The Wisdom that lives in our Shadows

by | Dec 15, 2022

I want to explore the wisdom that lives in our shadows.

But first, let’s define “shadow.” The swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the term ”The Shadow” in the 1940s, and today we think of it as the unconscious reservoir for the things we have decided, for any number of reasons, that we are not.

Shadow Definition

Shadow can include everything outside the light of our consciousness and may be positive or negative. Because we tend to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of our personality, the shadow is perceived to be largely negative.

What this view tends to overlook is that we put many of the positive aspects of ourselves into shadow as well. And this may be especially true if you suffer from low self-worth.

“Everyone carries a shadow”, Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

I think of shadow as all of the ways of being that we have made the unconscious decision to not be. And when we unconsciously deny ourselves access to certain ways of being it is like we cut ourselves off from some of our innate wisdom and life force energy.

We made these decisions early in life as a way to protect ourselves from being shamed, hurt, excluded, or not loved. I think of these decisions as an early form of self-compassion and perseverance. Though, since these decisions live in our unconscious mind, hidden from your awarens, they have become barriers that prevent us from seeing or accessing the full range of choices available. It is like these decisions become a roadmap that you follow, without remembering why.

Shadow Work is a tool to make these unconscious decisions conscious so that you can access your choice to re-decide which road map to follow in your life.

Wisdom in your shadow

Here are some ways of being you might have cut yourself off from and the wisdom that has been lost when you decided not to be something.

Being judgmental – your ability to be discerning
Being selfish – your ability to practice self-care
Being aggressive – your ability to set and have boundaries
Being vulnerable – your ability to connect deeply with those you love
Being too much – your ability to express yourself fully
Being manipulative – your ability to go for what you want
Being lazy – your ability to rest
Being emotional – your ability to feel

This is not to say that you have to be aggressive to have boundaries, or to be selfish to practice self-care. But rather embrace these aspects within yourself to gain access to the benefits they can bring to your life.
Shadow Work is about shifting your perception of yourself so that you can be more fully you.

When we cut ourselves off from things we see as “bad” we often lose the wisdom attached to those traits, and spend a lot of energy doing things the hard way to avoid being “bad”.

Mary’s aggression story

Mary came to work with me because she kept being overlooked for a promotion. She was more than qualified and had started to suspect that it was something about her that was getting in her way. What we discovered was that she had put her ability to be aggressive in shadow. When she was little her father was often very angry and he blamed the world for his problems, and this was very scary for little Mary.

Agress is derived from the latin verb aggredī, meaning “to approach, move towards, attack, or undertake.”

So Mary promised herself at an early age that she would not be an angry person, and with the logic of her child self all aggression was linked to that anger. Through Shadow Work, Mary learned to transform her views and understanding of aggression and got to experience the energy (the feeling) of anger and aggression as her ability to move towards a goal. She learned to access her anger in a way that didn’t hurt her or anyone else, to access the energy of anger as a way to take responsibility for her actions and ask for what she wanted.

And in the process, she stopped being afraid of asking for what she wanted and stopped feeling shame for being too aggressive.

She learned to love more of herself!


Whenever you find yourself thinking or saying, I could never be like that, or especially if someone’s behavior is really triggering you, see if you can shift from being annoyed to being curious about what wisdom might you find in that way of being that you most likely have put into shadow. There is great power in being curious.


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