What is shadow work and how it is a vital part of your self-care.
Shadow work – it’s just two words, but many people shy away from it, they feel it’s ‘dark’, something to fear, but it is one of the most empowering, healing and pro active things we can do for ourselves, and is a vital part of self-care, in my humble opinion.
If we want to keep on top of our spiritual growth then working on our shadow selves has got to be priority.
Although working on the shadow self is a really useful thing to do, it can bring up painful memories, past secrets, hidden trauma and intense emotions – if you are not ready to deal with these do not begin it. Shadow work is a life long process, there are always new layers to unpeel, so be prepared to seek out the support of a trusted friend or professional therapist if the going gets tough.
Shadow work is not a replacement for medical treatment.
Having said that, it can be really rewarding and empowering, knowing that you have worked on and cleared old patterns and behaviour that has been holding you back.
So, what is it?
The way I see it, and this is only how I view it – shadow work is facing the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or the habits and behaviours that are harmful to us – some examples of these would be settling for harmful situations or relationships, lying, being secretive, self-harming – with drugs, alcohol, food, toxic relationships. Some of these behaviours are learned but unproductive behaviours or beliefs that we once used for survival, maybe from childhood or even from beyond, karmic behaviours we are carrying with us from our ancestors and we need to break the cycle for they no longer serve us – we need to let them go for our souls to grow.
Sometimes we are carrying guilt or shame about past behaviour – parts of ourselves we have hidden away because we are afraid of other peoples reactions to us, for examples repressing our true natures, our sexuality or gender. Bottled up emotions from trauma.
It is important to note that this is not about blaming anyone, least of all ourselves – working with and healing the shadow is about compassion, forgiveness – naming, identifying the shame/behaviour/fear/repressed emotion and then letting it go.
All of us will have different traumas to heal, some wounds will be deeper and harder to heal than others, and there are many different ways of healing them.
Ways of Healing the Shadow Self
Journaling is one way of healing – free writing, just allowing words to flow from you. Or just put a Google search in for shadow work prompts and see what you are drawn to. There are some useful ones here, but there are loads out there, take your time in looking, it becomes easier the more you do it. Start with some easy ones, such as “who or what am I jealous of?”, “friendships, which ones make me feel safe and nurtured, which ones make me feel isolated and insecure?”, “do I have healthy boundaries?”, “do I repeat the patterns that my parents and their parents did?”, “when have I been self destructive or self sabotaging in my life?”, “what does my inner child need?”
Or, if you struggle with ‘free writing’ or journaling, as I do – mine just end up as a random monologue of what has happened, or how I feel, there are some amazing shadow work workbooks out there to buy nowadays, all ready done with prompts and questions, just go to amazon and type in shadow work journals, there will be one that leaps out for you. It has revolutionised the work for me, and taken all the stress out of it.
Click here to be taken to the amazon page that I just opened. And I know Amazon isn’t ethical, but it is a handy resource, and when you have found your journal, you can always see if you can buy it direct or from another seller.
I have even got my husband doing shadow work!! He now has two workbooks, which is more than me! We all have something to heal, to work on. Isn’t that part of our souls purpose being here, to grow, to learn, to heal?
Keep it Private
For me, I feel that shadow work is private. We live our lives on social media, sharing all sorts of personal things, but I feel this work has a sacredness to it – it’s one thing to talk things over with a trusted friend or professional, but something completely other to share our darkest and innermost private thoughts over social media – once it’s out there it can’t be taken back.
Witchy Shadow Work Rituals to Try at Home
A Scrying Ritual for Shadow Work to See What Needs to be Uncovered
This can be done at any time, but doing it on the New Moon (the Dark Moon) will make it especially powerful. You can also incorporate it in to your seasonal rituals through out the year, particularly the dark half. I start my shadow work at the Fall Equinox, and continue through to Imbolc.
Create a special time to sit and do the work, light a candle, some incense, use a beautiful journal to write in, or get your shadow work journal, create a safe, nurturing and beautiful space for yourself. Have a large piece of dark crystal, such a black obsidian, or a black bowl filled with water, a black mirror. Ground, centre and protect yourself – call in your guides to help you. Write down the question or prompts you wish to work with – read them aloud then gaze into the mirror / scrying bowl / crystal and wait….. it may take time, 5, 10, 20 minutes, for images of words to form in your mind – there is no set time or right or wrong way to do this – you may get nothing, but by speaking aloud you are already initiating the healing. You might want to speak aloud a healing phrase, something like “I did the best I could at the time and I forgive myself”.
Working with the Tarot
If you work with tarot or oracle cards they can be really useful in opening up pathways in our subconscious and allowing is to look deeper or clarify situations that we are working with. I do not use them as ways to predict the future, but as helpful archetypes, metaphors and signs that clarify what is going on in my life that maybe I am not able to see, they affirm my inner knowing and connect me to my intuition on a deeper level.
As before, set the scene with candles and incense, if that’s your vibe, maybe some relaxing music, whatever you want use that makes you feel comfortable and allows you to set the scene to be able to shift into a deeper state. Set your intentions of what you want to achieve, choose your cards and begin to ask your questions. Again there are many resources on Google that will help you, here is one, but get creative, trust your own intuition – if you get stuck draw a card for insight or clarification – create a spread based on your questions.
Shadow work and Self-Care
Remember, shadow work is a lifelong process, revisit it often to see what has changed or shifted. and this is where the self-care comes in – for me, uncovering these things, working on the shadow self is so healing it is vital to my self-care, one and the same thing. We are all familiar with Instagrams version of self-care, bubble baths and candles, stylised images. Wikipedia defines self-care as “Self-care has been defined as the process of taking care of oneself with behaviours that promote health and active management of illness when it occurs. Individuals engage in some form of self-care daily with food choices, exercise, sleep, and dental care”. All ancient cultures have some evidence that self-care was important, even as far back as the first peoples, and on a practical level, it made sense, keeping healthy and looking after each other and the self kept disease at bay – good hygiene is at the foundation.
Self-care can nowadays be seen as anything that we do that gives us pleasure and promotes a healthy mind, body and spirit. As a pagan, I practice seasonal self-care – working with the seasons and cycles of nature, creating rituals that then make something special rather than just a routine.
- Spring – putting plans into motion
- Summer – living and experiencing fully
- Autumn – reflection
- Winter – looking within (shadow work) planning and repeat (the cycle of life, death and rebirth)
Bathing, good sleep, food choices, exercise, breathwork and meditation, reading, disconnecting from social media are all obvious choices for self-care. Less obvious choices for self-care and where we walk into the shadow work is setting boundaries, learning how to say no, walking away from toxic situations and people, turning the phone off, unfollowing and unliking people on social media, making time for a massage, or going to therapy, grounding, learning how to say yes despite anxiety, getting unstuck, letting go, getting out of our routines and negative patterns.
Can you see how they are now morphing into one? Being an active participant in your wellbeing can mean doing things you don’t necessarily want to do, stepping outside of your comfort zone, for example leaving a job / career / relationship that makes you unhappy, getting out of situations that make you sad and uncomfortable…now that is true self-care and shadow work!!!! and as I said earlier, it’s an ongoing process, but one that is so worthwhile and will feed your soul in so many rewarding ways.
For some witchy chat about shadow work check out my podcast, The Holistic Witch.
May your healing be gentle, much love,