why is shadow work so hard?
Shadow Work Is Hard Because You are Rewiring Your Nervous System
Doing shadow work on your own is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. What’s worse, doing it wrong can land you in a situation that is retraumatizing, or a situation that reinforces long-held negative beliefs about yourself and the world. You may wonder, why is shadow work so hard?
So how do you make sure you're doing shadow work in a way that actually benefits you?
One word, folks: discernment.
Let’s face it, the internet is riddled with trendy influencer types claiming that all you have to do is a 1-2-3 step process to solve all your woes in life. But let's be honest - We all know deep down that's not the case. Life isn't simple, and neither is shadow work.
A good shadow work coach:
Has done extensive shadow work for and on themselves (keyword: EXTENSIVE)
Has studied many theories & emotional patterns (even if they have never personally experienced those exact patterns)
Knows the precise functions of different negative emotions (yes, shame doesn’t just exist to ruin your life)
Challenges you AND validates you
Doesn’t overcharge you or promise instant, ridiculously easy results
Does this work because they enjoy it, not for the ego boost or social media photoshoots
Focuses on the real, nitty-gritty, unsavory elements that personal growth & integration often require (no quick fix, no ‘tricking your subconscious’)
...by now, you’ve probably scratched some of those Instagram ‘healers’ off your list of options ;)
Jokes aside, a good shadow work coach respects you, believes in you, understands what you’re going through and why, and is committed to walking you through the natural process of individual growth - that thing only you can do for yourself.
Shadow work is a plunge into what you're afraid of
Both psychology and spirituality are maturing as fields of study, but not everyone is on board yet. For this reason, a lot of things can get overlooked and glossed over in shadow work therapy, like:
The fact that shadow work sessions are not just about playing with fun symbols, quoting Carl Jung, or reading about the shadow without ever going into our own
The fact that we cannot just positive think our way into a new life
The fact that shadow work often leads us to become the very things society/our family/our colleagues do not approve of.
The nervous system, hypersensitivity, the 4 bodily responses to trauma, and how these impact our ability to integrate pain, change habits, and literally embody more of ourselves
Shame and how it compulsively shields us from the changes we want to make
Attachment styles and how deeply ingrained avoidance/anxiousness is
Perhaps none of this is news to you, in which case, congratulations - You’re ahead of the pack :)
By no stretch is this path easy, but I can promise you it’s worth it. To work your way into deeper layers of yourself, release pain safely, express yourself honestly, and achieve what you’ve always wanted but didn’t think you could have -- all of this is a total privilege, and it’s available to you if you’re ready to look behind the curtain.
Shadow work therapy is usually portrayed as a fancypants academic pursuit or a cool witchy thing. But if you’re just getting started with this, I want to tell you the truth: If you have a lot of emotional baggage, it will come up - big time. Shame, grief, fear, you name it, it will rise up in you, and it will suck. There will be flashbacks, there will be confusion, there will be self-esteem dips. THIS is why shadow work is so hard.
This work will not make you feel prideful. It will not make you popular in this culture. Instead, you may end up on a rollercoaster ride that at times feels like you’re ‘getting worse’ or totally ‘failing’ at being who you were supposed to be. And to that I say: good. That means you’re doing it right.
As you become ok with ‘unraveling,’ you’ll access the deepest subconscious content with honesty and openness, and through this inner unification, you will return to a life of dignity (and eventually, destiny - the life that was right for you all along).
Shadow work is not about fixing yourself or your ‘mental illness.’ It’s about embracing all those damaged parts and parenting them into what you were always meant to be. It’s about being and doing what makes you happy - no matter what society has to say about it.
The Shadow Workbook
If you’re brand new to all this subconscious stuff, you can check out my Shadow Workbook pdf (& the bonus materials), which will give you some foundational insights into why shadow work is so hard, what people don't understand about shadow work, & practices for working directly with negative emotions.
And if you're ready to leave the status quo behind and find out what the personal and collective shadow is really all about, check out the Exist Better YouTube channel.
Remember: you got this.
Brianna is a shadow work coach offering online sessions.