What Is The Shadow Self?

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Have you ever noticed that there are parts of yourself that linger beneath the surface that you’d rather not acknowledge or think about? Perhaps you’ve had days where all of a sudden you’ve felt a surge of anger, jealousy, or other negative emotions that seemed to come out of nowhere! Or perhaps you’ve found yourself thinking about certain behaviors or impulses that seem to be out of character for you that you can’t quite explain.

This my friends is what is known as the shadow self!

In this article, we will take a deep dive into what the shadow self is, where it comes from, and how it can affect our lives, relationships, and how we behave. We’ll also look at the benefits of embracing it and how you can use journaling to explore this hidden side of ourselves.

What Is The Shadow Self?

The shadow self is a collection of repressed personality traits, feelings, impulses, thoughts, and emotions that have been pushed back into the unconscious mind, often because they are seen as unacceptable or even taboo. 

These are the parts of our personality that we try to keep hidden from ourselves and others because we see these as negative traits or emotions eg. anger, jealousy, greed, or lust. 

People were first introduced to the idea of the shadow self archetype in the early 20th century by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist who believed that each person has a darker side that is hidden from the conscious mind.  He said that often the shadow self is born through difficult or traumatic childhood experiences that can impact our mental health as we grow older.

Jung believed that trying to suppress or ignore your dark side could lead you to feel disconnected from the world and sometimes could even lead to anxiety or depression. He said that by exploring and recognizing the dark aspects of your personal shadow you could gain a deep understanding of who you are, encouraging personal growth and self-awareness.

What Are The Archetypes?

Carl Jung believed that there is a group of characteristics that every person understands, no matter where they come from or what life experiences they have had.   These groups of characteristics are known as Archetypes and each archetype represents a different aspect of human nature.

A few of the most common archetypes include:

  • The Shadow: As mentioned, the shadow archetype represents the dark, unconscious dark side of our psyche which is made up of repressed thoughts, feelings, and impulses that we hide from both ourselves and others. 
  • The Anima: The feminine aspect of the male psyche, representing emotions, intuition, and creativity.
  • The Animus: The masculine aspect of the female psyche, representing logic, reason, and assertiveness.
  • The Child: Representing innocence, curiosity, and playfulness, the Child archetype is often associated with our inner child.
  • The Trickster: A mischievous and cunning archetype that can manifest as our shadow self, representing our tendency to manipulate or deceive ourselves and others.
  • The Hero: Represents courage, perseverance, and self-discovery.

How The Shadow Self Is Created

The shadow self is created when someone represses thoughts and emotions.  It is a defense mechanism that helps them to cope with stressful or unacceptable thoughts by pushing them into the unconscious mind which is part of your dark side.  This can happen in a few ways: 

  • Childhood Experience: From a young age, we learn what behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are acceptable and unacceptable based on the culture or society we live in. Any thoughts, feelings, or impulses that are thought to be unacceptable are repressed and placed in the shadow self.
  • Trauma: Sometimes traumatic events can cause people to repress memories, emotions, and thoughts associated with the trauma, which can form the shadow self.
  • Personal experiences: People can sometimes repress their thoughts, feelings, and impulses when they are not aligned with their personal values, beliefs, or goals, or that are in conflict with their conscious identity leading to personal shame and guilt. 
  • Cultural and societal norms: The shadow can also be influenced by cultural and societal norms because a person might repress thoughts, feelings, and impulses that are not aligned with the dominant culture or societal expectations.

How To Find Your Shadow Self

If you want to explore your shadow self you will need a lot of self-reflection and honesty.  Here are some things you can try to help you:

  • Reflect on your feelings: Pay attention to your emotions, especially those that you may have been trying to suppress or deny. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” and “Why am I feeling this way?”
  • Examine your reactions: Observe how you react to different situations and people. Ask yourself, “Why did I react that way?” and “What triggers me?”
  • Identify your blind spots: Recognize areas where you may be unaware of your own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Ask for feedback from trusted friends or family members, or seek the help of a therapist.
  • Engage in self-care: Practice self-care activities like meditation, mindfulness, self-love, journaling, or dream analysis to gain insight into your subconsciousmind.
  • Shadow work – Shadow work allows you to safely explore and integrate repressed thoughts into your consciousness and personality.

Learn everything you need to know about Shadow Work Here!

Another way to become aware of your shadow is to think about the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you have towards someone else.  For example, you might accuse someone else of being selfish or dishonest when you yourself are being selfish and dishonest. 

This is called psychological projection. 

This type of projection can help you avoid the discomfort of facing your own shadow personality by shifting the qualities you don’t like about yourself onto someone else. 

How Your Inner Shadow Affects You

Although you might not always be aware of your shadow, it can have a powerful influence over your thoughts and feelings.  It can also affect the way you interact with others, the choices you make, and the way that you see the world around you.  

These are a few ways that your inner personal shadow can affect you:

  • Conflict and anxiety: The shadow can create conflict and anxiety within you as you struggle with repressed thoughts and feelings.  This can cause turmoil and tension.
  • Projection:  Sometimes the shadow can cause you to project your repressed thoughts onto someone else which can lead to negative feelings towards them such as anger, jealousy, or resentment.  On the flip side, sometimes you might see yourself reflected in another person which can lead to a sense of familiarity or recognition.
  • Overcompensation – Sometimes someone might try to “correct” their shadow self by overcompensating with other personality traits.  For example, someone who has repressed anger might become very passive or accommodating to avoid conflict. 
  • Disowned Parts – Often the shadow self can contain the disowned parts of a person’s personality such as their creativity, sensuality, or assertiveness.  By integrating these parts back into their personality people can tap into new sources of energy and creativity. 
  • Self-Sabotage – Often the shadow self will cause people to sabotage themselves either consciously or unconsciously due to feelings of fear or unworthiness.  Some self-sabotaging behaviors can include self-doubt, procrastination, or even self-destructive behaviors.
  • Physical and Mental Health – Sometimes repressed emotions can manifest as physical symptoms or emotional distress. 
  • Relationship Issues – The shadow self can sometimes affect people’s relationships as repressed thoughts and feelings create misunderstandings and conflict.  

Emotions & Behaviours That Are Linked To Your Shadow

There are so many emotions and behaviours that can be linked to your shadow. By becoming aware of what each of these emotions are you can take steps to understand them and bring them into your life in a healthy and constructive way.

  • Fear
  • Desire
  • Sadness
  • Vulnerability
  • Shame
  • Regret
  • Envy
  • Pride
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Self-sabotage
  • Lies
  • Procrastination
  • Resentment
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Bitterness
  • Aggression, anger, and rage
  • Victimization
  • Jealousy
  • Addiction
  • Codependency
  • Discontentment

What Triggers The Shadow Self?

The shadow self can be triggered by things like stress, anxiety, trauma, or major life changes. 

Certain people or situations could also trigger it by reminding us of our repressed thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  You will likely know that the shadow self has been triggered when you feel a very strong emotional response, such as anger, fear, or even excitement.

Shadow Self Examples

The shadow self can manifest itself in many different ways.  Of course, each person’s upbringing, cultural background, and personal experiences play a part in how they deal with their personal shadow. 

Here are some shadow self examples showing how the shadow can “hide” behind certain behaviors.

  • Anger or Aggression: A person who is angry or aggressive may have a shadow self that is passive or weak.
  • Perfectionism: A person who is a perfectionist may have a shadow self that is sloppy and careless.
  • Control: A person who is a control freak who needs to control every aspect of their life might have a shadow self that is chaotic and unpredictable.
  • Confidence – A person who is confident and assertive might have a shadow self that is insecure, anxious and vulnerable.
  • Criticism – Someone who is very critical of others might have a shadow self that is filled with self-criticism and poor self-esteem. 
  • Passive Aggression – Sometimes a person who is friendly and pleasant may have a shadow self that is depressed, selfish, insecure, and critical of others.

Is The Shadow Self Good Or Bad?

While it is natural to think of the shadow self as being bad or even evil, it is good to remember that it is a natural part of human nature and even someone who you consider to be a good person will have a darker side to their personality.

And, while many might feel that they would like to get rid of their shadow self, it isn’t entirely possible to do so.  Rather you should work towards integrating it into your conscious awareness which can help you to become a more whole and complete person with a more positive sense of self. 

Here are some ways that you can work with your shadow self:

  • Acknowledge and accept your shadow self – Recognize that your shadow self is a natural part of who you are and that it has qualities that you may have been taught to suppress or reject.
  • Explore your shadow self – Engage in self-reflection and explore the thoughts, feelings, and impulses that you have been trying to keep hidden.
  • Integrate your shadow self – Integrating the shadow into your consciousness and acknowledging its presence can help you become more authentic and whole.
  • Practice self-compassion – Treat your shadow self with kindness, self acceptance and compassion, just as you would treat a vulnerable part of yourself.

It’s also important to remember that the shadow self plays an important part in our moral development allowing us to explore our own moral values and principles. 

It allows us to become aware of our own flaws and weaknesses which in turn can help us to develop empathy and compassion for others so it can be argued that the shadow self is indeed a good part of someone’s personality. 

Shadow Work

In our next article, we are going to take a look at shadow work and how it can help you to explore and embrace your dark side.  Shadow work involves recognizing your shadow and bringing it into the conscious mind so that you can become more mindful and self-aware. 

Conclusion

The shadow self is a powerful force that shapes how you feel, think, and behave in ways that you might not even realize.  The shadow self however shouldn’t be a part of yourself that you fear or ignore because it holds the key to unlocking your authentic self.  So don’t be afraid to venture into the depths of who you are, you never know what you might find there that can help you grow emotionally.