Is there a voice constantly doubting your abilities?
I know what it’s like to feel stress, worry and anxiety when you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone.
In the past I’ve got frustrated with myself for not realising my soul purpose earlier.
I even said to myself “I could have been a therapist all this time”. Gah!
I knew that I wanted to help people heal, but deep down I didn’t think I was “good enough” or knowledgeable enough.
And because I didn’t think I was enough, I became a course junkie — immersing myself in all the workshops, training and courses I could get my hands on.
Although I learned valuable psychotherapeutic skills and healing techniques to help others, I realised that it wasn’t my lack of knowledge that was holding me back… it was my lack of self-confidence.
If you can relate then you probably doubt yourself when you’re expanding, thinking bigger or doing more.
This shows up as:
- Judging yourself
- Thinking “I’m not ready yet”
- Seeking more qualifications
- Comparing yourself to others
- Feeling confused and blocked
So why is this happening?
The subconscious mind is a powerful system and if we have unresolved feelings of rejection, unworthiness and shame then we will develop defence mechanisms to prevent us from feeling those feelings ever again.
So the ego jumps in and develops aspects of ourselves so we can protect ourselves from experiencing pain.
One of these defence mechanisms is the “inner critic” to undermine our self confidence and protect us from being rejected, feeling unworthy and feeling like a failure.
Essentially, our ego has developed this part as a wall to protect us from our shadow where we hold our extreme beliefs and feelings.
When we’ve experienced trauma or attachment injury in our lives that we didn’t want to feel again, the shadow develops to protect us and help us to survive.
What is the shadow self?
The shadow self is created when we go through trauma and we don’t have the tools to process the trauma or the support to get the help we need.
So when we experience an overload of trauma and we’re not supported, we go into ourselves and the shadow self develops.
The shadow self is the repressed and unacceptable parts of our personality that we hide to ensure our survival and safety.
For example, we might have an angry part, a jealous part or an angry part in our personality that holds us back from experiencing connection.
But these act as protectors because they protect us from feeling the deeper parts of ourselves that we have exiled. These might be rage, terror, shame, grief, misery and loneliness.
How is the shadow self formed?
We were born healthy and whole but we were born into a sick society with dysfunctional families, toxic school systems and girls conditioned to compete with each other.
The shadow self is formed through social conditioning from your parents, family members, teachers and friends. We learn through others that certain behaviours and personality traits are unacceptable, so we learn to hide and suppress them.
So for example, anger is shunned in our society and children who show anger will be punished by their parents and teachers. Instead of being taught healthy anger, such as sticking up for yourself, setting boundaries and being firm, children are often punished emotionally (stonewalling, silent treatment, withdrawal of love) or physically (smacks or being grounded).
So in order to be accepted, approved and loved, children learn to act in a certain way, and they take on different roles to ensure their safety and survival.
Let’s say we have a mother who criticises us and puts us down to undermine us. We might take on the role of the people pleaser to prevent us from receiving more abuse from our mother. We also might become timid and meek to prevent us from getting more abuse.
The shadow self is also created when we experience trauma and we don’t receive the support or help we need. When we experience an overload of trauma and we’re not supported, we will suppress emotional traits and develop other traits. And these experiences mould our personality.
Slowly, due to experiences at home and school, we adopt certain character traits in order to survive.
What happens when you ignore/reject the shadow?
Rejecting the shadow makes it stronger. When you have parts of you that you reject, deny or suppress, you will project on the outside what you haven’t recognised within you.
If you ignore it, reject it and bury it and try to take it out of society, then what you do is you make it bigger, angrier and stronger and we become a hot pressure cooker ready to boil over.
Carl Jung said “until we make the unconscious conscious, it will rule our lives and we will call it fate”.
The longer the shadow stays buried and locked in prison deep within the unconscious, the more it will find opportunities to make you aware of its existence.
Unless we heal the pain in our hearts, our relationships will.
If we have experienced neglect or abandonment issues in our childhood then we have unresolved wounds in our psyche that drive how we perceive the world around us.
We will attract emotionally unavailable partners who mirror our parents who were emotionally detached. We will attract friends with narcissistic tendencies who stonewall and gaslight us, to mirror how our mothers treated us.
Other issues that might arise when we reject our shadow are:
- Insecure relationships
- Severe anxiety
- Emotional manipulation
- Low self-esteem
- Self sabotaging behaviours
- Internal energy of anger or rage
- Suicidal ideation
This is why we need to identify, acknowledge and accept these shadow aspects of our inner world and befriend them, so that we can trust ourselves and cultivate inner peace and psychological safety.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is bringing to light the hidden and repressed parts of ourselves that we have buried in our psyche.
The idea behind shadow work is to shine a light on a shadow aspect with love and appreciation, so that we can bring it to the light.
When we can acknowledge the parts of us that are holding us back we can see that they’re protecting us and they no longer have power over us.
The process with shadow work is being a conscious observer to our shadow aspects and when they feel seen, heard and understood, they can bring down their walls and transform into healthier roles.
So, if you have an inner critic, it’s about engaging with the critic with curiosity.
Let’s say for example, that there’s a part of you that has low self worth and you beat yourself up. You might say things to yourself like “I’m not doing it right”, “I’m never going to be good enough for people”.
If I was your therapist then I would ask you to focus on the critical voice and find it in your body, and I would ask you how you feel towards the inner critic.
You might say, you find it in your throat area and your throat feels tight and constricted.
Then you might say that you are frustrated with your inner critic because it holds you back from pursuing your dreams and goals.
So what I would do as the therapist, is that I would ask the frustrated part of you to take a step back, so that I can get to know the inner critic.
And at some point you’d say it has stepped back and I would ask you how you felt about your inner critic now.
So you’d focus on your inner critic and you might say that you’re curious to get to know it.
I might say ok, let it know that you’re curious and that
So I might ask you: what’s it afraid it would happen if it didn’t call you names all day?
A common answer is that you would get hurt or you wouldn’t perform well and at this point we’d know that your inner critic is trying to protect you.
At this point your inner critic would relax as it feels seen, heard and understood because you’ve shown love and appreciation for this part.
In fact, if we were to explore this more we’d discover that your inner critic is a protector of other vulnerable parts of you that you’ve repressed because you’ve learned in the past that they’re unacceptable from others.
So it might be that the inner critic is protecting you from feeling shame and unworthiness.
The idea behind shadow work is that when you love what’s in your way it will transform.
When you become a witness to your shadow aspects and open space to them, your higher self emerges and you cultivate qualities like calm, compassion, curiosity and spontaneity.
Benefits of shadow work
Shadow work has been one of the most important paths I’ve taken to heal my core wounds, traumas and projections.
I tried psychotherapy to overcome my depression, inner loneliness and isolation, but I found it to be overwhelming and counter-intuitive.
We would talk about painful memories and relationships and I would feel re-traumatised because there was no framework for healing my inner child.
My therapist said to me that I need to heal my inner child, but couldn’t tell me or show me how. So I went on a spiritual quest to research the codes to healing my inner child and that’s when I came across shadow work and parts work therapy.
Shadow work offers a framework to unburden to release the child parts that we’ve buried, repressed and disowned as a result of social conditioning.
It is truly deep work that helps us to identify and appreciate all of our shadow parts, so we can create inner harmony.
One of the biggest benefits of shadow work for me, has been creating a secure attachment with myself.
I had an insecure attachment with my mother and as a result I carried this insecurity into my friendships and romantic relationships.
I would fear being abandoned or people leaving me and this manifested into separation anxiety and neediness.
Shadow work, and more specifically internal family systems therapy, allows you to build a secure attachment with yourself, so that your attachment with yourself is your primary attachment.
This is groundbreaking in the field of psychology because for many years psychologists clinged to the idea that our attachment style is fixed based on the attachment we had with our primary caregiver.
Here are more benefits of shadow work:
1. Activate self-confidence
2. Access to your Self and cultivate inner strength.
3. More mental and spiritual clarity.
4. Cultivate self-compassion and calmness.
5. A feeling of wholeness.
6. Discovery of your hidden gifts.
7. Deeper self love, self trust and self worth.
8. Clarity of your purpose.
9. Better relationships.
10. Enhanced creativity.
Why shadow work is effective
Shadow work helps people to get to know their protective parts, which handle your interactions with the world and protect against you experiencing childhood pain.
The aim of shadow work is getting to know a protector from a place of compassion and curiosity, which comes from our Self.
It isn’t just about intellectually understanding parts, but witnessing them and seeing them through the lens of your higher self. And by doing so you are developing a relationship with the protector.
Trusting the self
A major goal in shadow work is helping shadow parts to learn and trust the self. Parts take on extreme roles because they think they have to handle situations on their own. They don’t think the self is there, or they don’t trust the self to handle the situation.
When parts learn to trust the self, they can relax and allow the self to take the lead. The protective part needs to know that the self is there and that self has strength, compassion and other qualities that are needed for dealing with difficult situations.
The protector needs to learn that you care about it, appreciate the work it has been doing and understand what it’s role is. This allows the protector to begin trusting the self, so you can access an exile it’s protecting.
Appreciating your protectors
Our protective parts feel frequently misunderstood and judged by parts of you for doing their role. And this is because our parts do frequently judge our protectors.
They long for someone to understand why they are doing their role and for someone to appreciate them for working hard and tirelessly for our benefit.
Shadow work helps people to relate to their protective parts and show compassion and appreciation for them.
Witnessing an exile
Shadow work also helps people to witness the challenging situations that happened in childhood that caused them to experience emotional pain.
There are a number of ways shadow work helps people to witness their exiles:
Opening repressed memories
When an exile is deeply buried in your psyche, healing isn’t possible. We need to be able to shine light on these shadow aspects. If you have a purely intellectual or analytical understanding of the memory, it won’t feel like healing.
The memory must be opened up emotionally and intellectually, so it is felt, witnessed and understood.
When exiles are witnessed with the conscious observer, memories are metabolized, so the traumatic memory and experience is integrated and the physiological stress reaction can subside.
Understanding the exile
Through shadow work the exile gets to be fully understood by the conscious observer. You’ll relive the original incident but this time your exile is not alone.
You have your conscious observer and self to hold your hand and guide you through the process, so this wounded part of you will form a greater bond between her and the self.
In shadow work, the self is the agent of emotional healing, and the self will be there to help and understand that part of you.
This helps the exile understand that the burden she is carrying is from the past and is separate to you. So for example, if there is a child part that feels abandoned then this part of you learned to feel like this from her family.
But through shadow work, she can see that feeling abandoned isn’t the truth; it is a burden that she took on in childhood that doesn’t belong to her, and it can be released.
Tips for approaching shadow work
Before beginning shadow work, it’s important for you to know that you’re the agent in your own healing. These following tips will help you to understand the mindset you need to approach shadow work with.
Seek to enter a calm space
It is important to approach shadow work from a calm and centered space. Your therapist will aim to be in Self energy, so that you can let down your defenses and share vulnerable parts of you.
This will help you to see that your parts are separate to you and by holding them in awareness, you will realise that they don’t define you.
Know the self is the healing agent
In shadow work, the Self represents the seat of consciousness and what each person is at the core. The self is the healing agent in coordinating the family of parts.
The Self demonstrates the qualities of curiosity, compassion, connectedness and calmness. In shadow work, you are encouraged to differentiate from the self from other shadow aspects that make up your inner world.
When you’re in a state of self, the goal of therapy is to unburden or restore extreme and wounded parts, so that you can release these parts from their extreme roles.
Understand there is no such thing as a bad part
Shadow work therapy aims to help people identify the roles that parts play and appreciate them for their hard work. They think that what they are doing is for your benefit and they think that their role is crucial.
These parts have worked tirelessly to protect you from feeling childhood pain. If they took any time out, they might be flooded by pain or left vulnerable in dangerous situations. This is why there is no such thing as a “bad part” and shadow work will aim to help parts discover their non-extreme roles.
As you do shadow work, you might immediately judge parts for holding you back, but when you get to know them, you will have more love and compassion towards them.
Record what you find
After your shadow work sessions it’s worth keeping a personal journal to record your discoveries. You can use it to record your parts, your wounds, memories and observations that come up during a therapy session. Journal therapy will help you to make important connections and track the progress of your work.
Shadow work exercises
1. Notice parts in the body
Our thoughts and emotions become stored in the body. Through shadow work, you will start to identify where your parts are in your body. These questions will help.
- Who needs your attention right now?
- Where do you notice it?
You might say that you’d like to focus on your inner critic that’s been undermining your confidence.
2. Focus on it
Now, that you’ve identified a part, you want to focus your attention on it.
- Where do you notice it in your body?
- What physical sensations can you feel?
So you might experience it in your throat area. And you might be feeling tightness and constriction in your throat.
3. Flesh it out
And then you can get to know this part more, the same way you would meeting someone new.
- Can you see it?
- What does it look like?
- How close are you to it?
4. How do you feel toward it
Next, you can ask yourself how you feel towards this part and this process may lead you to a second (or third, fourth…) part.
So for example, you might say that you’re frustrated about your inner critic because it fuels procrastination. And so in this process, you’ve identified a “frustrated part” and a “procrastinating part”.
5. Befriend it
Once other parts surface, you would go through steps 1-4 and then ask this part what it needs you to know.
So the procrastinating part might tell you that it’s making you withdraw from projects, because it wants to protect you from failure. It wants to prevent you from feeling emotionally overwhelmed and it thinks that if it wasn’t there, you would feel unworthy.
And when you’ve witnessed other parts, you can ask them to take a step back and get to know the inner critic.
At this point, the other protective parts feel relaxed, because you’ve helped them to feel seen, heard and understood.
So, know you can learn about the target part and develop a friendly relationship with it. You might ask these questions:
- How did it get this job?
- How effective is this job?
- If it didn’t have to do this job, what would it rather do?
- How old is it?
- What else does it want you to know?
6. Ask what the part fears
You can ask the part what it fears to reveal any deeper parts that it’s protecting you from. You can ask these questions:
- What does it want from you?
- What would happen if it stopped doing this job?
This will help reveal any lurking polarisation
“If I stop being critical, I’m afraid you will be alone and worthless”.
“If I stop being anxious, I’m afraid the suicidal part will take over”.
Diagrams to illustrate parts
When you flesh out all the different parts and how they interact with each other, you can draw diagrams to illustrate parts.
So you might have a humour protect that comes alive when you’re at a party to protect people from seeing your lonely part. Although the humour part might be doing a good job to protect you, it also might hurt you more. So you might draw the humour part and the lonely part and keep going until you flesh out more parts.
This will give you awareness of how parts connect with each other, so that when they do appear you can witness them from self with an energy of calmness, curiosity and compassion.
When these parts feel seen, heard and understood they will relax, and as they build a trusting relationship with yourself, you’ll feel more loved within.
Finding the right shadow worker
Shadow work can be provided by healers, therapists, psychologists and coaches but they’re unlikely to advertise it as shadow work. Instead you’re likely to find it through parts work therapy, internal family systems therapy or psychotherapy.
You can use online directories that list therapists in your area to help you find the right shadow worker for you.
The client-therapist relationship is one of the most important predictors of successful therapy outcomes. A good therapeutic relationship is marked by respect, trust, compassion and a sense of safety. Before you book a session, see if you can have a phone consultation to ask your therapist a few questions and see whether you’re a good fit.
Key questions to ask when considering working with a therapist are:
- What are your credentials and training?
- Have you worked with individuals experiencing concerns similar to me?
- Would you recommend shadow work for the reasons I’m seeking therapy?
If it feels like a good fit, then you can book your first session.
What to expect at your first appointment
After your consultation, your therapist will give you paper work to receive your informed consent. They may also go over information regarding logistics, such as scheduling and cancelling and information about how they practice therapy.
Your therapist will also give you an assessment and ask you questions to help them understand what has brought you to therapy. They will want to understand what your healing intentions are. This is an important part of the therapeutic process because it informs the treatment plan that the therapist will develop.
At your first appointment, your therapist will begin building a therapeutic relationships with you. This will be an ongoing process and is important to the success of your therapy. Pay attention during your first session to how you feel while talking to the therapist.
Not everyone will connect with their therapist, so if you feel a disconnect, you can meet with other therapists until you find a comfortable fit.
Your therapist will likely begin the session talking about the importance of boundaries and that the self is an important agent in the healing process. If there’s something that you don’t want to discuss or go into detail about, you can let the therapist know.
If you decide to continue working with the therapist, your sessions are likely to be focused on identifying your parts and building relationships with them.
If you’re ready to take action to cultivate inner peace, take action now
With the right therapist, shadow work can help you to overcome the inner critic to cultivate self confidence.
If you’re interested in booking a shadow work session with me, I offer a phone consultation for you to see if we’re the right fit.
I’ll hold a calm, compassionate and judgemental-free space, so that we can let down your walls and release childhood emotional wounds that are keeping you stuck.
Book your complimentary consultation now