What is Spiritual Shadow Work?
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is well-known for his theories on the human psyche says shadow work is the process of making the unconscious conscious. He describes the shadow as the “dark side” of our personality – aspects of ourselves that we reject or deny due to feelings of guilt or shame etc. He argued that these suppressed parts of ourselves can have a profound impact on us and our life. Carl Jung believed that everyone carries a shadow and that the less conscious we are of our own shadow, the darker and the more havoc it plays out in our life.
“The gold is in the dark” – C. G. Jung
Shadow work is a type of self-exploration and healing process that involves diving into the unconscious parts of ourselves that often hold our deepest wounds, traumas, and repressed emotions. Shadow work helps us to confront, understand, and integrate these parts of ourselves so that we can live more authentically and in alignment with our true nature. This process involves getting to know our shadow aspects—the parts of us that we hide, we are ashamed or embarrassed about—and learning how to accept and even embrace them. By doing shadow work, we can become more aware of the motivations behind our negative behaviors and unconscious patterns, allowing us to make different choices in the future and overall start living a healthier, happier and more fulfilling and conscious life.
To begin shadow work it’s important to have an open mind and be willing to look at yourself with honesty and non-judgmental acceptance. You also need patience as it can take time for your deep shadow traits to reveal themselves. It can help to keep a journal where you can write down your thoughts and reflections on what comes up during this process.
The foundation of shadow work really is looking at your blind spots and how you’re acting out or behaving unconsciously in ways which sabotage your relationships, health, career, spiritual growth and life. You can start by reflecting on areas in which you feel stuck or limited in life or relationships and notice patterns you repeat in all areas of your life.
Your shadow self includes emotionally charged or strong reactions and uncomfortable feelings like guilt, shame, fear, sadness, anger, envy or jealousy as well as behaviors such as avoidance, defensiveness, procrastination, and self-sabotage.
Doing shadow work is also a way of uncovering your unique gifts, owning your positive qualities that you perhaps make small or dismiss (often called your light shadow) and really having the biggest spiritual awakening of your life.
There is also something called a “collective shadow” which I’m not going to get into in this blog. I want to focus more on something I’ve been tracking which I really believe is the essence of shadow work… toxic validation.
*Warning*- The spiritual shadow work below is not for the faint-hearted…
I want to share here that at the beginning of my healing journey, before doing the spiritual shadow work, I needed guidance and validation from therapists, healers and coaches. I’ve had a lot of coaches who I felt were “cold” but when I look back they were not buying into my victim-ness or self-pity story. They were being a witness to me acting out my wound, they were telling me truths I was not able to accept back then but can clearly see that now.
If you have experienced a lot of emotional abuse during childhood, you will have lost your sense of self and as a result, it is common to experience symptoms such as low self-esteem, constant self-doubt, second-guessing yourself, feeling unhappy even though you have everything to be happy and so on. It is not easy to validate yourself and pull yourself out of the emotional wound at the beginning of your healing journey – I was not able to get to where I am on my healing journey alone so I would encourage you to seek professional help.
Most people who have suffered emotional abuse throughout their childhood grow up constantly seeking validation from everyone, family members, bosses, friends and even acquaintances. This is natural considering they were never validated as a child and instead lived a childhood of emotional turmoil or constant emotional trauma.
To a little child not being validated means not being “real” which leaves them with a sensation of feeling lost in this reality. I can’t even tell you how many people I work with that much later on in their lives still carry this deep wound and say “I feel so lost”. They have everything and don’t know what they want, which I believe is because they are disconnected from themselves, more so their Soul. Not being validated as a child is at the heart of why so many people are deeply wounded, suffering from low self-worth which creates so many emotional addictions such as people-pleasing, being codependent, not being able to make decisions, not ever feeling good enough or even not having any authentic joy in life.
On a deep subconscious and psychological level, it comes down to you seeking to feel valid. By having your emotions validated you are “seen”.
As an adult, I have experienced a lot of healing through self-validation in my later years. Once you’ve done enough inner work, healing validation doesn’t have to come from others.
I have done enough inner work to know myself enough and what my values are. I don’t mean to say that’s it for me, I’m enlightened- far from it. I am still on my inner journey, diving deeper as the years go by but I have done enough healing to feel a good sense of self-assurance in my intuitive hits and feelings, confident enough to make difficult decisions and know that what I am perceiving is real.
One of the most humbling experiences for me was when I saw one of my own personal shadow, which was how I was victimizing myself, how I played the victim and got my sense of self-worth through the victim shadow trait. I will admit the initial feeling was horrible, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and ‘ugly’ but breaking through this shadow archetype that was running my life was the start of some deep emotional healing and personal growth.
Through doing spiritual shadow work, you’ll begin seeing yourself and noticing that your shadow and ugly traits are not as ugly as they seem. Your inner demons are not that scary. All you need is humility and a sincere desire to truly heal.
So instead of pointing the finger in blame and playing the victim to get a false sense of self-worth (which is not getting you anywhere), stop seeking this toxic validation and look within…
You will only be truly validated once you are willing to accept the core of your emotional pain.
Deep healing is possible when you sincerely accept and forgive the abuser from your heart. This, by the way, does not mean what they did was ok or that you continue to allow abuse.
All I am saying here is that a big part of healing and doing spiritual shadow work is really about you, your intentions and motives behind you seeking healing or validation.
Invalidation of your emotions is at the root of emotional trauma so naturally part of the healing process is validation, having your emotions or emotional wounds validated.
However, I have found that when it comes to shadow work healing, there is a fine line in toxic validating your emotional wounds…
Emotional invalidation is when your emotions are dismissed, ignored, belittled, minimized, rejected, judged or made “wrong” in some way, which is in essence emotional trauma.
Emotional validation, on the other hand, is having your emotional experience understood, heard, respected, acknowledged or “accepted” by the other person even if they don’t agree, meaning emotionally they respect and accept your perceived emotional experience.
In terms of healing, “healing validation” I believe, when it comes to emotional trauma, happens heart to heart when the person validating is able to access the depth of your emotional pain and the person who is seeking healing validation is willing to accept the core of their original pain. Only a person who has been through what you have and healed those emotional wounds will be able to hold the space for you at the depths of your emotional pain – at least this has been my experience. Those who have not experienced it will often not be able to grasp the depth of your emotional pain and therefore sometimes leaving you feeling like they don’t understand you even if they acknowledge and respect your perception.
What I have observed in my coaching and healing practice is that the person who is seeking the healing type of validation must also be sincerely looking to heal this deep wound as well as be humble to feeling the wound in the process, otherwise, from my experience, they will miss that opportunity and continue to seek validation from the next healer/therapist/friend etc. This then becomes a vicious cycle, an addiction to consciously or insidiously demanding validation from others. This is just another way they act out their emotional wounds, feeling entitled to be heard, seen and validated. This is often done with an underlying tone of resentment of their past, anger and rage at those who don’t meet their emotional addictions. They may even feel justified in their anger in doing so. They might be feeling this way because they were severely abused, wounded etc, leaving them with a feeling of being morally or ethically superior when in fact, as harsh as this sounds, they are ‘playing’ the victim.
I’ve seen people use terms such as “I just want to be heard” or “I am seeking validation” but energetically and consciously they have no idea what they are doing or even know what they are seeking. This is their shadow along with their shadow agendas playing out and using words they have perhaps read about but do not understand. They are only preaching what they have read about healing or emotional trauma and what they think they need in order to heal.
When someone is so identified with their shadow self (i.e. their emotional wound) they become the wound “in person”, in other words, they ‘personify’ their wound. They don’t just feel the emotional wound, they “ARE” it. This then becomes or what is known as a “wounded ego” or the shadow self. They play out and act out the emotional wound, thinking that they are conscious when in actual fact their unprocessed emotional wound has hijacked their psyche. They are completely unconscious of who they are being, meaning they see the world through the filter of their emotional wound. Their perception of reality and beliefs about the world and themselves are all rooted in the nature of the emotional wound itself. When someone is hijacked by their emotional wound in this way, often they will want validation for their emotional wounded-ness but more so the emotion that is protecting the core wound which is often anger, resentment, hurt, betrayal which if validated only reinforces the wound and feeds the energy of, let me call it, the false wound, which is, in essence, playing the victim.
The shadow self (wounded ego) wants to hold on to the wound, it wants validation for holding on and not letting it go and forgiving which is the REAL healing.
The wounded ego doesn’t want to forgive because it believes forgiveness is injustice and that this would mean the abuser or perpetrator got away with their bad, horrific, sinful behaviour or unloving actions.
What I see so often when someone is in this state is them telling their story to either get people to feel sorry for them, to pity them, get their sympathy and feel bad for their situation or getting people to justify their anger or rage. This is what I now call “toxic validation” which basically is no validation at all. If you validate this you are being their enabler. You are enabling their emotional addiction to play the victim, enabling their addiction to holding on to their emotional wound and justified anger etc. “Personified Victims” love to do this as a way to, as mentioned previously, make themselves feel ethical and morally superior, to justify their suffering or feel better about themselves and where they are. They get their sense of power and perverse self-worth by this type of self-pity toxic validation.
This is the fine line.
Most people who are in this victim state seeking toxic validation are not aware of what they are doing, they are identified with their unconscious shadow. What is interesting is that when you speak the truth, challenge them and basically do not validate their “victim-ness” – they will NOT like it. I must warn you they may even project all their rage onto you! Know that they are only angry because you are not meeting their ‘emotional’ addiction to staying stuck where they are. Regardless of how much compassion you hold in your heart, they want their emotional addiction met, they will not feel you as being loving or compassionate, instead, they will state the opposite that they don’t feel connected to you, that they feel you don’t like them anymore or perhaps that you lack compassion or empathy.
True validation is really a synergy that happens between people heart to heart when you can touch the depth of the other person’s pain emotionally and they feel it, and when they are humble enough to feel their deep grief at that moment, they feel validated. Once this happens very often the ‘victim’ will immediately grieve, but not from the place of being victimized or playing the victim but from a place of acceptance of what happened and of being acknowledged emotionally and having their emotional wound validated to the depth that they feel it.
This healing validation is how the emotional wound gets released, once the person ‘grieves’ from this place of deep acceptance.
Healing, and doing spiritual shadow work, is a humbling process. It’s also the only way to live a more conscious life.
You have to be able to see yourself, your unconscious emotional reactions and negative behavioral patterns.
It is very easy to point the finger at other people’s flaws. It’s not so easy to do the same for yourself when you feel you were betrayed or hurt.
You cannot heal your personal shadow traits by remaining in blame.
You most certainly cannot heal by playing the victim.
So I encourage you to check in with yourself especially if you have been emotionally wounded and experienced a lot of emotional trauma throughout your childhood. When you find yourself telling the same story over and over again, always having strong reactions to little things, constantly sabotaging your relationships and engaging in negative behavioral patterns, judging other people’s positive traits and attractive qualities, ask yourself what am I really seeking?
Here are some shadow journaling prompts you can reflect upon:
- Am I just playing the victim?
- What am I getting out of playing the victim?
- How is it serving me to play the victim?
- What am I getting out of telling my story over and over again?
- How are my negative emotions influencing my choices, decisions and behavioral patterns?
Don’t be afraid to take a good look at your personal shadow, look at your motives and intentions for seeking toxic validation. It is only by examining these shadow aspects and looking at your negative traits that you’ll gain more conscious awareness.
This is the beginning stage of doing spiritual shadow work and I believe it’s the only way to true spiritual growth.
You can choose to remain a victim and allow your shadow self to rob you of your authentic life or you can choose to HEAL.
You will only be truly validated when you choose to sincerely accept the hurt and heal your pain.
The choice is yours.
Is there a situation in your life for which this resonates? Leave a comment and tell me, are you playing the victim or are you validating your feelings in a way that heals you?
If you need support throughout your healing journey and if my work resonates with you, I would love to guide you. To work with me in-depth please check out my Intuitive Coaching & Soul Healing Sessions and let’s get you started on getting your life back.
All techniques and information I share are considered coaching, self-help or complementary therapies. I am not a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist or medical doctor, I have a degree in Health Sciences in Complementary Therapies. Everything I write and talk about comes mainly from my own experience in healing myself and the tools, techniques, and resources I learned throughout my own inner journey.
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