NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, April 6, 2024

Embracing Your Shadow Self

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, popularized the concept of the "shadow self." He believed that everyone has a shadow self that conflicts with an ideal version of how they want to see themselves. 

In this article I'm focusing on identifying the shadow self and the benefits of understanding and integrating those parts instead of trying to suppress them (see my article: What You Resist Persists: The More You Resist What You Don't Like About Yourself the More It Persists).

What is the Shadow Self?
The shadow self consists of the parts of yourself, including thoughts, feelings and behavior, that you find difficult to accept because these parts don't fit with how you think you "should" be.

Embracing Your Shadow Self

The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an example of how someone, who doesn't embrace his shadow self, experiences a strong internal conflict. 

Dr. Jekyll attempts to split off the parts of himself that he feels are evil. These parts turn into Mr. Hyde. The more he tries to suppress his shadow self, the more powerful it becomes until it becomes all encompassing.

Here is a modern day example:  A woman believes she should always be a loving daughter towards her mean and critical mother. Whenever resentment towards her mother comes into her awareness, she tries to suppress it because it doesn't fit in with how she believes an ideal daughter should feel towards her mother. 

The more she tries to suppress her resentment, the more unhappy and anxious she becomes because it takes increasing effort to suppress these feelings. And, since she can't completely suppress her resentment towards her mother, her anger comes out unexpectedly in ways that make her feel ashamed and guilty afterwards.

Sometimes when her anger towards her mother is strong, she displaces it onto her husband and children. Other times she snaps at coworkers. And, when her mother is especially critical of her, she is shocked by how she eventually loses her temper with her mother.  Then, she feels remorse, shame and guilt, and she redoubles her efforts to suppress her anger, and the cycle continues.

How to Embrace Your Shadow Self
Since everyone has a shadow self and suppressing it only makes you feel worse, learning to embrace your shadow self is important for your mental health and sense of well-being.

Shadow work involves gently bringing these split off and disowned parts of yourself into your awareness (see my article: Making the Unconscious Conscious and Discovering and Giving Voice to Disowned Parts of Yourself).

Embracing Your Shadow Self: Making the Unconscious Conscious

The following suggestions can be helpful to embrace your shadow self:
  • Get Curious: Instead of having a negative and judgmental attitude towards disowned parts of yourself, get curious about them. An open curious attitude can help these parts to emerge into your consciousness.
  • Write in a JournalJournaling allows you to transfer your thoughts and feelings from your mind onto paper. It helps to concretize the many different parts of yourself so that you can reflect on them. As part of journaling, you can ask yourself:
    • What were you taught as a child about the parts of yourself you find difficult to accept now?
    • As a child, were you allowed to express these aspects of yourself or were you punished for it?
    • If you weren't allowed to express these thoughts and feelings, what did you do with them? 
    • Are your current negative thoughts and feelings about yourself and/or a significant relationship in your life?
    • What type of people or situations trigger negative feelings in you? Are these feelings related to aspects of yourself that you consider to be unacceptable?
  • Get Help From a Therapist Who Does Parts Work: Parts work, like Ego States Therapy, is designed to help you to identify and integrate all the parts of yourself including the ones you find challenging to accept. Ego States Therapy allows you to develop an accepting attitude towards all parts of yourself so that these parts can coexist together. In Ego States Therapy, you learn that the parts of you that you want to disown often have a protective intention but, because they remain split off and unintegrated, they can come up in unhealthy ways. You also learn that by having an internal dialog with those parts, they can serve you in healthy ways (see my article: How Parts Work Helps to Empower You).
Get Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with parts of yourself you find difficult to accept, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

Parts Work, like Ego States Therapy, can help you to identify and, eventually, accept the parts of yourself with compassion.  

By maintaining an internal dialog with these parts, you learn to develop these parts into healthy aspects of yourself.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a psychotherapist who does Parts Work so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing, Ego States and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.