The Shadow Self and Shadow Work’s Role In Spirituality

The Shadow Self and Shadow Work’s Role In Spirituality

The Shadow Self and Shadow Work’s Role In Spirituality

The shadow self and shadow work maybe concepts you’ve stumbled across during the course of your spiritual journey. Shadow work is the entire realm of healing that every person must engage with in order to “ascend” or pursue enlightenment to any degree, and there’s a massive overlap with psychology and trauma that I think often gets overlooked by the spiritual community, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

We live in a society that is so mentally and emotionally unwell that we are exposed to a covert undercurrent of micro-traumas almost daily. Sexism and sexual harassment are traumatic. Racism is traumatic. Anti-LGBTQ attitudes are traumatic. These are covert societal traumas that are inflicted upon social groups over generations. These kinds of abuses and microaggressions can become so systemically “normalized” and occur so subtly that some people who experience them end up internalizing them and may not even recognize the abuse when it occurs.

Then there’s overt societal traumas: Genocide, war, and the displacement of people that occurs because of them, as well as poverty and the displacement of people that occurs because of it, like gentrification and homelessness. Terrorism and hate crimes are also a part of this.

Then we have social traumas: being bullied for your weight, intellect, physical appearance, religious beliefs, disabilities, or any other factor that makes you physically, neurologically, or ideologically different.

You can think of all of these things as the collective “karma” that we, as a society, have created here on earth throughout our history.

And then we have the traumas that are passed down to us through our families–generational trauma, or as some in the spiritual community refer to it, ancestral karma, generational karma, generational/ancestral curses: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, narcissistic abuse, mother wounds, father wounds, etc. These are the traumas that when viewed from the outside, we can mostly agree are problems, but they are difficult for us to recognize in ourselves. Particularly in cases of emotional and narcissistic abuse, most of us never had another familial experience to compare it to, so we assumed our parents behavior was normal, and thus, never recognized the abuse, and because we never recognized the abuse, we never dealt with it.

Throughout our lives, as we are bombarded with all manner of abuses and exposed to innumerable traumas great and small, we learn strategies to survive and feel safe. Many of the coping mechanisms which we develop to keep ourselves safe in these toxic situations in our formative years prevent us from having healthy relationships and healthy lives in adulthood. In the case of societal abuses, we are being re-traumatized every time we experience one.

For many of us, this initial traumatic “programming” as you could call it, makes us more susceptible to abuse and trauma later in life, because it instills subconscious fear-based beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

All of these coping mechanisms–and the emotional scars that they are trying protect us from re-experiencing–are lodged deep in our subconscious psyche: our shadow.

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” may refer to:

(1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality, the shadow is largely negative, or…

(2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in one’s shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem).

The shadow is where all of our unconscious habits, patterns, addictions, subconscious beliefs, and traumas lie. It’s the emotional bruises we’ve sustained that are so painful, we tucked them away and never looked at them. And when we haven’t dealt with those emotional scars, they bubble up from within the shadow as depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, rage, narcissism, abusive behavior, projection, dissociation, an inability to form secure attachments and healthy relationships, addiction, codependency, and so on and so forth.

A lot of people never make the connection between being abused and developing mental illness.

These are all trauma responses or destructive coping mechanisms we created to help us deal with (or not deal with) our emotions. This is the shadow made manifest, and what many spiritual people label as the ego.

(Note: What most spiritual people label as the ego is not the same as the definition of the ego in psychology, which is defined as the totality of our conscious self, or our identity. Thus, our ego–or identity–can never be truly killed or destroyed, merely transformed. To have no ego would be to cease being human.)

Furthermore, when it comes to relationships, that subconscious programming in our minds (and souls) continuously attracts us to similar behavioral patterns, emotions, and energy throughout the rest of our lives because we’ve learned that this is what love looks like and it becomes what we’re attracted to in others. Because we’ve also normalized abusive behavior, we don’t have healthy boundaries and can’t identify red flags. That looks like experiencing repeating patterns of the same relationship issues no matter who you’re with, the same toxic work environments no matter where you go, and meeting the same kind of toxic people over and over (some might call this the Law of Attraction). The incidents mirror or recreate the original trauma, but they also present an opportunity for that trauma to be processed and healed. 

READ: Your fear, anxiety, depression, and other self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors are caused by unhealed trauma, and that trauma, when allowed to run rampant in society over generations, has created the world we live in.

When we create beliefs around these trauma responses and coping mechanisms, and then create social norms, and governing policies around those beliefs, we then manifest that shadow into the world around us.

“Trauma decontextualized in a person looks like personality. Trauma decontextualized in a family looks like family traits. Trauma decontexualized in a society looks like culture.” –Resmaa Menakem, trauma expert

You’ll find a lot of spiritual teachings that discuss acknowledging the shadow self and and learning to acknowledge it and integrate it. Through this process of acknowledgement, we recognize our traumas and the behavioral patterns that have resulted from them. Through that acknowledgement and the subsequent practices of reclaiming our power away from that trauma, we integrate it. When we acknowledge that all of our emotions are okay, even the negative ones, we integrate pieces of our shadow, and recognize ourselves as a whole person again. As we heal, we step into our power, and into alignment with our higher self and our higher purpose. We “ascend.”

It’s also important to note, once again, that the shadow isn’t only negative. It also includes positive aspects of yourself that you aren’t able to consciously see because of all of the beliefs we’ve created around our abuse and trauma. For example, someone who has been emotionally abused may believe that they aren’t worthy of love. Their inherent worthiness and goodness is trapped in their psychological shadow, where they can’t consciously access it. Only through shadow work can they excavate their self-worth–usually by sifting through some of the heavier emotions around traumatic experiences that it’s buried under and working to release them.

Shadow work isn’t only a mental and emotional exercise. Trauma is what creates emotional blockages in our energy bodies and our physical bodies, and that stagnant energy contributes to our inability to process the trauma and keeps us stuck in our repeating patterns. Utilizing various types of energy work like reiki, crystal healing, acupuncture, or physical movement therapies like somatic therapy, yoga, and dance can help re-align the emotional and physical bodies with the mind, and shake loose stagnant energy that can then be processed through more traditional types of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma-informed talk therapy, etc.

Our shadow is not something to be destroyed, it’s something to be explored. Through that exploration, we discover ourselves, and by discovering ourselves, we are able to become more conscious of who we are, and live with more awareness, both of ourselves, and how we contribute to the co-creation of the world around us.

Xo,

Ash

 

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Why Do We Need Boundaries?

Why Do We Need Boundaries?

Why Do We Need Boundaries?

Question from a reader:

“If we’re all one, how can we have boundaries? I’ve found that I struggle quite a bit with feeling like I “owe” certain things to the world, and that it is not my “right” to say “no.” I’ve also heard the Universe doesn’t hear “no,” and so it almost seems pointless to draw a line and say, “here’s my boundary.” I know instinctively this isn’t quite right–we should all have the right to say no–but if you have any additional perspective or explanation on this, that would be amazing! I feel like I need to rationalize it somehow but I’m not quite sure how yet. I’ve noticed a trend in my life where I attract some people (friends or otherwise) who violate those boundaries, and who sort of “walk all over me.” And I’m trying to figure out how to stop the cycle.”

First we have to distinguish what we’re talking about: energetic boundaries or physical boundaries? Energetically speaking, it’s true. We are all one, so the concept that we can be energetically separate from another human being (or animal, or plant, or the planet, for that matter) is actually impossible.

Energy flows like the ocean, and so does consciousness. Some of that water might be colder and some of it might be warmer, but it’s still all a drop in the same ocean, and that’s why I don’t put a whole lot of emphasis behind the concept of negative entity attachments, psychic attack, etc

Physically speaking, we are separate beings. That was the whole intention and purpose of incarnation: to create the illusion of separation so that we could have individual experiences.

What we view as healthy boundaries, we create precisely because we are all one. Think of it this way: the people in your life act as mirrors to reflect back to you certain things about yourself. Those people are, in a spiritual way, extensions of yourself, and as such, they behave toward you in ways that behave toward yourself. If you’re walking around under the belief that you have no right to say no, you’re not thinking very highly of yourself and that’s the experience that you allow into your life. That’s the statement of who you are that you’re telling yourself.

When you have a higher appreciation for yourself as the magnificent, powerful, creative being that you are, then you’re naturally going to create an existence that reflects that. What we perceive as healthy boundaries are simply a byproduct of living in a loving vibration toward ourselves.

What you are currently seeing as a separation, is actually the opposite. You’re actually embracing the all of you, including your own responsibility for the life and the people that you allow around you. The minute you start setting healthy boundaries, people who don’t respect healthy boundaries are going to be repelled from your life, either because they get mad at you for setting boundaries and leave, or because you’ll give them the boot them yourself. You won’t tolerate any of them in your life in the future, and you no longer attract people who mirror that experience back to you because you no longer hold the belief that you have no right to say no.

Feeling like you owe things to the world is really owing things to yourself. If you begin to look at every person in the world as an extension of yourself, and then translate what you believe you should give to them as something you need to give to yourself, you’ll begin to recognize things much more clearly.

I’ve made similar assertions to the notion of needing psychic protection from negative entities. These things, too, are a part of the “all” of which you are. As such, they are aspects of yourself, reflecting back to you beliefs and attitudes you hold about yourself. The only “protection” you need is to love yourself unconditionally.

Xo,

Ash

 

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Why Do We Need Boundaries?

Healers Need Boundaries Too: The Unrealistic Expectations of Healers and Spiritual Figures

Healers Need Boundaries Too: The Unrealistic Expectations of Healers and Spiritual Figures

I was perusing Facebook one day a few weeks ago and noted that a friend of mine who teaches personal development through astrology had posted to her page a note about her personal boundaries and how, if you weren’t ready to heal, then do not come to her until you are.

It seemed to ruffle more than a few feathers and I found the responses to be both telling and intriguing. I’ve seen people have very unrealistic expectations of us “lightworkers.” I’ve had people project their own unrealistic expectations upon me, personally. I think, when people look at people like me and my friend and see us teaching these things, they tend to forget that we are people, too. They forget that we have our own path of growth, our own boundaries and our own weaknesses.

We, as spiritual teachers, face a kind of mounting pressure to be perfectly “spiritual” in every way–to lead perfect lives, to always be happy, and especially to sacrifice ourselves for others. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t hold healers to a particular standard: there’s a certain amount of healing they must do on themselves before taking on the responsibility of healing others, and learning appropriate boundaries is one fo those lessons.

Read How to Know if a Spiritual Teacher is Credible.

I’m here to tell you that self-sacrifice is the most unspiritual thing you can do, as a healer. The biggest lesson that all of us are here to learn is self-love, and sacrificing ourselves, our time, and our energy for the sake of another person who doesn’t actually want to do the work to be healed is not an act of self love. It is an act of self-sabotage.

It’s incredibly important for healers and teachers to set boundaries when it comes to this, or else people will greatly take advantage of you and you will slowly lose yourself, your energy, and your will to help others. I’ve seen it first hand.

If you, as a healer or spiritual teacher find yourself making these kinds of sacrifices, you need to ask yourself why you feel the need to put your own well-being below that of a stranger. You are not less than anyone else. You must respect and love yourself as much as you do everyone else. Take care of yourselves and don’t let anyone try to shame you for it.

Xo,

Ash

 

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New to Spirituality?

Look up the meanings behind commonly used spiritual terminology and concepts in the Spirituality Encyclopedia.