I remember a time when I felt stuck in life.

It was like there was an invisible force stopping me from taking the action I knew I needed to take to become the person I knew I was meant to become.

Have you ever had that?

I remember I would want to move forward with certain things that I was passionate about in life, but every time I tried, I only took safe, small steps, and didn’t really put myself into positions where I got much traction.

Then, I’d make excuses to myself about why I didn’t actually need what I wanted, or I’d tell myself all the reasons why it wouldn’t work for me, and inevitably, I stayed stuck.

That cycle continued for a long time.

Until finally I realized the reason behind why it was always happening.

And honestly, it’s the reason behind why most of us stop ourselves from doing most of the things we want to do in life.

It all came down to something inside of me. Another “part” of me that I wasn’t aware of until I started looking into the subconscious side of myself.

The reason I was holding myself back was… because of my shadow.

What is the shadow, you might be asking.

What Is The Shadow?

Well, if you’re new to understanding your subconscious mind, the best way I can describe it is this…

In order to explain it, I need to introduce you to… this house:

Image of a house

It’s just a regular picture of a house that I found online, but I’m going to use it to represent your consciousness.

Just like a house has different rooms that serve different purposes, your consciousness has different parts to it too, like the conscious mind and the shadow self.

With this house, you can think of your conscious mind as being like a well-lit room inside of it, where you feel safe and comfortable, and you’re fully aware of everything in it.

But there’s another room in the house… It’s a dark room, down in the basement, that you don’t go in very often.

That room represents your shadow.

The “Shadow” is a term that was coined by the father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, back in the early 1900s. He said that the shadow is the part of the mind that holds the aspects of ourselves that we don’t accept, or want to look at. Things like fear, shame, guilt, sadness, or any other unresolved negative emotions we try not to feel. We repress them because we don’t want to associate ourselves with them because we see those emotions as “bad” or unacceptable inside of us.

Carl Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology

If we pretend we don’t have these emotions, we get to make ourselves feel “strong” instead.

We pretend the negative emotions aren’t there and assume we’ll never have to face them if we just keep pretending.

The issue is that, if we turn away from certain parts of ourselves, we’re really just pushing those unwanted emotions deep down into our subconscious mind, and repressing them. We push them down, but they don’t ever go away. Instead, they can end up festering and causing problems in our lives. Unconsciously influencing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, without us realizing it.

So that’s what the shadow is in a nutshell,

What Is Shadow Work?

“Shadow Work” is the act of bringing those “unwanted” parts of ourselves into our conscious awareness, so that we can finally look at them, acknowledge them for what they are, and allow ourselves to fully accept who we are in the process.

When we can fully accept ourselves, without exception, we get to stop fighting the constant internal battle of trying to “prove” we’re something we’re not, or trying to avoid acknowledging who we know we really are. We’ll then stop holding ourselves back because of the fears we don’t want to look at and stop being afraid to show our true selves to the world. From there, we’ll gain the confidence to move forward in the ways we know are right for us, and then finally, things just start to flow.

How Do You Know If You Have Shadow Aspects Within You?

So now you know what the shadow is and what happens when you integrate it, but how do you know if you actually have any of these “shadow” aspects within you? What are the signs?

Well, the shadow can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, depending on who you are and how you’ve been trained to react to things in life.

But there are two tell-tale signs that I personally look for to get clues on whether someone has shadow aspects hidden in the background of what they’re doing:

Holding Yourself Back

The first one is: “Holding Yourself Back”. Like if someone really wants to do something in life, but they’re not moving forward with it (Like I mentioned I was at the beginning of this article).

Imagine life as a canvas, and we hold the paintbrush to create the masterpiece that represents who we are, what we love, and what matters to us most. Sometimes in life, the fear of failure can stop us from grabbing that paintbrush and starting to paint, leaving our canvas blank and our true potential unfulfilled, which can ultimately leave us with huge amounts of regret in the end.

If you have an internal battle going on, between fear and moving forward towards your happiness, and that fear is stopping you from living the life you truly want to live, there’s something out of alignment there. Living a life other than what you really want can lead to resentment, jealousy, and often, depression.

If you notice this pattern is playing out within you, it’s time to look at what’s stopping you from picking up that paintbrush and starting to paint.

Continuously Doing What You Know You Shouldn’t Be Doing

The second tell-tale sign is when someone is continuously doing something over and over again that they know they shouldn’t be doing, but they keep doing it anyway.

We all know examples of how this can play out in different areas of life, whether it’s through addiction, self-harm, or attracting and staying in abusive relationships. There’s something subconscious that isn’t being looked at.

Here are some common examples of ways the shadow can play out in everyday life:

  • Repeatedly experiencing negative patterns in your relationships, career, or personal life
  • Feeling like there’s something holding you back or preventing you from reaching your goals
  • Struggling with self-doubt, insecurity, or low self-esteem
  • Reacting strongly to someone or something, without understanding why
  • Feeling intense emotions that you can’t explain or control
  • Having self-destructive behaviors, like addiction or self-harm
  • Feeling like you’re living a double life or hiding a part of yourself from others
  • Being overly critical or judgmental of others, while denying those same qualities within yourself
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself, like you’re not living authentically
  • Having recurring nightmares or dreams that feel unsettling or scary

For me, like I’d mentioned at the beginning of this article, the biggest way my shadow manifested in my life was that I felt stuck and I didn’t know what to do to move forward.

But ultimately, after years of avoiding the discomfort of facing those inner aspects of myself, there came a point where enough was enough. I was tired of living a life that wasn’t in alignment with what I truly wanted, and I knew I needed to take action and steps into the unknown to face what I was scared of.

That’s when I personally started doing shadow work.

This was back in 2017, and even though some of the negative emotions that came up in me from doing that work were really hard to go through, that type of “inner work” was what got me to where I am today, where I’m living a life that’s true to what I really want, and what I know is right for me.

I remember it being hard to find the right techniques to use to do shadow work when I first started out, so if you want to learn one of the techniques I recommend most for doing it, check out this article.

Until then, I wish you the best on your journey!

– Nikki