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The Shadow Self

The 'shadow' is the side of your personality that contains all the parts of yourself that you don't want to admit to having. It is at first an unconscious side. It is only through effort to become self-aware that we recognise our shadow. Although many infer the shadow is 'negative', this is not really true.

The “shadow self” are the parts of ourselves that have been pushed down to the unconscious — the parts that we're insecure about, ashamed of, or frustrated with and therefore repress.

Be willing to allow that you, like everyone else, have a “dark side” – there is a saying, “what you resists, persists.” You have to be willing to admit your dark side, and even have compassion for yourself. You also potentially have to be willing to, in a safe way, admit the dark side to others.

Knowing yourself is the best way to achieve success, happiness, and peace in your life. By acknowledging the dark parts of yourself, you open the door to your deepest fears and negative experiences in a way that sets them — and you — free from repression.

To find your shadow, you need to be able to look inside yourself and wonder about the key aspects of yourself that justify your version of reality and self-concept. And then think about what makes you defensive.

We all carry an image of ourselves in our minds of who we are, what we are like, and what qualities we have. We form this sense of self through repeated experiences in the world with others and through self-reflection.

People throughout our lives have given us direct and indirect information about who we are through what they see in us and how they respond to us. We then internalize these reflections from others and take what “fits” with how we would like to see ourselves and reject what “doesn’t fit.”

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” (Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung)

An important idea here is that the less awareness we have of the shadow self, the “blacker and denser it is.”

For me, this calls to mind a mental image of a very dark area inside a house that never has any light cast on it.

Jung wrote, “To confront a person with
his shadow is to show him his own light.”

How can we recognise our shadow self?

  1. Make a list of 5 positive qualities that you see yourself as having (e.g., compassionate, generous, witty, etc.)

  2. Look at each positive quality that you wrote down – describe its opposite (e.g., unfeeling, stingy, dull, etc.)

  3. Picture a person who embodies these negative qualities vividly in your mind. Roughly, this is your shadow.

By illuminating how we construct our identity, mindfulness practice helps us recognize and accept our shadow ..moment by moment. Every desirable and undesirable feeling, thought and image eventually arises in meditation.And we practice noticing and accepting them all.

We see our anger, greed, lust, and fear along with our love, generosity, care, and courage.

Seeing all these contents, we gradually stop identifying with one particular set and rejecting the other. We eventually see that we have a great deal in common with everyone else – including those we are tempted to judge harshly.

Try to mindfully pay attention to each time someone around you does something,says something, or “is” a certain way that irritates you or upsets you. Notice what bodily sensations arise out of this experience. Do you find yourself tensing up or clenching your jaw when something “irritating” is said?

If you highly value one of your positive traits, such as being organized/orderly, then being around someone who is sloppy or unorganized can seem quite painful. In a similar vein, if you highly value a trait such as modesty, then it can be almost unbearable to be around a braggart. Each time you find yourself giving in to these feelings of annoyance or irritation, instead ask yourself, “In what ways am I sloppy etc?”

Open yourself up to meeting your shadow self head on.

Welcome it to the proverbial table.

Once you accept its presence, its power to irritate and fluster you begins to fade away.

With love & gratitude,



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