Blocks to Practicing Shadow Work
November 14th, 2019
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Shadow work is the single most important spiritual practice. Without it we recycle our life experiences, underlying patterns we operate from remain unknown to us, and we can’t help but be victimized by the world around us without really understanding it, or ourselves, intimately.
What is the Shadow?
The shadow is a composite character of everything that we are not aware of inside ourselves as well as needs, desires, and parts of ourselves that we reject, conceal, are ashamed of or fear. This can also include the pieces of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge or innocently enough–don’t know howto integrate.
It’s important to know that our shadow has vital and positive aspects of us hidden inside it as well. It’s not all negative.
Becoming aware of the overarching theme in our life, psychic and emotional wounds, triggers, invisible needs, archetypal equivalents, buried trauma, and negative attitudes and patterns is no easy feat. There’s a reason it was referred to in alchemical terminology as “The Great Work”, and it’s due to the amount of effort, willingness, and sincerity that it demands. It’s a lifetime endeavor and its through shadow work that it’s achieved.
In order to start making the unconscious conscious, we can take an indirect approach and place our attention on the defense mechanisms we use in order to protect us from our shadow. By becoming conscious of the ways we block ourselves off to self-awareness we already set the process in motion and begin to disarm those pathways–provided we have a willing heart.
Denial is the most commonly used defense mechanism. Its so cliché, I’d personally like to present some fringe, offbeat tactic as the silent killer of spiritual development, unfortunately its plain ol’ denial, born and bred in the swamp lands of our psyche that tops this chart.
It’s just too easy.
All you have to do is deny.
This is where we unknowingly bestow the qualities, attributes, and behaviors that we posses unto someone else (like a film projector) and then watch ourselves on the movie screen of their life without really understanding that we are actually observing ourselves. Crazy right?
This is also the one defensive mechanism that I feel can be turned into a tool used in our favor if we can become conscious and fiercely honest with ourselves when we are projecting, then we have created a doorway into seeing ourselves more clearly by studying the other in order to better know thyself.
Because of the elusive nature of the shadow, it’s rare we get to directly commune with it. That’s why utilizing indirect methods can be so helpful. They give us an opportunity to see aspects of ourselves we wouldn’t normally have a way of seeing without them.
After we become aware we are projecting, we can take note of our observations, as they are crucial to understanding our relationship with ourselves.
Deflecting is another extremely common tactic that can inhibit us from letting the light of consciousness into our awareness. It’s where we shut down the concerns, critiques, or issues that are directed at us by others and, instead, place the focus solely on the other person.
Using excuses as a means to continue our unconscious behaviors is a huge detriment to our personal growth. Excuses keep us in our habitual patterns, but the real hindrance is in their validity.
Most of us have completely valid and real reasons why we cant become more self-aware. Past traumas, chronic stress, a debilitating illness, a full schedule, even finances can be used as an excuse to deter us from our unconscious aspects.
Justification is a positionality that we unknowingly use as a way to protect us from self-examination and its one of the most covert means of doing so.
Shadow work is such a challenging practice and avoidance can come in any and every form. It can be the avoidance of feeling our uncomfortable feelings, avoidance of self-reflection, or avoidance of taking responsibility for our actions and learning from our lessons, etc.
We are creatures of comfort, more than that, we are creatures of the known. We can find distractions anywhere and dealing with harsh realities through avoidance can become addicting.
Identifying with the victimized aspects of our shadow, in order to shield us from deeper layers of our shadow
Wouldn’t it be so beautiful if all that our shadow contained were helpless maidens and white knights? The aesthetic equivalent of painting a rainbow with only yellow and green.
Unfortunately our shadow holds more tones then the ones that we can easily see.
It might be less risky for us to own our more appealing shadow aspects; the ones that we can build our personal stories around rather than acknowledge our less benign aspects.
A great example of this would be when we identify as an empath or white knight—
any role where we are trying to rescue others only to be taken advantage of.
Those are a good place to start at when doing shadow work since those aspects tend to be easier for us to look at and relate with.
However, we could unconsciously turn around and use those same qualities to shield us from owning or recognizing our tyrannical, petty, dual, sadistic, manipulative, vindictive, or extortive counterparts.
This defense mechanism right here is the turn around.
Allowing this one in is where we start walking through the fire, because these are the pieces that really need light shed on them in order to start working with them in a semiconscious way.
This one is so important it needs its own mantra: “I am complete within myself”
Emotional states that protect us from our shadow
Pride, anger, sadness, fear, shame any ”go to” emotional state that we are familiar with can become a way we block ourselves from our shadow aspects.
This one is especially challenging because it’s not just a mentality that we default in.
There are actual physiological and biological responses activated when we are triggered and becoming aware of this helps us navigate the state better, rather than instantly resort to shutting down or succumbing to our mechanical patterns.
What if we could allow ourselves to feel whatever bubbles up to the surface inside us, without allowing the feelings to override our ability to expand our awareness?
It’s as easy as surfing backwards.
These emotional states aren’t the enemy, they are part of our earthy third dimensional experience. They are feedback mechanisms and guides, they hold wisdom and communicate important information to us. They can also be used to protect us and facilitate self-healing. For example, the state of anger can become a rite of passage when we are climbing up the emotional ladder of consciousness if we have spent most of our life in the energetic domain of shame or fear.
Both these states are less empowering than anger. Anger is an appropriate and necessary response to transgressions and harmful actions we’ve experienced.
The problem occurs when these emotional states start to protect us from seeing what is unconscious inside us.
Pride can become such a dense positionality that it completely blocks higher states of consciousness from entering us if we won’t allow our environment to illuminate that which remains hidden within us.
These mechanisms are not black or white; they are not a one-size fits all approach, nor are they as reductive as “spot it you got it.”
So how can you tell the difference between when you are projecting and when you are in fact just seeing another person’s behavior very clearly?
Or how do you know if you’re deflecting versus genuinely being gas lit?
Practice and perseverance can only tell.
This is why it’s called the great work.
If you are sincere nothing can stop you.
If you are not sincere, nothing can help you.
About the author:
She is the administrator of the social media account: The Alchemist, where she shares esoteric knowledge to help humanity gracefully tap into our evolutionary potential. She considers it her work to connect the higher with the lower; the outer world with the inner world.
Sarah hosts retreats and workshops in Los Angeles on Alchemy and Shadow Work.
You can get in touch with Sarah here: