What is Shadow Work: An Essential Step of Recovery
Recovery is always deepening and ever evolving. Healing has a similar trajectory whether it’s for a mental health issue, a personality disorder, trauma, codependency or addiction. And at some point or another, healing always includes shadow work.
At first, we seek recovery because the pain of staying the same, outweighs the pain of healing. Learning to recover is an arduous trek which requires commitment and practice long before we ever see tangible proof of our efforts. Of course, by committing to such work, we get to learn both how powerful we truly are and reap immeasurable long-term rewards.
You can still be triggered (& that’s ok)
Recovery does not mean though that all of your human insecurities disappear. Sometimes, I fall into an emotional trap which tells me I’m a “fraud” because I still struggle, at times, within myself and in my relationships. Of course, precisely because I am in recovery, I can quickly check the facts. Insecurity, wounding, and misunderstandings are simply a part of the human experience. Recovery doesn’t erase these experiences. Instead, recovery allows you to cope well from a place of unconditional self-love and acceptance when these challenges inevitably occur.
Recently, the part of me who fears I’m “too much” to be “good enough” to be a part of social communities was triggered. A text was sent in a new group exchange I was made a part of in which it was overtly expressed that all the “cool kids” were in for an event before I could respond. When I did get to respond, that I was able to attend too there was silence. Not even a “like.”
A wave of shame and anxiety came over me. The little girl who was constantly told by her mother growing up “I love you but I don’t like you” felt deeply hurt and rejected. These wounds cut so deep that checking the facts that “maybe they were busy,” “this may not mean anything,” and “I’m still a part of the community” didn’t help. Luckily, my recovery allowed me to both see my pain with clarity and keep finding strategies to show up for myself in a comforting, loving way.
Before we do our healing work, it’s so common to ignore this suffering or tell ourselves to “get over” our feelings. This only makes us feel worse of course. Instead, I practiced deep breathing, journaled, and practiced Emotional Freedom Technique.
It’s OK to be Different
As I coped with this trigger, I noticed the truth: I do feel inherently different than others and therefore less accepted. Sometimes, it feels like others received a social playbook that I didn’t receive growing up. Of course, while other kids were focused on making friends, I was trying to survive my abusive, alcoholic home.
Throughout my life, I have been ostracized from social circles. This has, of course, reinforced the wounds I carry around being different. I’ve been criticized throughout my life as “intense.” I would scoff when I hear this. I’d exclaim, “That’s not true – you haven’t met my mother!” as if her intensity erased my own. Being called “intense” has always felt like an insult. The subtext being, “You are too much and therefore not good enough.”
I decided to look at this label of being “intense” and if it actually could be true of me. My recovery has allowed me to unconditionally love myself. This means, I can look at the parts of myself which are considered flaws with curiosity and acceptance. To look at the parts you most judge about yourself and to make peace with these parts, rather than trying to eradicate all of your human imperfection, is shadow work.
What is Shadow Work
Shadow work is to look at your whole self with acceptance. It’s not easy to do this. Especially when the parts you judge in yourself have most likely been judged harshly by others. It’s understandable that you may resist accepting your flaws when it threatens your belonging to certain communities or even by your family.
Sadly, though, self-judgment not only hurts our ability to see our worth and brilliance. It destroys relationships. What I judge in me, I judge even more harshly in you. This outward blame and rejection leads to resentment and in marriages, divorce.
Related: How to Divorce Proof Your Marriage
Learning to accept yourself fully, including those parts you may dislike or hate, is essential to stay in recovery. It’s necessary to fully love yourself to live in true recovery. (You can abstain from something i.e., drugs or alcohol but may not have truly found recovery. Sadly, people sometimes replace one addiction with another such as food with obsessive meal planning.)
Accepting these parts, whether we like them or not, is necessary to live a truly peaceful, joyful life. After all, these parts exist whether we like them or not. And, we can only tone them down, or highlight the strengths of these “flaws” if we accept we have them.
Your Flaws are Gifts
So, I did my shadow work. I realized I am intense. I am passionate and sensitive. I feel things strongly though I’m proud of how I’ve learned to regulate my emotions despite this fierceness. Then, I thought, “I’m intense – so what?”
I felt incredibly liberated by this realization and acceptance. For a long time, I’ve wished that I could be more palatable, since I know many people are overwhelmed by an intense person. Yet, this is who I am.
I have world-changing visions in my life. Every day, I’m driven by my mission to help as many people in the world as possible to heal to create a ripple effect of good. When I show up with my intense empathy and love, I help people change their lives. These people then get to out and live more authentically, naturally helping more with their light. The people they impact then get more in touch with their own light and pass this on. The rippleg
It is precisely because I’m intense that I believe in myself enough to say, “In the face of all of this pain, struggle, chaos, and confusion in the world, I can help positively change it!” My passion and strong drive are a part of my intensity.
Shadow work has taught me that sometimes it’s the very parts of us we most judge that are sources of our unique brilliance in the world. It seems as if we’re asked to show up as watered down versions of ourselves to be fully accepted. Of course, the trap is no person is universally loved and accepted. Except for maybe Dolly Parton but I’m sure that even she has her haters.
I want you to think about a part of you that you try to hide and shove into the closet. A part of you that you think no one can accept or love or that the world’s not ready for.
Then, I ask you to take some time to journal answering these questions:
What is a part of me I try to deny? What do I dislike or hate about myself? What do I hate being called by others?
Do I judge this quality in other people? If so, what are my thoughts attached to this?
If I could look at this quality with a completely open-mind, what would I notice are the good parts of being like this?
You are Already Enough
When we reject our shadow, we believe that these aspects of ourselves, make us not good enough. Yet, you don’t have to do or be anything different, to be inherently valuable. It’s actually the moment you accept your shadow as a natural, human part of you, that you develop more self-love and strengthen your relationships.
“It was the moment of falling deeply in love with my flawed self that I returned to being a whole, happy, silly, loving, passionate, and incredibly worthy woman.” – Debbie Ford, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming your power, creativity, brilliance, and dreams
You can’t work yourself into being “good enough.” You already are! This is incredibly liberating but also, ironically, hard work for many of us to fully believe and accept. I’m so excited for you to begin – or deepen – your shadow work to experience true recovery and self-love.
I would love to know the results of your journaling, and shadow work, please feel free to leave a comment!