Exploring the Shadow-Self

What is the shadow-self?


Carl Jung identified and explored the dark side of personality: the shadow self. Our shadow contains the parts of ourselves that we deny. The parts we do not dare to see.


Within it resides every aspect of ourselves that has been unwelcome or supressed, often as a result of societal or family mores. The shadow may contain anything from sexual expression to a need for attention.


Suppression can lead to distortion and psychological projection. Often a sense of personal inferiority is spun into a perceived deficiency in another. For example, a person who has felt the need to supress their sexuality might stand in judgment of another who appears sexually free.


Of course the very nature of the shadow is that it is unknown to us. We do not consciously deny ourselves. But it’s the act of denial that makes it hard to see what is hiding in our own shadow-self.



A Story About the Shadow


A woman once told me she thought everyone around her was selfish, and she felt puzzled, saddened and frustrated by their behaviour. She would never behave that way!


And then she had an insight. She realised that she had not been truly caring for herself. She had not taken what she needed. She had denied herself so much of what she wanted. And so whenever anyone else helped themselves, or took freely, it triggered a reaction.


The selfishness she had perceived in others was really a denial of her own deeper needs. As soon as she started being more generous towards herself the world and the people around her began to look very different.


She realised that what she’d perceived as the bad behaviour of others was really a reflection of her attitude towards herself.


An exploration you might find useful


If you notice that a particular person or behaviour triggers you then rub your hands with glee because you have discovered an aspect of your shadow. And, as the story illustrates, when shadow aspects are uncovered old patterns can be released, and replaced with a new awareness.


One: Identify what triggers you

Take a moment and think about the person or situation that’s been irritating you. What is it that really gets to you? If it helps, make notes. Writing can provide clarity. Distil it down until you end up with a simple and clear sentence.



  • They don’t take me seriously!
  • He thinks he’s better than me!
  • Everyone is so greedy!


Two: Identify what you really want

Now take a moment to consider what it is you really want. It might be difficult to access this because it is the very thing that has been pushed into the shadow for so long. This is deep work. It might feel almost painful to admit to yourself what you really desire.


And if nothing comes up for you at first put it to one side for now. Let the question drift to the back of your mind and know that sooner or later the answer will come. Probably when you are least expecting it!


If something does come up for you, again, play with distilling it into one or perhaps two clear sentences.



  • I want people to take me seriously!
  • I want him to value me!
  • I want more!


Three: Identify what you can give yourself

Once you know what you really want it might be clear what it is you can give to yourself.  But unless it feels instantly obvious take your time over this part. It may be revealed gradually. Trust the timing. And be careful not to judge your needs or desires.



  • I could take myself more seriously
  • I could value myself more
  • I could give myself more / I could allow myself to take more


Enjoy exploring what you could gift yourself, and stay open to the ways in which it can start to happen.