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Peni Jo Renner

The Importance of Shadow Work

We all have a shadow—that part of our subconscious that holds grudges and listens to negative self-talk, the part of our personality that doesn’t fit in with our self-conception.  But if we recognize when our shadow emerges, we can learn and grow and over time develop into happier, more positive human beings.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) coined the phrase shadow work to refer to the efforts one makes to improve oneself. According to Sarah Regan’s 2021 article, your shadow self can be personality traits, emotions, or thoughts that are difficult to accept. And sometimes the shadow self hides positive traits that, because they weren’t validated or appreciated by others, we repress.

We all come into this world free of judgments and biases. Then a bully pushes you down on the playground when you’re five. You get stood up for a date when you’re sixteen. At forty, someone cuts you off on the highway. You learn people aren’t always nice.  All these life experiences get stored in the subconscious and resentments, prejudices and the like can form.

But that’s life, right? Isn’t everyone a little jaded? Sure, but if you are looking to grow and learn, it is possible to free yourself of automatic negative responses, feelings, and emotions by practicing shadow work.

I should know, I’ve been doing this myself for years. When I initially heard the term shadow work, I mistakenly thought it would require something more involved and perhaps dark. Fortunately, I was wrong.

I’m happy to report that due to my own shadow work, I no longer automatically take offense to hurtful things directed my way. Not to say I don’t get upset if the occasional hurtful word is hurled my way or resentment springs forth, but I do try to give it some understanding before acting on it.

Did I do something to warrant the hurtful words boring into my ears? Is it possible that I did nothing wrong and the other person is reacting negatively because for whatever reason they are having a bad day? Basically, I give myself and others a little grace, a little space not to be perfect.

Inner conversations seem to be the key at least in my case when it comes to shadow work. As I embrace my shadow self, I am developing patience and learning to understand myself and other people a little better. Some of it, I think, comes with the maturation process. But then there are plenty of examples of “mature” folks who choose to hold on to resentments rather than to do the necessary work to let them go. 

Google shadow work and 1,950,000,000 responses pop up. There are plenty of Jungian self-help books and websites to explain this concept further. If you decide to check them out, you may discover greater self-acceptance and self-love.  

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