Use Shadow Work to Transform Your ‘Negative’ Traits Into Sources of Strength and Self-Love

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No matter how many inspiring quotes pop up on your Instagram feed or how many self-care rituals you squeeze in, the self-love struggle is often real. One way to really level up your feel-good vibes, though, is by cutting through the superficial layers and getting to the root of the issue through a practice called shadow work.

“The concept of the shadow self was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung,” says holistic-business and mind-set coach Amina AlTai. “He believed, studied, and demonstrated that we all have dark sides of our personality that we hide in order to stay safe, lovable, and accepted by our communities, families, and society.”

"We all have dark sides of our personality that we hide in order to stay safe, lovable, and accepted by our communities, families, and society.” —mind-set coach Amina AlTai

We all have a shadow side, and it holds the power to negatively impact all areas of life, including professional, personal, and our very sense of self. Most crucially, though, our shadow can keep us from living a whole, authentic life. That's why understanding how to use shadow work to heal the shadows and integrate that part of your being into your life is key. But, like with any self-development work, this process won’t necessarily be a breeze. It's called shadow work for a reason, after all, but since the work is in the name of self-love, it's almost certain to pay off.

So, want to learn how to use shadow work to level up your self-love game? Keep reading to get AlTai’s tips for uncovering what your shadows are in the first place and how to actually do the work to heal them.

How to use shadow work to level up your self-love quotient

1. Uncover your shadows

The first step in healing your shadow side is uncovering what traits it includes. We often project our shadows onto other people, so one way to find yours is by observing what aspects or traits you judge in other people. For example, do you judge others when they’re lazy, cheap, or inconsiderate? Chances are, part of you fears that you embody those characteristics, too.

AlTai says you’ll know you’ve identified a shadow when just saying it or writing it down catalyzes a full-body response. You may find that you have many shadows, and that’s normal. Keep a list handy, and focus on healing one at a time, starting with whichever seems to have the most charge.

2. Find the core wound

Once you’ve pinpointed what your shadows are, the next step is to get to target the core wound. To do this, AlTai recommends getting into a meditative state and visualizing when you first learned that this particular quality was unacceptable. (It’s often the case that we develop our shadows during childhood.)

Then, identify who taught you to repress that quality. Perhaps it was a parent, caretaker, family member, or friend who told you it was an unlovable attribute, or you witnessed others being shamed for it. To cultivate some compassion, AlTai suggests you go a step further and ask yourself from whom they may have learned it.

3. Remove the charge

To really bust through your shadow, AlTai points to an exercise from The Dark Side of Light Chasers, a book by life coach and self-help author Debbie Ford. “She recommends that we take the list of attributes we deem unlovable in ourselves and repeat them over and over to ourselves in the mirror until they lose their sting,” AlTai says. “So, for example, if ‘fraud’ is your trait, you would say ‘I am a fraud’ in the mirror over and over again until the word "fraud" loses its energy and just becomes a series of letters strung together.”

Fair warning: This take on mirror work is not easy and may bring up a series of emotions. If this is the case for you, consider working with a professional who can guide you through it.

4. Ask your shadow what it’s here to teach you

Like with all challenges in life, we stand to extract some type of lesson or learning from the experience. The same goes with shadow work, which is why AlTai suggests another Ford technique: personifying your shadows in order to have a conversation with them.

You can even give them a name such as “Angry Alfred” or “Negative Nancy.” Then, during a meditation, connect with these hidden traits. Ask them what they are here to teach you and what they need in order to feel whole. After the meditation, journal on whatever came up.

5. Reinterpret the traits

Our shadows, whatever they may be, are never inherently bad, but the interpretation of them is what gives them a negative charge. For example, some may view being “opportunistic” as a bad trait while others might see it as being smart and strategic.

The good news is that you can change your interpretation of your shadows to ones that support you rather than hinder you. “As we open ourselves to these traits and interpretations and choose to see the good, our experience of life, love, and ourselves completely changes,” AlTai says.

Say, for example, being “bossy” is on your list of shadows and you remember a time when someone at work called you bossy, and you interpreted that as a negative critique. Instead, choose to embrace bossiness as a signal of strength that perhaps made others feel fearful, so they dealt with it by calling you names. When you shift your perception of certain shadow traits, suddenly the formerly rejected aspect of who you are becomes a source of power rather than pain.

After you master shadow work, check out these other tips for cultivating self-confidence. Plus, here are some nonverbal ways to communicate that you already are incredibly confident.

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