Dr Mark Atkinson's Blog

1Feb 2012

Embrace Your Shadow

Imagine that there is an aspect of you that you are unaware of, yet sabotages your success, limits your potential and contributes to a considerable amount of the frustration, suffering, negative thinking, low energy, distressing emotions, relation problems and even health problems that you have experienced? Would you want to know more about it? Well, that aspect does exist and it’s called the shadow.

The shadow refers to all aspects of yourself – including traits, needs, drives, abilities, feelings and potentials, capacities, both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ – that you have rejected, denied, disowned and pushed out of awareness and into your unconscious. Carl Jung the famous psychologist describes the shadow as ‘the person you would rather not be’.

The shadow is developed in early childhood. Essentially, any quality or trait that was consistently suppressed by your caregivers, or suppressed by you in response to your caregivers will have been rejected by you in order to maintain a sense of connection to them. Furthermore, as you mould yourself to survive and manage your life situation during childhood, you will also reject aspects that are incompatible with the image that you have for yourself.

The shadow is not the problem, however. The problem is the failure to acknowledge, accept and reintegrate it. If you are committed to waking up and growing up, an important part of the work you must do is to accept what was previously unacceptable. So, you have a choice: you either own your shadow, therefore freeing yourself up to make conscious choices about your life, or you remain owned by your shadow and it shapes and directs your life for you.


Working with the shadow is immensely rewarding and liberating. By no longer having to hold down and repress your shadow aspects (which consumes a lot of energy), you free up your life force and vitality, become much more present-moment centred and are better able to live life consciously, authentically and purposefully.


How to Identify the Shadow 


So how do you start to become of aware of that which is beyond your awareness? The answer is by observing judgments and emotions that arise within you in response to other people. For example, negatively judging others offers you a mirror to see those aspects of yourself that you are denying. The same applies if you overvalue traits or characteristics of another person.

Write down a list of at five people that you dislike (negative shadow) and five people that you strongly admire (positive shadow). You can include well-known people or even fictional characters. Next to each one, describe at least one trait that you dislike/reject or admire. Here is an example from a workshop participant (words in italics represents a disowned part or quality awaiting acceptance and integration):

Negative Shadow


1.      Mother – can be very critical

2.      Father – makes a joke out of everything

3.      Friend – talks too much

4.      Husband – self-centered and defensive

5.      Work colleague – she is arrogant


Positive Shadow

1.      Ray Mears – admire his authenticity

2.      Dalai Lama – touched by his compassion

3.      Friend – really respect her courage and commitment to her relationship

4.      Friends – admire her selflessness

5.      J. K. Rowling – admire her creativity and success


How to re-integrate your shadow parts       


Having identified those parts of yourself that you have disowned, their are many different ways to re-integrate your shadow parts. The one I use in my own workshops and teach on my Human Potential Coach training programme is called The Gateway. Its’ a psycho-spiritual approach to re-integrating the shadow and transforming and resolving limiting thoughts, emotions, behaviours and habits. At the heart of The Gateway is the discovery that these shadow parts have a tangible presence in the physical body, and that behind each of these aspects is part of your mind that when engaged in a specific way will automatically and rapidly resolve the problem that it created for you. Not only this, the gateway will lead you into the experience of what I refer to as the True Self. You will know when you are resting in your True Self because you will experience its unmistakable qualities of peace, aliveness and oneness. Other effective ways to re-integrate your shadow are through the use of Hal & Sidra Stones Voice Dialogue System, which I am a big fan of (http://delos-inc.com/ and also Byron Katies The Work (www.thework.com).


Here are some additional suggestions


Integrating the ‘Positive’ Shadow


When working with the positive shadow I recommend the following


  • Identify the quality that you admire, for example ‘kindness.’
  • Acknowledge that you have the same quality. Recall three occasions in the past when you were experiencing or displaying that quality. Now welcome and feel what you are feeling
  • Affirm to yourself that have this quality. For example say out loud ‘Kindness arises through me.’  Say these words very slowly and repeat this four times. As you say it slowly notice what you are feeling and experiencing in your body
  • Now act with kindness when an opportunity arises. Whilst it might feel false or uncomfortable at first, the more you do it and the more sincere you whilst doing it, the more sincere and authentic your act of kindness will be.


What I have found fascinating with this process is how quickly the positive shadow quality starts to emerge naturally and spontaneously once it is being consciously worked with. I invite you to put it to the test over the next few days.


Integrating the ‘Negative’ Shadow


Next time you get emotionally triggered by someone try the following


  • Identify what quality you don’t like about them, for example ‘arrogance’
  • Remind yourself that you have also this quality because you are a human being and human beings are microcosms of the macrocosm i.e. everything you witness outside of you exists within you.
  • Now identify three separate occasions when you have demonstrated that quality – in this case arrogance. Having done this welcome and feel what you are feeling. Take at least one minute to do this. If you genuinely haven’t experienced that quality, then ask yourself the question ‘is it possible that I am repressing or disowning that part of myself?’ if you are honest the answer is almost certainly going to be yes
  • Now ask yourself the following question ‘what is the healthy expression of this quality?’ For example the healthy expression of arrogance is self-confidence.
  • Having identified the healthy quality (in this case self-confidence) commit to allowing into your life and daily actions. So that might involve acting confidently, taking advise from a book or going on a course/workshop to learn confidence skills
  • Repeat this process for each part of your ‘negative’ shadow


I wish you the very best as you continue to progress on your journey into the remembrance of wholeness


Dr Mark Atkinson


Recommended Resources


  • The Shadow Effect by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson
  • Why people do bad things by Debbie Ford
  • Integral Life Practice by Terry Patten

Author: Mark Atkinson