9 Ways To Access Your Dark Side & Heal Parts Of Yourself You Didn't Know Were Hurting

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woman in dark shadow
Contributor
Self

I’ll never forget filling out the client intake form earlier this summer.

“What are your goals for therapy?” it asked. 

After systematically listing the issues I noticed in my work and relationships, I added, “I am sick and tired of feeling small and lonely, and I’m ready to get uncomfortable.”

I’m ready to get uncomfortable.

The anxiety felt unbearable. I was burning out at a high-paying tech job I had worked hard to get. I felt disconnected in my personal life, despite living in an intentional community full of like-minded people.

Others described me as attractive, smart, charming, and funny. 

Why did I feel like I was failing life?

RELATED: How Your Shadow Personality Affects Your Life — And How To Embrace It 

I decided to do shadow work (Jungian psychological approach for making our unconscious conscious so we can understand, heal, and accept our entire selves.) It was the only approach that felt hopeful.

With support from my excellent therapist, this journey led me to painful revelations about early emotional abuse, narcissistic family members, perfectionism, codependency, sexist scars, and many unprocessed traumas.

Six months later, I understand how to accept and embrace my whole self.

I am writing to anyone with anxiety, depression, loneliness, addiction, perfectionism, or burnout. Your feelings are real.

I hope your journey to wholeness will be smoother. At the very least, I hope you’ll feel less alone.

Meeting others’ expectations doesn’t help anyone.

In retrospect, I spent so much time people-pleasing, being in one-sided relationships, doing all the work, being codependent, and feeling guilty for wanting attention. I often felt unappreciated.

You can’t bring your full self to any relationship if you do not know and accept your entire self.

I realized I could no longer be in relationships where I only bring parts of me, the features I think they’ll like. We need to appreciate ourselves first.

Spirituality alone doesn’t heal deeper wounds.

Many will avoid facing deeper wounds by turning to spirituality or “spiritual bypassing.” It’s like wearing a bandaid, surrounding yourself with flowers, and building muscles to heal an infection.

I’ve had staph infections, which cause death if not treated, and the painful drainage process reminds me of shadow work. You can’t numb it; you have to feel your way through it.

I did meditation religiously, became a yoga teacher, chanted with those people, visited a hippy commune, and was all about the “good vibes tribe.” I tattoed a sunrise on my arm, have become openly polyamorous, and even had a few chaperoned psychedelic trips — which I recommend, with a high dose of respect and caution for any mind-altering substances.

As an open-minded, endlessly curious human, I would have done something more straightforward and more comfortable if it would have worked.

We need to embrace our anger.

Our bodies work to protect us, and when we grow up in dysfunctional homes, we develop coping mechanisms — normal responses to abnormal situations. We hide — and often forget — parts of ourselves to adapt to our environments.

People often disapprove of anger and other “negative” emotions, and we learn to shove these feelings deep down. We are nice. We’re good people.

Shadow work is to make peace with the whole range of human emotion. The good news is that that bad part of yourself that you struggle with carries sacred wisdom to the evolution of your soul. That part of you will support you in unlocking authenticity and an expression. — Debbie Ford, New York Times best-selling author

I’m a nice person, and I unknowingly had a lot of stored-up anger. My anger began showing up in the form of anxiety, irritations, and numbing behaviors.

A past housemate had started to irritate me, and my response seemed out of proportion, given I’d known him for about two months.

He once chimed into a conversation I had to say something about himself, and I felt furious. Who the hell does he think he is that his opinions are so important? How effing rude!

I later realized that this person had been gaslighting me and had overt narcissistic traits — these both touched on deep childhood wounds. My feelings were ready to come out, and I had a lot of work to do.

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Shadow work happens in waves.

Shadow work is uncomfortable. The journey requires us to be grounded and ready to give ourselves lots of love and compassion, especially the parts we feel ashamed of.

Present-day irritations appeared out of proportion because they brought up early wounding—each new realization of injustices spurred waves of pain and anger.

Each new realization of injustices spurred waves of pain and anger.

After crying and journaling through a new realization, I got in the shower, and the thought struck me: I had believed what they told me.

I hadn’t had the boundaries or awareness to keep others’ opinions and emotions separate. So naturally, I assumed I must be inherently flawed. I felt new waves of pain, and this time, I felt angry with myself.

Though I tend to be highly self-reliant, I soon realized that I needed someone to keep me accountable and sort through the waves.

These steps helped me get through shadow work:

Here are a few key takeaways that helped me on my journey, and I hope they will help you with yours.

1. Educate yourself on the tools

Thankfully, you can now learn about shadow work tools online. I used a Centre of Excellence course and learned about techniques like internal family systems, active imagination, and the ‘villain’ method.

2. Find a guide you trust

Shadow work gets disorienting quickly. It’s essential to work with someone who has done it themselves, like a close friend or a professional. I found a Jungian therapist who specializes in trauma — most of us will discover unprocessed trauma.

3. Do regular grounding practices

I enjoy grounding meditations. But you can also do things like getting into nature, baking, cleaning, or getting barefoot outside. Feeling connected to the earth helps us to calm.

4. Trust in your intuition 

Taking time to develop a relationship with yourself is so important, especially if you’ve experienced dis-orienting trauma such as gaslighting.

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5. Be ready for life changes 

The course suggested there were good reasons not to do shadow work, such as significant life changes.

Since starting shadow work, I have lost many friends and gained a few, re-imagined my career path, spent way more time on creative projects, and have taken space from family members.

6. Validate yourself

It’s necessary to validate yourself in the process instead of seeking external validation. Seeking external validation often causes us to feel repressed in the first place.

7. Embrace stillness

We often keep ourselves busy in this productivity-centered culture. Going from task to task keeps us from noticing or experiencing our feelings and thoughts.

Through awareness, I saw when I had unkind thoughts about myself, which enabled me to take action.

8. Baby yourself

Seriously, shadow work causes us to see decades of our past lives in a new and disturbing way. We often feel disoriented.

I struggled and felt frustrated with myself. I wanted to “fix myself” quickly. Every step is necessary, and you are where you need to be.

9. Get creative

I felt creatively blocked for years. I felt so far away, and I had never considered myself creative in the first place. But I am.

Being creative heals us, and it leads us to forgiveness, love, and connection. My writing and music-making practices have been so healing for me.

Your pain is real, and you deserve to live your fullest life. You do not owe anyone a relationship, not even your family members.

In addition, these three steps help me to love and accept all of myself:

Knowing myself has led to loving and fully accepting myself. Moving forward, I know that each new relationship will develop from a place of authenticity and acceptance — practice makes it easier. Here’s what helps me the most:

Set healthy boundaries

No one taught most of us about boundaries, and we often feel we don’t deserve to take what we need. Moving forward, I no longer tolerate emotional abuse. I feel more than comfortable blocking people, not responding, or taking the space I need to feel safe.

Build authenticity

Many of us lose touch with ourselves, and we need to reconnect to what feels right. I love using morning pages (three daily pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling) to know myself better.

Prioritize your needs

It’s not selfish. Honoring your needs may be the most selfless thing you could do, like “putting your mask on first.” Anyone who shames you for prioritizing your needs does not have your best interests at heart and does not deserve your time.

Shadow work changed my life. I can’t go back to people-pleasing, shoving away the parts that don’t seem beautiful or having one-sided relationships. I developed a deep knowing and appreciation for the life force within me.

Expanding our authentic selves can be a painful and often lonely process. But as we let go of the need to please the people around us, we start to discover our most authentic selves. Carl Jung calls this the “privilege of a lifetime.”

RELATED: How To Live A Life That's Aligned With Your Truest, Most Authentic Self

Alice Crady is study abuse recovery, sex+ feminism, and depth psychology. Read her words in The Ascent, Fearless She Wrote, and The Virago. Follow Alice on Medium for more

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.