A shadow man and beautiful view of the sky

August 3, 2017

The Beginner’s Guide To Understanding and Mastering Your Shadow


Individuation is well-recognized for its healing effects and positive impacts on people. Holistically, it’s the process of forming your true identity and differentiating yourself from other personalities, granting you a much more profound understanding of yourself as well as the world around you. The slight drawback here is that individuation isn’t the simplest process to grasp.

Understanding your Shadow Guide for Beginners

If you’re somewhat familiar with individuation, but have yet to fully understand the concept and its principles, this post will definitely provide you with some valuable insight. However, if you’ve had no prior knowledge whatsoever about individuation, you can check out our dedicated individuation page first before reading on. Nevertheless, regardless of your initial understanding of individuation, this in-depth guide will take the difficulty out of learning this mystical practice.

What we’ll be exploring in this post is a particular archetype that’s often misunderstood or misinterpreted; the shadow archetype. This guide will clear some of the air and provide you with clarity into this specific archetype. If you’d like to find out more about these methods, you can take a look at our shadow work guide.

Meeting the shadow (A brief introduction)

One of the more unique aspects about Individuation is that it encourages us to dip into the unknowns of our shadow; embrace it, and be a part of it. The shadow lurks within the unconscious portions of our minds, mainly comprising of our weaknesses, faults, and natural instincts, which have all been conveniently suppressed by society and external environments. It’s a place of darkness, despair, and despond. If you’ve heard of the phrase “battling your inner demons”, the inner demons in question is pretty much your shadow.

Battling in your inner demons - Understanding your Shadow Guide for Beginners

Truth be told, every single one of us has a shadow. It’s all part of being human, and there’s no denying it. In fact, the more you try to deny having a shadow, the more likely it is for your shadow to manifest itself into a stronger being (this could potentially overpower your other archetypes). As the godfather of individuation, Carl Jung, believes, the less your shadow is embodied into your conscious life, the darker and denser it becomes. There seems to be a direct relationship between the perception of an individual and the shadow of the same individual.

Due to its elongated term of suppression, and given its irrational and ungrounded nature, the shadow is prone to eruptions. It’s not unheard of for shadows to break through their barriers. In fact, it actually happens a lot more frequently than you’d expect, but we’ll discuss more about this later. When the shadow exceeds its bounds, it reveals its nature in menacing and eerie appearance. Ultimately, the shadow can be best described as a “reservoir for human darkness”.

Recognizing and understanding the shadow

Peering into your own shadow can be as simple as acknowledging it, almost as if you’re nodding to an old friend. Conversely, it can be as complicated as looking for someone in a house of mirrors. This entirely depends on how much you’ve suppressed your shadow, the environment that you were brought up in, on top of other factors that have played a part in defining you as a whole.

Recognizing your shadow - Understanding your Shadow Guide for Beginners

But what exactly skulks in our shadows? Simple. Practically every single act, mistake, or wrongful behavior that we were punished for, scolded for, or even mocked for. It consists of our natural animalistic instincts such as lust and greed. It can even comprise of other questionable traits such as egotism, laziness, sexual fantasies, fear, murderous thoughts, psychopathic tendencies, rage, and sadism. In hindsight, it’s all the things and thoughts we harbor in the safety and secrecy of our own minds; things that we refuse ourselves, or things that we simply don’t want to be. Shadows are also known to appear in our dreams in the form of a human being that shares your gender. Essentially, they appear in our dreams neither as friends nor foes, but as an extension of ourselves. What that means is once again, the shadow needs to be understood as a part of who you are.

From our days of infancy, we’ve all been moulded and instructed to behave as functional beings in society. And as functional beings, all of these traits have to be nipped in the bud through punishments and scoldings. What all of us have failed to understand is that punishments do not eradicate the existence of our shadows. In fact, they’re partially to blame for their creation in the first place. No amount of negative reinforcement can eliminate our shadows. As long as we’re human, our shadows will always exist. Every time we choose to adopt a specific trait and make it a part of ourselves, every time we incorporate a family value and uphold it when we start a family of our own, and every single decision we make has an opposing effect. All of which is carefully within the unconscious – specifically, the shadow.

The role of the shadow in individuation

Since individuation is the process of differentiating yourself as your own individual, it’s only natural that the pre-requisite here is to truly understand yourself first. After all, you can’t differentiate something that you don’t even know. More often than not, people struggle with understanding themselves, who they are, and what they really want, because they’ve never explored themselves beyond the surface. Our shadows are hidden so far beneath our hardened shells that getting a conscious glimpse of it can be a challenging task as it is. Additionally, becoming conscious of your shadow is merely a one of the five puzzle pieces forming the entire picture.


Child shadow - Understanding your Shadow Guide for Beginners

Nevertheless, the shadow’s role in individuation is not to be undermined. After all, allowing your shadow to overpower your personality can lead to detrimental effects and regrettable actions. There needs to be a certain degree of suppression, but not as much as you’d expect. This often takes place in moments of outrage and raw anger. But shadows shouldn’t necessarily be automatically labelled as pure evil. Think of it as a neglected child that requires compassion, guidance, and most importantly, love. And like every other damaged relationship, the first step to repairing a fault is simply acknowledging that there’s something that needs to be fixed.

Methods for confronting your shadow

Now that we’ve established the importance of engaging your shadow face-to-face, the next obvious step is to actually put it into practice. Generally speaking, there is no single technique that can be deemed as the be-all and end-all of shadow confrontation. Similar to mediating a disagreement between two squabbling colleagues, the technique adopted depends greatly on the individual involved. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you.

Confront shadow - Understanding your Shadow Guide for Beginners

Fortunately, a simple three-step procedure has been devised to pave the road for you. Before we go any further, it’s paramount that each step is taken seriously. First and foremost, you’ll have to accept the existence of your shadow. This means admitting to yourself that there is in fact a dark and murky reservoir residing within your unconscious. This is the easy part. The second step is to make yourself aware of what your shadow is like and what it wants, which essentially means that you’ll need to be look into your shadow in a state of consciousness, breakdown its qualities and decipher its intentions. Naturally, it would be almost impossible to see your shadow without agitation. You’ll have to take advantage of situations based on your thoughts, moods, and emotions. You’ll have to constantly question yourself with a conscious state of mind and whether these impulses or fantasies that you experience are part of your shadow. The final step is the ongoing process of negotiation between your consciousness and your shadow. Gradually, you’ll learn to accept it and gain the right amount of control over it.

What to expect when confronting your shadow

One of the most common reactions to the shadow is ignorance. As soon as we get the slightest glimpse of our shadows, we’re already pre-programmed to shut it down instead of embracing it. But we’ve been shutting it down for the wrong reasons; out of fear for what we will think of ourselves, and what others will think of us. The thing is, your shadow is aching and begging to be understood. It’s important to confront it regularly, embrace it, and and transpose those chords of pain into melodious notes. Allowing yourself to be in a state of chaos creates opportunity to evoke peace.

When you’ve finally found the prime opportunity to allow yourself to face your shadow, knowing what to expect will go a long way in understanding what needs to be controlled and what doesn’t. The shadow is a delicate entity that resides in our unconscious, which means that we’ll need to have a conscious mind when we approach it.

The key to confronting your shadow is to have the just right amount of suppression; enough for you to have a look into the elements that are hidden within it, but also enough for you to keep it under control. The most ordinary reaction is fear. There is no doubt that you’ll be frightened by what you see, and that’s where the waters become a little more treacherous and slightly harder to navigate.

Let’s bear in mind that no shadow wants to be healed, and there’s going to be a fair amount of resistance. The ultimate aim of this exercise is to admit to yourself that your shadow exists and that it is a part of who you are. Only then will you be able to move on to the next phase of individuation, and only then will you be able to comprehend your innate personality and your truest desires.

In summary

Here’s a short summary of the important points that were highlighted in today’s post:

• Understanding the shadow is an important part of the individuation process
• The shadow is a reservoir for human darkness and things we don’t want to be
• The shadow is not our friend or enemy, but a part of who we are
• The shadow requires acceptance, compassion, and guidance, similar to a child
• Confronting your shadow can be done by being conscious of it, learning about it, and negotiating with it
• Shadows can often be frightening to embrace, and a lot of resistance will be met
• Never ignore your shadow as it can manifest into a stronger and darker being
• Confronting your shadow requires strength, bravery, and the right amount of suppression

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