It is no secret that humans have a side that they refuse to acknowledge. This is a common feeling that turns out to be true in some ways. Several experts even believe there is a way to access this “other side” to increase self-awareness and growth. And it is called ‘shadow work’. The shadow is a natural and unavoidable part of our psychological development that starts taking shape as we grow up.
Individuals internalize various beliefs, values, and behaviors deemed acceptable or desirable by parents and society as they grow and develop. However, not all aspects of oneself are idealized in this way. The shadow results from the natural process of self-regulation and adaptation to societal norms and expectations.
“Shadow work” is a concept introduced by Carl Jung to describe the process of exploring and integrating the unconscious aspects of the psyche. According to Jung, the psyche comprises both conscious and unconscious elements. The unconscious contains aspects of the self that have been repressed or suppressed and are frequently at odds with the conscious mind. And the shadow refers to the unconscious parts of the self, such as repressed desires, impulses, fears, traumas, negative or unacknowledged emotions, and positive qualities that are not in sync with the conscious mind. We do not want the world to see the rejected parts of ourselves because they are unappealing and may cause embarrassment.
How does a shadow look in behaviour
Projection: Interpersonal projection is a critical way to deal with shadow. We see in others what we don’t want to see in ourselves. When we project our flaws or insecurities onto others, we may criticize or judge them for aspects of ourselves that we dislike. For instance, an incompetent manager may accuse employees of not working hard enough rather than admit their shortcomings. Someone who has a fear of rejection may assume that others dislike them or are intentionally ignoring them, even when there is no evidence to support this.
Denial: When we refuse to acknowledge something about ourselves that we find uncomfortable or shameful, we may deny or minimize it. For example, a person who has been fired may deny the reality of their situation and blame others for their dismissal rather than accept responsibility for their actions. Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may deny the impact that it has had on them and avoid seeking therapy or support.
Control: When we feel out of control, we may assert control over others or our surroundings. For instance, a dissatisfied manager may become a micromanager, attempting to control every aspect of their team’s work or being overly protective of their team, refusing to allow them to take risks or make mistakes, which can stifle their growth and development. Someone who is always the “peacemaker” in team meetings, trying to keep everyone happy and avoiding conflict, even if it means suppressing their own feelings or needs.
Passive aggression: When we cannot express our resentment or anger directly, we may resort to passive-aggressive behavior. For instance, someone agrees to a task but then undermines it by failing to provide the required information or feedback. Someone who is consistently late or absent for meetings, making it difficult for others to plan and be productive.
Perfectionism: When we feel insecure about abilities or worth, we may try to compensate by setting impossibly high standards. For example, someone who is afraid of failure may spend hours perfecting a project or task, even when it is unnecessary. Someone who becomes overly attached to or competitive or defensive about their work, feeling that it defines their identity, competence or self-worth.
The unconscious desires, fears, and beliefs can influence our behavior in many ways without our realizing it. Acknowledging and integrating these hidden aspects can help us move past the limitations imposed by the unconscious.
How to identify your Shadow
Pay attention to your emotional reactions: If there is a strong emotional reaction to something, especially if it is negative, ask yourself about that situation or person triggering you. Whenever you blame or criticize someone else for something, ask yourself if you might be projecting your shadow onto them.
Reflect on your dreams by exploring the creative side: Dreams can be a powerful tool for uncovering unconscious material. Keep a dream journal and try to identify recurring themes or symbols.
Furthermore, engage yourself in creative activities such as writing and painting to help you tap into your unconscious and express aspects of your shadow.
Identify your projections: Whenever you find yourself blaming or criticizing someone else for something, ask yourself if you might be projecting your own shadow onto them. This can help you identify aspects of yourself that you may be denying or repressing.
Seek feedback from others: Ask trusted friends or family members if they see any patterns or behaviors in you that you may not be aware of. In fact, seek advice from a trained coach who can offer a safe, non-judgmental space to explore and surface your unconscious through various techniques and tools.
Benefits of Shadow work
Increased self-awareness and emotional resilience: By exploring shadow, we can gain a deeper understanding of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Furthermore, by acknowledging and integrating them, one can become more resilient and better equipped to handle challenges and stressors.
Better acceptance and compassion toward self: We look at ourselves with newer, kinder eyes. We become tolerant of ourselves and start accepting, even loving, some parts we despised earlier.
Improved relationships with others: When we work through our shadow, we may become more authentic and vulnerable, leading to deeper connections and healthier communication. It allows us to see others in different light beyond our projections and discover new, more authentic dimensions in them.
Shadow work at the organizational level
While shadow work is typically associated with personal growth and self-discovery, creatively engaging shadow workshops within organizations can foster individual and collective development.
Improved self-awareness: Individuals and teams are encouraged to explore their own unconscious biases, behaviors, and emotions through shadow work, which can lead to new ideas and innovations. This process can lead to increased self-awareness, which can aid in identifying areas for personal development and improvement.
Foster open communication: Shadow work can assist organizations in creating an open communication environment where employees feel safe expressing their thoughts and emotions. Organizations can foster innovation and collaboration by encouraging employees to share their ideas and concerns, leading to better outcomes.
Develop empathetic leadership: By working on their shadow aspects, leaders become more aware of their unconscious biases, which can influence their decision-making and leadership style. Empathetic and authentic leadership improves team performance.
Address conflicts: Shadow work can assist firms in addressing disputes and resolving them in a constructive manner. By understanding the underlying emotions and beliefs that drive conflicts, organizations can create solutions that address the root cause of the conflict rather than just addressing the symptoms.
Improved organizational culture: The concept can help organizations identify and address toxic behaviors and attitudes in the workplace. This can lead to a more positive and inclusive culture, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention.
Shadow: Neither a flaw nor a mistake!
Shadow is a natural part of who we are. Shadow work is all about increasing self-awareness and, eventually, self-acceptance and compassion. It can potentially be a potent tool for personal growth, healing, and transformation. However, it can be difficult and unsettling, requiring courage, patience, and self-compassion. It is worthwhile to seek out licensed practitioners, therapists, or coaches who can guide individuals through becoming acquainted with their shadows.