what happened to us, in pain, in loops of trying to ‘fix’ our emotions simply because we’ve never been given the chance to fully EXPRESS our emotions, thoughts and feelings, and because if we have done so - we’ve been invalidated or have experienced those around us trying to ‘fix’ us. Shadow work teaches us how to hold space for the FEELING and EXPRESSING - which is something most of us need to go through BEFORE we can start to look for our needs and wants, solutions, steps forward or a more positive outlook.

Shadow work can help us feel SO MUCH safer in our lives, when we are the kinds of people that have experienced a lot of hiding/things being swept under the rug/issues not being acknowledged and that leading to us not having safety and security in our lives. For those who have spent a lot of time being told that what they were feeling/seeing/experiencing wasn’t REAL and being told that things were ‘fine’ when they weren’t - getting into a space where we are able to really bring to LIGHt what’s happening can be incredibly liberating and comforting. Getting into a space where our feelings are acknowledged, where problems can be called out (and thus actually worked through), and being in a situation where reality is being acknowledged for what it is - it can be a massive relief AND a massive step in the direction of being able to create the change we NEED to create to feel better.

For many of us, having reality be denied and thus having to stay stuck in the same problems for long periods of time because no one was willing to admit there was a problem and thus no one was able to solve the problem caused us SO MUCH PAIN - and getting into shadow work where everything that can be brought to the light IS brought to the light means FREEDOM.

For many of us, it was the experience of being told that we were wrong in our feelings/thoughts/perceptions actually created MORE pain than the actual circumstances we were facing!

So getting to a place where we are able to call things how they are, where we are allowed to acknowledge that we are hurting or feeling badly about something, where we’re allowed to air out what’s REALLY happening is almost as healing as actually solving the problem is.

No longer having to deny reality to being told that the reality we are seeing isn’t real can be the difference between living a life where we constantly feel anxious, stressed, depressed and invalidated and a life where we actually feel empowered.

Shadow work can be incredibly healing. It can be some of the most profound work we do in this life. It can liberate us in ways that no Love and Light ever could - it just needs to be done in the right context, with the right safety measures in place so that we’re not pushing or forcing anything, and it needs to be done with LOTS of patience and grace for the fact that we have limited capacity to process, that we have limited capacity to feel, that not everything can be solved by looking for ‘the root’ and that sometimes the answer is simpler and not as big of a deal as we may think it is.

Balancing Both For The Best Of Both

I want to tie this entire series up with the idea that in reality when we put these two perspectives TOGETHER we are going to find the MOST beneficial results.

When taken to their extreme - both of these paths are going to be imbalanced and are going to lead us to spaces that aren’t actually healing and that deny reality.

When taken TOGETHER, these two paths can balance one another out - and in that balance we are likely going to find that we get a WHOLE lot of results AND we are better able to connect with real reality instead of getting caught up in philosophy that SOUNDS really good but that isn’t actually aligned with what’s really happening in and around us.

When we are able to balance the perspective that we have personal power with the reality that we exist within systems and in a context that we don’t have total control over we are going to be much better able to figure out where our power lies in creating change, and where we need to be loved, held and supported in the places that we don’t have control and where what’s happening to us isn’t ‘because of us.’

When we are able to balance these two philosophies we are going to be able to recognize where we can go for more, where more would actually be helpful for us - and where what we have is totally good enough and where we can find safety and satisfaction in what is.

When we are able to balance these two perspectives we will be able to dive into our emotions, feelings and past experiences when and where that’s actually useful and appropriate, and we will also be able to ground into what’s good and what’s working about the here and now when that is more useful. We will be able to acknowledge that things aren’t perfect and aren’t working when that’s the case while also being able to hold the idea that there are other parts of our reality that are fantastic, that are really working and that are serving us just fine.

When we can hold both of these views in balance, we can be positive, we can have optimism, we can look forward with hope and we can even believe in a little magic if that feels good for us, without losing our connection to our current reality and the very real circumstances we are existing in.

We can believe in ourselves, we can believe in our capacity to do hard things and to strive for more, and we can allow ourselves to rest, be in what is and appreciate the goodness of our current reality all at once.

When these two ways of looking at the world are used in tandem, they are actually a very balanced way of living a spiritual life. 

Most importantly, I think when we take these two paths together, we are going to be creating a situation where we have so much access to our true humanity - both the very real, raw and humbling parts that experience pain, loss, negative experiences and emotions AND the parts that experience joy, that have so much capacity for growth and change and that enable us to reach for things we may never have believed we could reach for. 

These two paths when put together can help us become more compassionate and empathetic people who are able to share that empathy and compassion with everyone around us. 

It can turn us into individuals who aren’t in a constant state of self obsession/observation/improvement because we are being made aware of systems and the different realities of those around us, and we are being made more aware of how we can hold space for and serve others just as we are holding space for and serving ourselves. 

These two paths when put together can help us become the kinds of people that are able to balance our own inner work with working in the world and in our communities - which is something that can be missed when we take either path to their extreme.

As you can see, neither of these paths are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They both have their truths, they both have their benefits and they both have their downsides and blindspots.

I hope this series helped you identify what in each path will be most helpful for you, and what in each path you may be able to question or let go of in order to find more balance and stability in your life and in your practices.

I hope that this exploration has empowered you to take what’s reasonable, to take what’s helpful and to take what actually WORKS about both paths and to leave what’s simply more drama and delusion.

You don’t have to fully buy into either path in order to get the benefits from both - you can open to what works and take what’s useful and leave the rest - and this is something I recommend you do with ALL of your spiritual/self help work in general!

Look for what works, leave the rest - that’s your power.


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