What is Shadow Integration Work?

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(Before reading this section please see Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious, Jung’s Archetypes and Influence of the Collective Unconscious).

The shadow aspects are those aspects in ourselves, which we deem unacceptable and shun. But where did we get this idea in the first place, that certain parts of us are acceptable and other parts are not?

At an early age our families and societies condition us to believe and behave in certain ways – ways, which according to their perspectives are acceptable and correct.

A child is born, in Robert Bly’ s words, as a “360-degree personality” i.e. as a whole.

All children fully express themselves without reservations and any form of censorship.

But as a child begins to grow up, he learns to divide himself into acceptable parts and unacceptable parts. That is when the 360-degree whole gets sliced.


Well, everytime an adult shames a child for being ‘proud of an achievement’, or ‘for failing’, or ‘being angry’, or ‘not being as good as the neighbour’s child’, for ‘never getting it right’, or ‘being a girl who talks, instead of being a girl who is supposed to be seen’…and the list can go on.

The child learns to repress those unacceptable parts of him along with the hurt, anger and the shame. These repressed parts, or shadows, to use Robert Bly’s metaphorical example, are then put into a bag, which the child begins to carry around on his shoulder. As he grows up the bag gets heavier and heavier. It slows down the movement of the individual, and by movement, I also mean the very growth of the individual.
The accumulated shadows in the bag now gain power and concretizes the negative beliefs the person has about himself by turning them into recurring unpleasant experiences in his life.

The weight of the bag begins to suck his energy. Not only that, since the bag gets overstuffed, the contents begin to spill out in the form of depression, despair, anger, frustration, addiction, violence etc.

A time comes when not able to bear the burden anymore, the individual has to look inside the bag.
This is when the Shadow Integration Work begins.
Shadow Integration Work first starts with an individual taking a good look at what is inside the bag and bringing out all the repressed, unloved, judged, forgotten and abandoned parts that he sliced away from himself. After some initial digging the parts begin to come out by themselves, appearing dark, almost fearsome, smelly, dirty and musty, due to the neglect they suffered.

In the beginning, most of the people find it difficult to accept these sliced parts, as parts of themselves and infact feel terrified at what they see. On interacting with the shadows, however, they find that the conflict they face within themselves is because they have resisted these parts of themselves all along.
And as the saying goes, whatever one resists – persists.
The moment they accept these darkest parts of themselves, and feel compassion for them, these parts lose their fearsome appearance. These fragmented parts then reveal that they were there simply to teach the individuals to love themselves and be compassionate with themselves.

That is when the integration of the parts begin.

Most of us have been brought up with the belief that light is always good, and darkness is evil. In other words that darkness is the opposite of light. It is not. It is simply the absence of light.

We have been programmed to stay away from darkness and fear it.

However, only when a seed knows the darkness can it open up and grow as a mighty plant into the light.

Even a caterpillar first dives deep into the darkness of a cocoon, to later emerge as a butterfly.

“Shadow is the diminution alike of light and darkness, and stands between darkness and light…The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form…

Darkness is only the absence of light and shadow is the diminution of light…Therefore O Painter , make your shadow darkest close to the object that casts it, and make the end of it fading into light, seeming to have no end. “ – Leonardo Da Vinci

To quote Carl Jung, “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once, one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.”

Shadow integration work is the work of letting go of your demons, because you are the one holding onto them in the first place, only to find they were never demons, but guides waiting to guide you into the light.
They were your teachers all along who were being difficult teachers, only because you were being a difficult student.

Shadow Integration thus takes place when “looking at our shadow enables us to embrace both the darkness of our smallest self and the brilliant light of our highest self.” – Paul. E. Jones

This is the “get(ting) in the middle” that Carl Jung talks about in the quote above. And this is the Middle Path of the Buddha, which He taught ages ago.
Shadow integration work is not about becoming a perfect light being, but about fully integrating all parts of ourselves, dark and light, and achieving the balance.

Please see these related topics Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious, Jung’s Archetypes and Influence of the Collective Unconscious.


To confront a person with his shadow, is to show him his own light. – Diaoctopus from Deviantart

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