One purpose of personal development is to become the most powerful version of ourself. Part of this journey is to bring our hidden parts from our shadow into the light.

The famous psychologist Carl Jung spoke of the ‘shadow’ as the inner place where we hide those parts of ourselves that were rejected by our caregivers, culture, schools and religion. Parts that we have not yet fully developed and parts that are still unknown to us.

These parts may fill us with anger and shame, but they are not intrinsically bad. In fact, the more we reject these parts, the harder they emerge in our lives in unhealthy ways.

Identify your shadow

So, one way to identify what’s in your shadow is to ask yourself a couple of question:

  • Which thoughts, feelings or actions am I ashamed of? These are the parts we hide, because we think we’re bad for having them.
  • What people or personality traits do I dislike most? When we cannot see these shadow parts in ourselves, we see them in others.
  • When do I feel inferior to another? These shadow parts have not been sufficiently cared for or mentored.
  • What do I depend on in others? These are parts that we haven’t sufficiently developed in ourselves.

In addition, there are several behaviours that may indicate shadow:

  • Compulsiveness, which is when we act out of control in order to shield ourselves from something we cannot bear to see or feel.
  • Blaming, meaning we project our shadow unto others.
  • Too little or too much emotion, which may indicate we censor those feelings or have not developed their balancing opposite.

Three things you can do

It is these parts that, while they give us the most grief, are a source of potential growth. Which is easier said that done, so how do you drag those dark parts kicking and screaming into the light? Here’s three things you can do:

First, understand the shadow part as much as possible: what is it that I am feeling, where is it coming from and what is the underlying need? Engage that part in a dialogue and approach it with curiosity and care.

Second, disidentify with it: you are not your shadow part, it is a part of you. Don’t say: “I am (not) X.” but say “There is (no) X in me.” This creates space for you to develop that part.

Third, expressing that part in the most constructive way possible, This allows you to accept and integrate it into your conscious self and use its power to your benefit.

Every time you transform part of your shadow, you become more complete, more present and more compassionate.

Ilja van Roon

P.S. You can also read this blog about the value of suffering or  my suggestion to make a To Be list rather than a To Do list.