I was once married to a man who studied Jung and was especially taken by Jungian shadow work–the introspective work done to explore the pain often held in our unconscious minds, the pain that underlies some of our behavior. Especially our self-sabotaging, destructive or divisive behavior. And the shadow also can be related to highly emotional reactions.

(Side note: The amusing part is that my ex absolutely could not apply any psychology to himself–but he was great at applying it to others. Ok, maybe it wasn’t so amusing. Heal thyself, and all that. But I digress.)

But here’s where the rubber meets the road:

When something really pushes our buttons, when we’re really reactive to something, we’re often dealing with the shadow, our unconscious. Something deeper is being triggered. We might not even realize it–unless we excavate the emotion to find the root. Normally, we just feel the emotion and either wallow in it or push it away. Not so helpful.

I recently saw some excellent advice on dealing with the shadow –and I saw it just at the time I needed it. It t was this:

When we feel a powerful emotion, sit with it. Let it be what it is. Recognize it’s your inner child reacting. Breathe through it.

Notice the narrative behind the feeling. Look for it. Excavate it. What are you telling yourself about the situation?

Validate your inner child for those feelings: “It’s ok to feel this way.” Don’t judge yourself. 

Look for the root. Think about when you might have first felt this way and see if a memory arises.

Notice any insights that arise from this process. Or even if any healing has taken place.

Now of course, this doesn’t happen in five minutes. So give yourself some time to reflect on it. Be conscious of the reaction and the root. And it’s not enough to understand the root. We really have to work through the feelings. Understanding alone is nothing. It’s the work that makes the difference.

My own process is to notice the feelings that come up and to spend some quiet time allowing them to come forward. Next, I need to talk out loud to a trusted loved one, expressing my pain, my sorrow or even my anger. That conversation might take an hour, (if I’m lucky) so it has to be someone who can hear me out that long. I’ve got to air it. Only then can I access insights.

Not everyone is patient enough to sit with us while we work through things like this. I am lucky to have several spectacularly good, insightful friends who are patient. Oh. So. Patient. Because it ain’t pretty.

The real work, though, is done after that, when we dig into the roots and seek insight into our reactions–the emotions that come up from whatever the trigger might be. Then, we can use that insight to manage whatever it is that comes up. To work through the issue.

I don’t know many people who can do this alone. Therapy can be helpful simply because a trained, objective professional can be an effective guide through rough waters.

For me, this shadow work technique appeared at just the right time. I am reminded of the adage, when the student is ready the teacher arrives. Synchronicities abound in life. We just need to pay attention.

A reminder that our beautiful, gentle gifts are not only friendly, but budget-friendly. Find them here.


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