Get to Know Your Shadow for a Better Year in 2019

get to know your shadowSomeone recently recommended to me a book called Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert A. Johnson. He was an author and a Jungian psychoanalyst (more on what that means in a second). I’d heard of his works when I was in high school. Unfortunately, he died this past September, which made the recommendation a timely way to remember him.


It’s a primer on the unconscious mind, or what Carl Jung called the “shadow.” But what is the shadow? Each of us have a part of ourselves that we don’t know about, that’s outside of our awareness, and yet is very much a part of our being. Knowing about this part of ourselves is so important because the shadow has ways of showing up in ways that, well, we least expect.


Not so sure? Studies indicate that the unconscious mind influences an astounding 90% to 95% of our actions and behaviors. But how? And how can you bring your shadow into the light so that you can have a more fulfilling, meaningful New Year?


Master of the Autopilot

I’m going to oversimplify this quite a bit, but imagine that when you were born you were a a blank slate. Okay, not that blank, you still had the workings of your operating system as a new human. So you knew to breathe, sleep, all that stuff that we never think about.


So many of these “lessons” were saved and stored in your unconscious mind and became a part of your operating system.

But as you grew up and lived your life, you had many experiences that you learned from. How to wash a car. How to fry an egg. How to write your name. How to love. What happens when someone gets angry. So many of these “lessons” were saved and stored in your unconscious mind and became a part of your operating system.


Now, when you need to write your name, you don’t have to think about it. Your brain is on autopilot, helping you free up coveted space in your mind for, well, other stuff. New experiences and learnings.


This means that your day-to-day life in “run” by this unconscious programming in your shadow, which also includes all of the emotional pain, memories, and “yuck” you don’t want to think about or recall.


Get to Know Your Shadow

Changing our unconscious programming is hard work and many people don’t do it. But the consequences of not doing so can be significant. Robert Johnson explains it this way:

“Unless we do conscious work on it, the shadow is almost always projected; that is, it is neatly laid on someone or something else so we do not have to take responsibility for it.” (1991, p. 31)


This means that if you feel stuck in your life, or are struggling in a relationship, and you’ve found yourself blaming your circumstances, your partner, or something else, or you’re struggling with an addiction of some kind, or a situation in your life that seems to keep repeating itself, it’s probably time to get to know your shadow.


But how can you do this? Here are a few ways to try:

  1. Journaling: Putting pen to paper each day is so valuable as it requires your to record the inner workings of your mind. It’s a great way to cultivate self-reflection, be curious about yourself, and notice over time what keeps coming up.
  2. Practice daily gratitude: Identifying things you’re grateful for can be a great way to not only change your programming but to notice what resistance you might have. For instance, try one of the exercises listed here, especially if you’re in recovery or trying to kick a habit. What do you hear yourself saying in response? That’s probably your shadow talking. If you want to start doing this, I just downloaded an app called The Five-Minute Journal and I love it.
  3. Reading and meditation: Reading books that speak to you and then taking time to reflect on them, to absorb what you’re reading, is a great way to expand your insight about how your mind works.
  4. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is simply a way of talking about paying attention to the present moment without judgment or trying to change it. Mindfulness can help you to listen to those experiences on the “edge” or periphery of your awareness and increase your ability to tune in to your shadow.
  5. Therapy: You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Therapy is arguably the best way of getting to know your shadow, because a trained listener can help you understand how your shadow is showing up. Group therapy, individual therapy, or couples therapy are all great ways of doing “shadow” work.


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Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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