The Power of Shadow Work for Emotional Freedom

Categories: Anxiety

Fall is a perfect time for the exploration of shadow work for personal growth and emotional freedom. Ushering in winter, Fall reminds us of the darker aspects of being human. It is a time of letting go and for exploring things that are unpleasant or scary. Fall begins with Halloween. 

This Halloween at 9:30 in the morning, my father made his exit from physical form.  My sister and I were present.  For some, the death of a loved one is a tragic, untimely misfortune.  For others, death comes as a timely passing to a life well lived. Halloween was dad's favorite holiday.  He loved seeing the kids in costumes, laughter, candy and excitement. Dad was always up for a joke, a spook or a prank.  My family found it fitting that he pass on Halloween.  In some ways, he almost seemed to have orchestrated it that way.

Ironically, scary and painful aspects of my dad's passing were the years leading up to his death. For years I had lived in fear of my father dying.  A bit of a histrionic, dad loved to remind us that "someday he would be dead" and we better be prepared.  This did little to calm my anxiety, instead I spent nights wondering how I would live without him, wondering what life would be like after his passing.  How would my mother, sister and I go on? 

Because of this pressure, I spent a large part of my late twenties and thirties exploring death and dying.  As a therapist I felt the study important as a way to help grieving clients heal.  This study began with Buddhist meditation practices on the idea of reality.  I spent hours in meditation contemplating whether or not I actually exist.  Buddhist meditations lead us through a series of exercises eventually leading to the idea that we inherently are not real.  I remember learning that this realization is either followed by pure joy and feelings of liberation or shear terror and panic at the thought of being a mere hologram.  Unfortunately for me, I got the later. 

After I'd had enough contemplation on my nonexistence, I rediscovered Carl Jung. Jung termed the phrase shadow self to describe both our individual and collective unconscious.  He wanted to develop a language that helped us understand the darker sides of the human condition, everything from minor resentments to the cruelty of war.  Jung argued that rather than denying the parts of ourselves that we deemed ugly or undesirable, we instead try to uncover and understand them.  

Isn't that part of what Halloween is? 

My father wasn't perfect.  In fact he was quite an anxious man.  Anxiety had a way of causing overly critical thoughts, obsessive behaviors and at times a distrust of his intuition.  Dad was also hilarious. Humor was his strength. I believe he loved Halloween because it was a time to expose and laugh at the hidden sides of his humanity. 

Having the ability to look at our imperfections, find them absurd and have a good laugh, is a path to healing from the pain of anxiety, depression and abuse. 

I had always wished for my father that he be able to add a deep sense of compassion for himself into his humor.  

Over 15 years of working with clients, I have found that those who can lovingly witness all the unwanted aspects of themselves, combined with a healthy dose of humor, find healing from whatever demons they might have. Shadow work is a great place to start. 

Some tips for beginning shadow work:

1. Make a list of the people that irritate you the most.

2. Now list the characteristics you find most upsetting in their personality and behavior. 

4. Next, list ways you do these things in your own life. 

5. If you find #4 difficult, list the ways you try to avoid doing those annoying things. 

(Here comes the hard part)

6. Try to incorporate a small amount of the annoying behavior into your life. 

Yes I said that correctly.  Do the annoying thing. 

For example, if you find your friend is being super selfish this week, take that as a cue to spend some more time devoted to yourself (your selfishness) in some way.  That might look like a splurge on self care or learning to say "no" to unnecessary engagements. 

7. Meditate on compassion for your imperfections.  Example: "I can at times be selfish and petty, but I love and accept myself anyway."

I'd love to hear how your shadow work goes!  Send me email and let me know!!!