What is Shadow Work and Why Would I Try It?

Why Do Shadow Work Anyway?

To put it simply, shadow work is one of the most powerful systems of coaching, counselling and therapy available today.

Shadow work – whether you call it coaching or therapy – can help you grow by healing old emotional wounds from the past that are holding you back. This way, you can grow into the fullest expression of the best woman or man you can be, and you can take greater control of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

And there is more. You will no longer be manipulated by the ghosts of your past, whether from childhood or more recently, and you will no longer be triggered by the actions of the people around you.

Shadow work can also show you how to  express yourself more clearly and powerfully, as well as to say what you want (and don’t want) with intention and clarity.  And it can help you give and receive love more easily, think more clearly and enable you to develop the focus needed to take full charge of your own life, doing what makes you feel fulfilled, with grace and ease.

Now, these are big claims. But the experience of so many people who have undertaken shadow coaching & shadow work bears them out. However, before we look at what shadow work entails,  let’s briefly look at the ways in which each one of us comes to be emotionally wounded in the first place.

The Origin of Emotional Wounds

Imagine that when you were a child one of your parents was too concerned with their own emotional wounds and difficulties to provide you with the loving care and attention you deserved.

Maybe mum or dad was openly hostile or conveyed the message they didn’t love you. Ever since then you’ve found it hard to trust or to open yourself fully to someone of that gender in an intimate relationship.

Intuitively you know this lack of trust and openness arises because somewhere inside you there’s a young and tender “inner child”, a part of you that was wounded by your parent’s actions. You also intuitively realize that as an adult, making yourself vulnerable to someone may lead to you (more accurately, your inner child) re-experiencing that pain.

Or maybe you don’t realize that, because every time you get into a relationship, the same thing happens. You get hurt again, or you regress and begin to feel like a little child frustrated with mummy or daddy. And you don’t know why!

Probably it’s because of some unconscious beliefs which developed during childhood and which still lie inside you, in shadow, waiting for the right trigger before they cause you to regress into little boy or little girl mode.

No matter how powerful you really are as an adult, in circumstances you can control, there are many other situations in which you simply feel you cannot stand in your mature feminine or masculine power.

In fact, you may feel powerless in the presence of a woman who behaves like your mummy did, or a man who behaves like your daddy did, all those years ago.

But why does this regression happen?

At some time, for some very good reason, you unconsciously created a set of unconscious beliefs about how you “have” to be when you’re in a relationship if you’re to get love, or what passes for love (often mere acceptance). And these beliefs were most likely shaped by what you learned about relationships  from being with your mother or father (or other important and significant adults) in your life when you were a child.

No matter what the particular circumstances you faced as a child, teenager or young adult, this idea illustrates how as adults we are all triggered into behaving in ways which recreate emotional challenges or emotional pain. And, as you know, we don’t really understand why it happens.

Videos By Marianne Hill:
Understanding the shadow & shadow work

Click here for the playlist of the entire video series on shadow work

Fact is, there are as many personal issues which men and women may want to “work on” as there are men and women in the world. Think about that for a moment. Every time you have some difficulty in personal relationships, that is a potential subject to work on in coaching or therapy.

The same is true of your emotional reactions to social and societal situations. For example: in my experience one of the most powerful triggers for anxiety is the prospect of public speaking, or speech making. It seems to strike right to the heart of many people’s fear of not being able to cope, or fear of humiliation, shame or embarrassment.

Now of course, many of these emotional reactions and the situations  which cause them are not in  any way serious enough to warrant you doing shadow work, coaching, therapy or counselling. 

But many of them are! What if you cannot get into a long term loving relationship? What if you constantly live in fear of intimacy? What if you are frustrated by being somehow “closed” to intimate connection with your lover?

What if you cannot make a speech at your son or daughter’s wedding, or a presentation in the boardroom to prospective clients? What if you stammer and hesitate when trying  to explain yourself? What if you go into fight, flight or (worse) freeze mode when you see a threatening situation? What if you fall apart in a crisis?

And beyond that, there are other reasons for exploring your inner emotional world. Suppose that you simply don’t feel happy? Are you really prepared to live a life of unhappiness, a life of knowing no joy? I have had clients come to me who told me, “I have been depressed for twenty years.” Would you be prepared to live like that? Would you even be prepared to live for a few months with unhappiness… or would you prefer to try some powerful, effective therapy which can get to the root of the problem and sort it out once and for all?

So life can, sometimes, be a struggle for all of us. But I don’t want to give you the impression that all emotional difficulties need to be the subject of deep emotional work. That simply isn’t true. So how do you draw the line between the normal ups and downs of our individual emotional world  and the toxic, damaging or limiting emotional residue of historical events which needs to be resolved?

Well, I think your inner intuition, your inner knowing, is a pretty good guide. But it really helps to have an idea about what is in shadow for you.

What can heal with shadow coaching or shadow work?

So what are we actually dealing with here? What can you explore, resolve, heal, rebalance or repair when you engage in shadow work, counselling or therapy? Here are a few ideas:

Abandonment, loss of loved ones, lack of love. Shame, humiliation, disrespect. Boarding school. Bullying. Issues with sexuality. Lack of sexual interest. Absent fathers (oh, the number of children who had inadequate or absent fathers). Absent mothers. Smothering mothers. Narcissistic mothers. Angry mothers. Angry, intolerant, stressed-out fathers. Abuse, be it sexual, physical, or emotional.

Your lack of leadership in your own life. Not knowing what you want, or not knowing how to get what you want. A sense of powerlessness, impotence or inadequacy. Lack of self esteem. Poor boundaries, an inability to say “No” (or “Yes”). Lack of assertiveness.

Not knowing what love is or how to find it. Being overwhelmed by the need for love. Inability to stand up to the masculine. Inability to stand firm in the face of the feminine. Not feeling masculine, or feeling too feminine (or the other way round). Not feeling anything.

Dysfunctional behaviour. Loneliness. Lack of friendships. Rage, grief, despair. Anxiety and fear. Not seeing any reason to live. Finding a purpose in life. Compulsions and addictions. Unmourned losses and the grief you carry.

Well, you get the idea: just about anything can be the subject of effective shadow work (read about working with the shadow here) , and discover more about counselling or shadow work as a type of psychotherapy here.


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