What or who is your shadow self? And why has it become a key term when talking about spiritual self-help and healing?
According to psychologist Claire Nicogossian, ‘shadow self”’ is an umbrella term meant to encompass all of our negative emotions and traits. Within spiritual and holistic healing, the shadow self represents a version of ourselves we tend to hide from the outside world, even ourselves, whilst also mirroring the selves we present and know. This term was made popular by famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who stated that “the shadow” is not something you necessarily, or should, deliberately attempt to heal – but rather a side of yourself which you recognise for what it is, regardless of how difficult that may be.
For many, our trauma is hidden within our shadow selves, which means that the shadow lends itself to the subconscious and, in turn, is very sensitive to any and all emotional turmoil we might face. These shadow traits can include feelings such as guilt, shame, our insecurities and battles with confidence or, on the other side of the spectrum, with narcissism. Everyone’s shadow is different so there isn’t one true and trusted way of embracing this hidden side, but Jung believed one could make major strides in achieving inner peace by doing so.
Another theory coined by Jung was that of the ‘collective shadow,’ – Humanity’s great hidden mass as a result of societal and social pressure. The collective shadow, however, doesn’t have to be as great as Jung made it out to be, when taking a moment one can notice how friend groups or co-workers, or any collective with which you might be involved could be hiding from or snuffing out a collective shadow due to relationship dynamics and hierarchies which are present regardless of the closeness of said group.
The biggest reason why our shadow selves are so foreign to us when we first come face to face with the concept – whether that be through means of meditation, writing, research or general stillness with oneself – is because of our denial of it. We don’t want to believe that we possess these horrible qualities and attempting to uncover or even relate to these qualities creates the fear of causing more trauma to oneself.
Discovering these qualities, it may at first seem that they don’t fit with our own perception of ourselves, but that is exactly what it is meant to do. When we discover something new that we enjoy, for example (especially when it’s something that we previously had reservations about trying), we grow and it’s as if another puzzle piece finds its slot. Discovering and recognising your shadow qualities has the same effect, probably even tenfold. Because recognising that these qualities are a part of who you are allows you to see yourself as human, as someone within the grey area, who is allowed to be and feel negative at times and who will continue to live past these thoughts, feelings and traits.
You cannot truly heal your shadow self, that inner child or that angsty teenager, but what you can do is see them for what they are and without judgement because that will allow you to accept and maybe even be proud of the person who has come so far to be you today.