Shadow Work: The Basics

3152 words // 30 min. read

the shadow

The Shadow by Steven Kenny

The Shadow. Otherwise known as the quintessential idea of “darkness” (or “evil,” or “the devil,” or “demons” — though more accurately understood as “unconsciousness”), the Shadow is the topic of the day right now, even if many don’t realize it directly. All of these exposés, confessions, and rapid change of public opinion regarding formerly strong-held institutions are verrrrry shadowy in nature.

But what exactly is the Shadow? How do you actually define it?

Well, like anything in Carl Jung’s realm of absolutely pregnant ideas, the definition is fluid and largely relative to the context you’re discussing it in. But you could basically say that the Shadow is an aspect of our subconscious – in other words, everything that lives in the underbelly of our human (or animalistic) nature. It is the swampy, soupy, icky energy of our “dark side” that we don’t want to admit to having – the seedier and more raw sides to our personality – our “personal demons,” as it were.

Though significantly, it doesn’t really have to be “dark” as in “evil.” “Dark” in the more precise understanding moreso means “unconscious” or “unknown,” i.e. literally not illuminated by your conscious mind, and thus unable to be seen (it’s the same idea with the word “occult,” which most people think means “evil” or “satanic,” but it really just means “hidden,” in reference to secret, often magical, knowledge).

The reason why you want to learn about this is because there is a huge chance that you’re driven by your unconscious mind unknowingly. You know how public figures get taken down once their dark side comes to light? Well like them, in anything you do (especially publicly), your shadow traits are liable to being “found out” and used against you. So the only defense is for you to find out and heal those parts of you FIRST.

Plus, to truly manifest what you want in this world, and to be absolutely certain that your cause is noble and not in truth detrimental, you must make sure that there are no drives in your unconscious mind operating against your conscious desires. You could be sabotaging yourself (and others) without even knowing it!

I have put together some rudimentary elements that I think are important when considering the Shadow, which all things considered, is quite a vast topic. So while lengthy, this is by no means an exhaustive exploration, and rather a foundational basis from which you can then start to dig for your own understanding. This is depth psychology, and it’s not for everyone, because everyone simply does not have the capacity to understand it. I have tried to bring it down, but it’s a very abstract concept generally speaking, and there’s a LOT to it, so if you’re feeling up to it – grab your backpack, put on your safari hat and let’s get to exploring!

Oh yeah, and please keep your hands inside the car AT ALL TIMES! I can assure you that you are perfectly safe, but the Shadow does not fuck around. So get ready for a long ride through the Underworld, and remember to stay alert, ya heard?  ۞

The Shadow generally shows up in the form of urges, whether of self-sabotage, jealousy, lust, dishonesty, destruction, or what have you. But it’s sneaky – it can show up in mundane ways such as negative self-talk and weird obsessions or it can show up as actual demons or ghosts (called “thoughtforms”) in your peripheral vision, which is more rare depending on your level of psychic development, though still possible for all.

Put simply, it’s those weird, highly irrational drives you have that you may or may not notice, but that you always shame yourself for. The subtle urges you suppress on the daily.

And EVERYONE has a shadow, as does the collective at a higher level. So don’t even try me with the whole “but I’m a lightworker/healer/Christian!” bit. Just like every object casts a shadow, you too have a darkness. Stop running from it or else it will run all over you!


We have an individual and collective shadow, each of which a part of us belongs to. Your individual shadow might be the result of trauma or loss you have experienced, or from residue of decisions made in lives past. The collective shadow is the legacy of the collective mind that we are ALL a part of, and to which we ALL contribute to. This would be things like poverty, racism, misogyny, and the like.

Examples on the individual level (that you may or may not notice) could be the drive to overeat when you know it harms your body, or lusting after your best friend’s wife, or spending all of your money the instant you get paid, or thinking that someone is inferior to you (or superior for that matter), or wishing for the failure of your sibling out of jealousy, and et cetera.

Examples on the collective level could be destructive aggressions from group mobs, cultish hate groups like the KKK forming, massive amounts of people voting for a misogynistic and xenophobic president, Hitler’s immense campaign for world domination and genocide, the existence of a side of the government that actually works against the interests of the populace (read: Shadow Government or Deep State), etc. These things are possible because a certain amount of people feel the same way secretively and some form of leadership capitalizes on it. Then it becomes “normalized” into a movement and therefore justified.

All of these examples are things that no “rational” person would partake in, especially if they were being witnessed. But we see them all the time anyway as evidence of our more primal, animalistic, unconcerned-with-etiquette “dark” side that’s alive and well in our “civilization.”

Yet we’re sold this fairytale view of darkness, told that being evil is a certain kind of person “out there.” A sociopath, or a villain, or some fucked up person separate from you in a far off tower somewhere with a vengeance. Nobody tells you that the monster is actually inside of you… Nobody tells you that the enemy can actually be YOU.


Let me explain more practically in case it’s still a little too abstract at this point. As Jung himself pioneered it, the Shadow is basically made up of everything you don’t like about yourself, everything your conscious mind deems “taboo.” It has to do with desire, and wanting things that we “shouldn’t.” So it goes like this. Say you’re on a diet. That’s your conscious desire. But at the coffee shop, you find yourself lusting after a piece of chocolate cake even though you “shouldn’t.” So all this energy gets added to the piece of cake because it’s “wrong.” You go back and forth, hating yourself for even considering the cake. And as you try to repel the energy of the desire, it gets stronger, because desire is POWERFUL. You try to stop thinking about it, you try to “resist the temptation” and talk yourself out of it — all the while the “entity” of the desire is getting stronger against you, and generally “wears you down.” Eventually, after the cake has become this reservoir of charged mysterious energy from your subconscious mind because it’s “off limits,” the pull on your consciousness is so great that you cave and get the cake just so you can have your mind back (but you probably hate yourself the rest of the evening for it!).

The part of you that wanted the cake – the one you hate, the one you hide, the part of you that doesn’t respect your diet or your efforts to get better at life, THAT is your shadow. The one who wants what it shouldn’t. And the kicker is, that one stems from your unconscious, and it is manifesting just as powerfully as your conscious mind.


But here’s the thing. It’s a very valid part of you, just like the parts of you that you happen to love. If you had two kids, one who was well-behaved and one who was less well-behaved, you wouldn’t love either more or less, you would love them just as they ARE, because they’re your kids. Same thing should go for parts of yourself.

Well the challenge of shadow integration is the same idea – the challenge of LOVING the parts of you that you “hate.” The challenge of truly reveling in and appreciating the “bad” desire as it’s showing up. Because yes, shit sucks at times. And there are general things that suck, like all of the time. We ALL have our demons, and we ALL deal with the demons of our collective world. But how does it feel in your body, from an impartial perspective? What is the sensation like? Can you describe it? Can you amplify it and inspect it? Can you give yourself permission to be curious about it? Or even better, to totally enjoy it, to even honor the part of you that wants it this way?

Instead of “separating from” or disowning or shaming those parts, you open your arms and heart to them, and your acceptance alchemizes them into Love. Because it’s a universal law that whatever you resist grows stronger against you. So the only way to overcome the Shadow is to accept every part of your existence as a manifestation of yourself, and thereby LOVE it, with such abandon, with such enjoyment, that the desire is fulfilled and it actually evolves – as an entity – and comes over onto your side of the cause.

This is how the poor kid becomes a wealthy philanthropist. How the rape victim becomes a celebrated advocate for self-empowerment. How the person who struggled with an eating disorder becomes a counselor on the subject. This is called alchemy through “shadow integration.” You face the demon and it makes you expand toward your power.

Because all that desire “wants” is to be experienced – to be appreciated for existing as an expression of your soul. And you don’t actually have to act on it necessarily, it’s moreso about allowing the desire to be there. The second you stop “pushing” it away and shaming it, and allow yourself to LOVE the part of you that shamefully wants forbidden sweets, or to be amused by the part of you that has a crush on your friend’s wife, or to nurture the part of you that desires poverty or hunger or abuse – whatever desire it is (which, you know it exists because the “problem” keeps manifesting) – once the desire is truly free to make its creative expression in your life, it literally “clicks” into a different form, like an instant mini-evolution. And typically it evolves into its opposite or higher form (thus joining your cause which it was previously against)! This is Alchemy! What bothered you becomes your power. It is all about acceptance. This is how you get free!


Ok, so back to the forbidden piece of cake. You notice the craving along with the immediate impulse of guilt you have around it. Then you take steps to accept and amplify that “bad” feeling in your body, seeing if you can actually come to enjoy that pang of forbidden desire. You grow the icky feeling of “not having it” by breathing into it until you actually like it in a way. There may be a pull on your body or mind. You deliberately cultivate this space of yearning, and then you start a constructive internal dialogue. As if you were talking to a child of about 5 years, you could say to yourself something like, “Oh, there’s that naughty little mischief-maker again! You just love to rock the boat, don’t you? I love you so much little imp! Your wildness makes this journey more fun for me. I’m going to give you the piece of cake tonight. But not again for awhile, okay?”
>> In this scenario, the part of you that was originally wounded perhaps in the area of body weight, food, or eating – instead of being shamed, burdened, or (worse) outright ignored – it feels seen, loved, and accepted, and as a fellow energy inside your own mind, it is more inclined to work WITH you instead of AGAINST you in the future, provided you continue to nurture and accept it instead of outright shame or resist it.

More examples can look like devoting time to crying about it; going into the woods and screaming it out of your body; having a psychedelic experience with yourself; drawing, painting, or writing about the pain directly– generally speaking, making space to “meet” the parts of you that are in pain.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”   ~Carl Jung

This is what they mean by loving your own darkness. This is the crux of “spiritual awakening.” Coming to acknowledge those shadow drives within you instead of immediately denying them because you‘re “a good person”. All good people have a dark side too. We are all made up of both dark and light. And if you deny your own lust, jealousy, anger, sadness, etc…. then it has more power than you do, and those parts of you are wreaking havoc on the world without you even realizing it. And the kicker is that leaving your shadow to run amok actually contributes to the darkness of this world – which is counter to your actual conscious goal of spreading light!

Soooo yeah, this is my jam right now! Or let’s get real, that’s been the jam for like the past 5 years LOL. Integrating the Shadow by learning about how it shows up. We all have pain that needs to be acknowledged. Right now everyone is triggering everyone, and we are absolutely boiling in the stress of the collective pain, learning about everyone else’s pain, in addition to sorting out our own… Everything of what made us a “civilization” is in question, with secrets bubbling up to the surface to be seen so we can clear them…. As seen in sexuality and gender relations (#metoo!), the mass shootings that occur, “healthcare” losing ground to spiritual healing, the government’s ineptitude, people realizing that our food is literally poisoned, the threat of nuclear war… hell even Hollywood and the NFL are having problems. There is a trend here. And nobody wants that stale ass bread. Let’s bake an entirely new loaf!

Hahaha! Not sure where that bread analogy came from but YES! Let’s make something new. Let’s imagine. Let’s dream. Let’s FEEL and FROLIC and PLAY our way to the future.
Life can be a creative act instead of a burden.

But to get there efficiently, we must integrate our shadow, which is what we’re already doing collectively right now, even if mostly unwittingly. We must drain the swamp as it were, see what’s there, and befriend the scary monsters — thereby gaining their power on our side in an alliance for the light.


Besides all of this, people with integrated shadows are also just way more fun. They’re sexy, edgy, exciting, potentially dangerous to your worldview (they might teach you a few things), and they come across immediately as more powerful than your average person. Why? Because they are truly the master of their internal domain. They aren’t denying their darkness, instead they’re reveling in it because it gives them their quirks. They aren’t waiting for your approval or apologizing for their darker thoughts. To me, these people are in sharp contrast to those who live in a house of cards pretending that they’re completely innocent of all wrongdoing for all time. “Love and Light (and passive aggressiveness)!”… amiright?!

There’s a helluva lot more “love and light” in an integrated person than there is in an unconscious or unintegrated person, I can tell you that much fo’sho! Unintegrated people are way more scary and unpredictable because they are operated by monsters unchecked. Especially people that outright deny their dark side – BEWARE!


It’s hard to know how far to go into the complexity of this chasm of ancient knowledge; I hope it was understandable enough. To truly understand all the ins and outs of this one, it takes quite a bit of investigating, especially in its seedier applications like pedophilia and murder drives, but I have given you the basic golden nugget of wisdom from it. The distillation of many developments, both in my own innate wisdom from “exploring my pain” as I called it, and in reading about it formally, once I knew what the Shadow was.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is because integrating our own shadow is the best way to help the world, since acknowledging the subtle dark thoughts you have to yourself is the first step to transforming those thoughts into Love. The most highly-evolved people in the world still have pangs of jealousy, momentary flare ups of anger, drives to sabotage themselves via deep and abiding cravings for destruction… though the difference is, evolved people watch for these thoughts, acknowledge them, and positively spin them for creation instead of shaming the thoughts to the effect of a stagnant dead-end. Instead of just saying “that’s not me” or “I’m not racist” or “I’m one of the nice guys” — they can easily admit that they had a jealous pang or a dishonest intention and ask questions about where it came from and reflect on it, because they aren’t identified with their thoughts, which is what makes them highly-evolved. Identifying as the Being behind all of the thoughts instead of the thoughts themselves.

Coming to understand this is what is meant by “awakening.” The big ah-ha is that the Shadow only has power against you as long as you deny and suppress it, confusing it for something “separate” from you (“I’m not like them” “I don’t have problems” “I’m different” “That’s not me”).

*Once you acknowledge and accept it, and love it as a part of you, it loses that power against you, then joins your cause.* This is the great work of our times. This is part of what is meant by Alchemy: seeing “bad” things that happen to you or that you feel inside in a totally new light – as powerful events for your evolution. By honestly, vulnerably admitting their existence and impact to yourself, then taking steps to honor the part of you that manifested it all, you thus transmute that unacknowledged pain into your creative power. This is the work we all must do if we are truly going to make an impact here. And don’t even think about taking a leadership role until you understand your dark side! You put everyone at risk if you do. 

Happy excavating, and good luck!

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